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Sunday, May 28, 2023


SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter For 10 years, Neil Persky ran a thriving business supplying television programming to Indonesia. So compelling was the story of how he brought TV to the Southeast Asian country that this year Indo-American Group was nominated to receive Ernst & Young LLP’s prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year award. But when the curtain goes up on the awards ceremony later this month, the president of Indo-American will occupy an unlikely position among the semi-finalists for the award. His business has all but disappeared. The economic crisis in Indonesia, which has robbed the nation’s currency of 80 percent of its value and decimated the import market, has effectively shut down Persky’s business. “They’re literally unable to buy anything,” Persky said. Nonetheless, Ernst & Young has no plans to rescind Indo-American’s nomination. Sponsors select semi-finalists based on such criteria as the source of the idea and the degree of difficulty in launching the business not the degree of success, said the Ernst & Young partner who handles the program for L.A. “It’s about the entrepreneurial spirit,” said Peters. “It’s not so much about who’s making the most money.” But entrepreneurial spirit won’t pay the bills. So what’s an entrepreneur to do? “What we’re going to do is pull on our talents in other businesses,” Persky said. If the devaluation of the Indonesian rupiah has made importing impractical, it has also created an especially attractive climate for exports. Determined to prove his entrepreneurial mettle once more, Persky has begun to reinvent his business, this time as an exporter. Persky’s plan is to bring in containers of consumer products anything from toys to pots and pans that he can sell to distributors or retailers on a one-shot basis. That way, he doesn’t have to worry about whether a manufacturer running into financial difficulties can continue to supply the same goods. The idea is to attract buyers with competitive prices on both high-quality merchandise and low-end goods. “They’ll be very big deals,” Persky said. “Everybody is looking for a bargain and if I have the right merchandise at the right price, it will work.” Importing pots and pans may be a long way from TV programming, but both share a common element an opportunity presented by outside events. Persky got the idea for Indo-American when an Indonesian businessman came to consult with him about a television station he planned to set up. At the time, Persky was the financial director of a post-production company in New York and he quickly realized that, without any production facilities of its own, Indonesia would need programming to leap into the world of TV. Indonesia had only one, government-owned television station at the time, and Persky set up his company to buy programming from U.S. studios and sell it to the emerging market in Indonesia. Eleven years after it was founded, Indo-American has become the exclusive supplier to two Indonesian television stations, as well as to another emerging network, Indovision, a satellite broadcaster. Last year, sales topped $50 million. But last August, Persky saw the beginnings of the country’s financial crisis. By December, the rupiah had lost half of its value against the U.S. dollar. “It was clear that at twice the cost, the stations were going to be hard-pressed for new programming,” Persky said. Indeed, new orders, as well as payments on outstanding ones, stopped after November. Persky had tried to diversify the business some years earlier. But his efforts to establish Indo-American in other Southeast Asian countries were unsuccessful because others already had established footholds in those countries. He tried distributing, but soon learned his company was up against major studios that could supply a lot more product at better prices. Instead, when the crisis hit, Persky began to look for different businesses that would still make use of his workforce’s unique talents specifically language skills, contacts within Southeast Asia and a familiarity with transcontinental trading documentation and procedures. A former retailing executive who worked as executive vice president for now-defunct Parkland Hosiery in Great Neck, N.Y. and for BargainTown U.S.A., a forerunner of today’s big discount chain stores, Persky hit on the idea of importing goods from Indonesia, as well as other countries in Southeast Asia. “Because of my contacts, I can ferret out these products and bring them here at good prices,” he said. Because of the financial crisis, domestic markets have dried up for Southeast Asian manufacturers, and because the banks there are buried under debt, there is no cash flow available making the country a buyer’s market. “This is an innovative man,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Economic Development Corp. of L.A. County. “Cash is king. He’s going to be a knight in shining armor” to companies in Southeast Asia. “He’ll probably have a very interesting array of things to sell.” Indeed, Persky’s initial inquiries turned up 200 different products, which he currently is evaluating. He figures it will take about 90 days to get things running smoothly. After that, he figures the business will generate about $1 million in revenues. Longer term, as the Asian economy improves, he hopes to zero in on a few items that the company can supply on an ongoing basis, “so we can develop into more of a general trading company,” Persky said. “I want to become the category killer of something.” Persky won’t give up on television programming, “but it’s not taking a lot of time right now.” And if the new enterprise takes off, Persky said, “this will probably become a bigger growth area for us than TV will be.”

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