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American Dream “Much More Difficult” Today, Perry Ellis CEO Says

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In honor of Father’s Day, The Daily Ticker recently sat down with George and Oscar Feldenkreis, the father and son team who run Perry Ellis International (PERY).

“I’m very happy my son decided to get into the business,” says George, chairman and CEO of the company. “That created an interest for the father to stay in the business: a lot of fathers when children aren’t interested in the business, at some point they sell the business.”

Oscar, who is president and COO, says working with his father “has been a great experience” and expressed gratitude for his 78-year-old father’s health. “Luckily he’s… still very active in the business. He doesn’t have a hobby.”

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The company recently celebrated its 20th anniversary as a public company and has nearly $1 billion in annual sales across its varied apparel brands, including Penguin, Jantzen, Ben Hogan, Laundry by Shelli Segal and its namesake menswear line. In addition to its own branded stores, the company’s wares are on the shelves at retailers like Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Dillard's and Wal-Mart.

But what is today known as Perry Ellis International began with very humble roots. George immigrated to America from Cuba in the early 1960s, after Fidel Castro came to power.

“I’m an American by choice,” he says. “I left Cuba because I wanted to live in a free country. I appreciate the opportunity the U.S. gave to me: I came here with nothing and slowly was able to build” a very successful business.

In this regard, George Feldenkreis’ story is a classic American tale of a hard-working immigrant who’s made it big, and made a much better life for his family. “To me this is the greatest country in the world,” he says, before pausing when asked if he could be as successful if starting out today.

“It would be much more difficult to create today [an apparel] company out of nowhere,” the elder Feldenkreis says, citing the increased regulation and decrease in opportunities for clothing manufacturers.

“In the old days, there were a lot more retailers – if you didn’t sell to one guy you sell to the others,” he says. “Today there’s a very small number of retailers and you have to know very well what you’re doing and the reasons for that particular retailer to buy your product."

Lululemon and Under Armour are "the exceptions that are proving the rule: unless you have very gifted organization, it’s very hard to break in today the way I did," Feldenkreis says.

Related: Lululemon's Biggest Challenge: It's All About the Culture, Says Analyst

Furthermore, it would be “impossible” today to take a company public with $33 million in sales, as was the case when Supreme International – which later acquired Perry Ellis – was listed in 1993. “The requirements [for going public] today are much more difficult than they used to be,” he says, a common lament among executives since Sarbanes-Oxley became law in 2002.

Watch the video above to see the father-son team talk more about what it's like running a nearly billion-dollar business together.

Aaron Task is the host of The Daily Ticker and Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo! Finance. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at altask@yahoo.com

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