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P.I. Joy of American United Bank

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February 2008
P.I. Joy of American United Bank

By RUKSANA HUSSAIN

If one of the marks of a true entrepreneur is the ability to not let a little thing like not having prior experience in a certain sector become a hindrance to launching a business into it, then certainly Pulukottil Ittymany (“PI”) Joy is cut out to be a true entrepreneur. Whether it is promoting exhibition matches between world renowned boxers like Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Ellis in the eighties, or something as out-of-the-box as bringing Afro-fusion music concerts in the Middle East, Joy has dabbled in it all; some of it successfully, some of it not. But he has always come out the stronger for the experience—so much so that the trajectory of his entrepreneurial forays has continued towards things bigger and better.

Ask him about his secret that allows him to fearlessly forge into new ventures, and Joy quotes Colin Powell: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure.” A well-known member of the Indian community in Atlanta, P.I. Joy has scripted his own journey to the top. Today, he is Chairman of the Board at the American United Bank; President and CEO of Think Development Systems, Inc.; Founder of the Southeast chapter of the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce; and Founder of Triune Plaza Real Estate—a long way from his schooling in the city of Chennai in Southern India.

With no family background to build up his business acumen from infancy and no godfathers in the top industries to hand him a silver spoon, Joy attributes his education and experience as the most important factors in his accomplishments. Joy’s formal learning in Business Administration played a vital role in his decision to launch his very first business— an advertising agency.

In 1979, he moved to the Middle East, where he started Technical Printing and Advertising, a business that met with rapid success, allowing the intrepid entrepreneur to channel his energies into other ventures. Joy began hosting a series of promotions in the region, starting with exhibition bouts between famed boxers Jimmy Ellis and Muhammad Ali, which turned out to be a major triumph.

He then brought in the Afro-fusion music group Osibisa and another group by the name of Xplosion, both from London, to play in the first international concert tour ever held in the Middle East. This, Joy soon learnt, would have to be one of those “learning experiences” that would go no where. “We all burn our fingers some time,” he says. “The Osibisa and Xplosion tours were a failure. The Middle East, at that time, was not very accepting towards Western music, even though this was Afro-fusion. It was a big flop. That was the biggest loss I took in my life, and from that, it took me two years to recover.”

Moving back to India, Joy saw that the media and advertising business was not promising enough in those days there. So he jumped into the leather trade instead. In 1993, he visited Atlanta for the first time to vend his leather products at the 1996 Olympic Games. He had to obtain a license from the ACOG—Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games—and it was a long, drawn-out process. Finally, only two players were selected to receive the coveted licenses; one was the Sara Lee group, who manufactures Coach brand leather products for the upscale markets, and the other was Joy. He became a licensee—a minority vendor for the mass market.

The joy of this triumph was short lived as this venture marked the second business setback in his life. Joy felt that the merchandising part of the Olympics was over done and poorly managed leaving him and countless other vendors taking losses. Learning from his mistakes, he turned towards exploring new business opportunities and launched a travel agency, American Travel and Tours. As his first business since the disappointment of his experience surrounding the 1996 Olympic Games, Joy views it as one of the highlights in his career. The company did well, and he eventually sold it.

In 1998, Joy created Think Development Systems, Inc. (TDSI), an IT software development and consulting company that specialized in offering solutions for the Y2K problem. The company’s clientele included a long list of Fortune 500 corporations and government agencies. The terrorist attacks of September 11 made Joy rethink his company’s mission, and he decided to reposition TDSI as a software consulting company towards biometric security solutions. Today, the company works on projects for the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia amongst other clients across the U.S.

In 2000, Joy founded Triune Plaza Real Estate in Atlanta—a firm specializing in investments and management of office parks and commercial condos. With an emphasis on innovative thinking and the ability to anticipate changing real estate trends, the company’s success has been the result of pioneering in new markets, focusing on bold initiatives in technology and in understanding market trends.

The expertise Joy gained from these ventures led to his exploration of opportunities in the community banking arena. The American United Bank (AUB) opened its doors in December 2004. Joy found that the timing and location of the bank were perfect due to the mass migration of people to Atlanta. Relative to the size of the Indian community, there were only a couple banks serving this segment. So Joy felt this was a market he could penetrate. As Chairman of the Board, Joy was instrumental in putting together a diversified Board, organizing meetings and seeing the bank take shape. Of all his business ventures, AUB has proven to be a success story that Joy is truly proud of. A shining testament of the success of the venture is that within just six months the bank doubled its assets from $10 million to $20 million. The bank currently has assets worth over $110 million.

Targeting the property development arena, Joy has partnered with Atlanta developer Ron Onorato and North Point Group Inc., to develop and promote Point Berkeley International Village in Duluth, Georgia. Point Berkeley is an international mall that will be built in four phases, with plans to have a conglomerate of international restaurants, a 150-room hotel and a condo complex of 900 residential units.

The casual observer of Joy’s forays and successes in businesses might wonder how he manages so many roles to perfection. “If there is a field where I see an opportunity, I will get into it. And at the appropriate time, I will exit it. That’s the way I am,” comments Joy. “If I want to get involved in anything, I first learn about how is the market, how are people working there. If I feel comfortable about it, then I will get into it at that point.”

Joy puts his faith and family above all else. He remarks, “After several hits in my life, I realize now I cannot take any more big risks. My family is my number one priority. My wife, Nancy, has always been a big support. She also helps me by encouraging me to think things over. Sometimes, when you run too fast, somebody has to pull you back a little bit and say, ‘Hold on, now! You are not that young anymore!’ His daughter, Joanna has decided to pursue medicine and will start attending college this summer. Twin sons, Joseph and James, are eighth graders. “Our priority is taking care of our children. My family is very important. They are my main pillars,” Joy says.

On the philanthropic side, Joy is involved with HUT—the Human Uplift Trust—a community-based organization in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. For more than 20 years, HUT has helped people in rural communities satisfy their basic needs in education and health care. HUT’s HIV/AIDS prevention activities and care center address the specific vulnerabilities of the rural poor. Joy supports the cause, the growth of the organization, and the building of its community care hospital, as well as a school and play shelter for AIDS-afflicted children.

In addition to these things, Joy is also President of the Southeast Chapter of the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce (USPAACC). The parent organization is a 20-year-old, national, non-profit business organization located in Washington, D.C, that represents Asian American-related groups in business, the sciences, public and community services, the arts, sports and education. Joy founded and organized the Southeast Chapter of the USPAACC and has focused the chapter’s goals on serving the Asian American-owned businesses in the region.

With over 28 years of insight into the business world, Joy has a word of caution to share with others who want to make it on their own. “My personal advice is whatever you want to do, before you invest even a dollar, first do your own homework. Find out the A to Z of the business, do your market research and convince yourself that this is the business you want to do. Be truly involved. Don’t ever sit back, or you will lose your money.”

If you thought Joy already had his hands full, you were wrong! “Now I am planning to penetrate into the hotel industry,” he adds. “I feel the industry is really good, and that is my really big focus right now. I want to put up five to 10 hotels in Atlanta and other states. Conversations are on, so you should hear the news on that in a few months’ time!”


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