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They have what it takes, do you?

Joseph Szew

Passion, Perseverance, and Patience
by Ernesto Lechner
Although the world of motion pictures and video is mostly dominated by the Hollywood studios and big media conglomerates, the field is still large enough to accommodate a few entrepreneurs with skillful business minds and a little bit of luck. If you are in touch with the Latin American market, that can certainly be a plus, which is why a person like Joseph Szew and his firm Whamo Entertainment have done so well in the past few years.

Szew is the sole owner of Whamo, a company that distributes family entertainment throughout the world. As the chairman of the board, he is in charge of the company's purchases, sales, and marketing strategies. Saludos interviewed Szew at the corporate office of Whamo in West Los Angeles.

Saludos Hispanos: When did get your company started?
Joseph Szew: We started about six years ago with a show based on the famous book "The Little Prince." Today, we own over 80 titles. A lot of animation, some live action series, feature films, and documentaries. Saludos Hispanos: Was business always your field of expertise?
Joseph Szew: I was educated in Buenos Aires, and got a BA in business administration. I was a certified public accountant with a focus on world socio-economics...I worked at a toy factory for a number of years. Then, as a budget administrator for Gillette. Finally, I got into television and programming sales, an occupation I decided to bring with me to the United States.
Saludos Hispanos: When did you decide to move to the United States?
Joseph Szew: About 13 years ago, my wife and I decided to move here because we wanted our kids to enjoy the benefits of an American education. We picked the United States because we had visited Los Angeles together after getting married and I had loved the city. I remember saying to myself: "If I ever become an immigrant, LA would be the place for me. I love its climate, its atmosphere, and its people."
Saludos Hispanos: How old were you when you first moved here? Was it difficult adjusting?
Joseph Szew: I was 39 years old and to be honest, I was pretty scared about the whole thing. I was concerned about the fact that I didn't speak English. When we got here, I spent the first six months crying. My wife would take me to Santa Monica so that I could look at the ocean and forget about my worries. I was always very active socially, so I started having American friends and was able to learn the language.
Saludos Hispanos: What was your first job in the United States?
Joseph Szew: My brother in law opened a house that made video dubs of Argentinean soap operas. I was in charge of sales and accounting. We worked together for a year and a half but then he moved to Miami. I stopped working for him then because there was no way I was going to move my family again. So I started to make connections with American producers who owned programming I could sell in Latin America. And I started dealing with animation shows for kids, as well as a few series.
Saludos Hispanos: So, you were able to use the fact that you lived here, and combine that with your connections in Latin America? Szew: Exactly. After a while, when the companies I worked with saw that I was honest, they entrusted me new territories beyond Latin America.
Saludos Hispanos: Let's talk about an interesting subject: business partners. I understand you had one for years and recently parted ways with him.
Joseph Szew: My partner and I put this company together. We decided to stop working for other people and start looking for shows that we could sell ourselves. In the beginning, we worked out of our houses until we rented a small office. His place in the company was to find new products for me to sell. At first, we would go to all the major film markets just to see what was going on. We didn't have our own stand yet, but were always hungry to find new product to represent. Then, we were lucky to have Anchor Bay entrust us their animation library for worldwide distribution. And we started having our own stand in the festivals. Through the first three or four years, we met people and amassed a library of programming.
Saludos Hispanos: How has your company evolved since you became the sole owner?
Joseph Szew: I always dreamed of having a company where everything was done on a family level. You can see that from the kind of employees I have hired, and by the fact that my offices have an open door policy and everybody knows about everything. My son Fernando is about to start working with me, taking care of the growing multimedia segment of the business. I'm very happy to have him because he is a marketing wizard. Now that I'm on my own, the producers have given me a lot of support. The bottom line is that we have a very good library of family oriented programming. I think we're definitely developing this company in a different way.
Saludos Hispanos: What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur who wants to succeed in the entertainment distribution business?
Joseph Szew: I would tell him to invest all the passion he can muster into the business. He should learn to surround himself with people who have a similar personality to him. He should be completely honest with all his associates and employees, and have an open door policy. I have studied business administration and realized that informal communication works much better than the traditional, more formal kind. You should always look your employees in the eyes. After all, you spend eight to ten hours a day with these people. To sum it up, a young entrepreneur should have the three qualities that I find essential for any family business: passion, perseverance, and patience.
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