Personal relationships are central to success

Mike Boylan

By Colleen Dixon
Originally published in Winter 2014 Madison Magazine.

Mike Boylan’s degree in early childhood education launched his career as a kindergarten teacher. But to hear him describe his journey of starting and building his own global textile business, it is obvious that he has valuable lessons to give beyond the classroom.

Boylan (’76) owns PEKA Textiles Co. Ltd., with offices in Shanghai, Bangkok and Hong Kong that offer imported textiles, global sourcing and distribution, and custom product development.

An international success, Boylan’s path to his textile empire was not a straight seam. “I’ll never forget my dad’s words as they dropped me off at JMU’s Eagle Hall,” recalls Boylan: ‘Son, we have done the best we can do; now it’s up to you.’”

His first semester was a disaster. An admitted “social misfit,” Boylan struggled with studying in the college environment. To make everything worse he contracted mono as the second semester began. At that time, students with mono were confined to the health center. “This was huge for me,” says Boylan, who literally learned how to study during his illness. “I really had nothing else to do except sleep, eat and read. This was a true crossroad for me.”

At the same time Boylan was learning how to be a good student he was also learning how to teach. “JMU’s education department was really terrific. The quality of our major professors, Dr. Leonard, Dr. Davis and Dr. Dickenson, was world class.” Boylan was hired by the Lynchburg City School system as its first male kindergarten teacher. “I had fun every day,” he says, “but the system pushed me to go into administration and I wanted no part of public school administration.”

Boylan taught kindergarten for two years, and then moved into a job in the textile business in Brown Deer, Wisc., a suburb of Milwaukee. During the next few decades, Boylan worked for several textile and manufacturing companies. After a less than successful attempt to start a textile trading company, Boylan tried again in 2009. He started his own company with $10,000 cash and additional funds from an IRA.

“Persistence and timing are key ingredients to starting a company. You make your own luck,” says Boylan, who got his first textile orders from a colleague who worked for Springs Industries. And Boylan also hired several staff members from Spring Industries who were about to lose their jobs when a company merger closed the factories.

'An important thing I learned at Madison is that personal relationships are central to success, from everyday life to major negotiations.'

“An important thing I learned at Madison is that personal relationships are central to success, from everyday life to major negotiations,” Boylan says. “This is essential for any international business. Each country handles things differently.”

During one of his first visits to Indonesia, Boylan and a colleague visited the Pekalongan Batik Museum located in Pekalongan, Central Java, Indonesia. “We ended up developing excellent relationships with the people in factories in this region,” he says. “We were so impressed with the beauty of Indonesia and the skill of our factory partners that we decided to promote the name PEKA® Brand fabrics and renamed our company PEKA Textile Co. Ltd.”

Boylan’s company experienced tremendous early growth in the first two years of existence but it was unsustainable as the business was then constructed. “We grew too fast and did a poor job with our resources in China. We had to make some changes quickly. We decided to invest in people first.” The result was a technical staff that was continually present at the factory while PEKA products were made.

“Never say no to an opportunity to develop something. You become an expert on the subject, especially if no one else is doing it. Also, make sure you and your company become so important that your current and prospective customers want to work with you.”

Sounds easy, but it is not. Boylan explains, “Always return phone calls. Overnight samples, even if you don’t think you need to. Treat customers like they are the only thing that matters. Finally, have the best team you can find and fund.&8221;

"Treat customers like they are the only thing that matters. ...have the best team you can find and fund."

Last year PEKA added the major product line Batik Fabrics. “This product line helps balance our business,” says Boylan. “And our website is an invaluable tool when I make initial contacts with prospects. ... It’s important to put people first. The textile industry is very old, especially the decorative fabrics business, so we try to be innovators. We specialized in developing a series of bundles of fabric and Do-It-Yourself kits. Our most recent project was developing printed burlap.”

Boylan says he is “honored to have earned a degree from Madison. Even during some not so good times, I was always fortunate to have had the help to get through the bad and embrace the good. My college relationships are life long and truly special. I come back to campus for Homecoming as often as I can. Over the years, both the university and my fraternity have done a terrific job welcoming us back. There is nothing like the JMU experience.”

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Published: Monday, December 1, 2014

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 17, 2018

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