Title: President, Galan Entertainment
Education: Barnard College, no degree
Born: Santa Clara, Cuba, 1963
Most Admired Person: Oprah Winfrey.
Hobbies: Collecting Latino art (she’s on the board of the Smithsonian Institution), reading, watching television and going to the movies
Turning Point in Career: Being accused of plagiarism in high school on a paper. “That pain drove me. I wrote an article for Seventeen magazine about why girls shouldn’t go to an all-Catholic girls school, and it changed my life.
By FRANK SWERTLOW
Within a few short years, Nely Galan, the Cuban-born president of Los Angeles-based Galan Entertainment, has established herself as one of the leading players in the Latino media community.
Her diversified company specializes in Latino-themed films and television programming in the United States and in the Spanish-speaking world. Galan saw a niche that wasn’t being filled the vast and growing Latino audience in the United States and abroad.
One division of Galan Entertainment, LAb, has become a bridge between entertainment companies in North and South America. LAb also produces on-air promotions and original programming for the Fox Latin American Channel a 24-hour cable network serving 18 countries throughout Latin America. LAb also helped launch Fox Kids Network in Latin America.
In addition, this division promoted the launch of Fox Sports Americas and produces all on-air promotions for the network in the United States and the Latin American Spanish-speaking market.
Galan, who left Cuba at the age of 4, was involved in the roll-out of HBO En Espanol in the United States and played a key role in the launch of ESPN’s Spanish and Portuguese language services.
Raised in Northern New Jersey, Galan currently is developing several TV and film projects in Hollywood, including a feature film about the life of Puerto Rican baseball star Roberto Clemente.
Galan operates from an office in Venice, not far from Main Street in Santa Monica. An avid collector of Latino art, her office could double as a museum for aspiring artists.
Question: All of a sudden Hollywood has discovered the Latino audience. Why?
Answer: It was very clear to me, being the kid of Latino immigrant parents, how we weren’t being seen in the media. Logic told me that if I was desperate to find product for me, every other Latino kid was desperate to find product for us. I have been saying this since I was 15 years old. The world revolves around economics. American companies forget about Hollywood had maxed out in the United States and expanded into Europe. But Europe became highly expensive. What are the next two markets? Asia and Latin America. Latin America is way easier to do business in than Asia. Asia is 20 million languages and customs that are really different. Latin America is right next door two languages, Spanish and Portuguese. The U.S. Latino market is the richest Latin market, richer than any Latin country. This market has arrived.
Q: What is Galan Entertainment?
A: We are a cross between an ad agency and a TV production company. We help an entertainment company brand and market its products to the Latino community here and in Latin America. We have done everything from launching TV channels in Latin America to consulting consumer product companies on how to launch their product. We also sell programming in Latin America. We like to get in on the ground floor.
Q: Until recently, what was the kind of TV programming that Latinos in this country could see in their living rooms?
A: It was very sad. What we were getting was imported product from Latin America. It was cultural imperialism, the values and ethics of Latin American television Mexican, Venezuelan, Colombian, Argentine. The hot button these shows were hitting was nostalgia. My mother felt more comfortable watching this television.
Q: How relevant were these imported shows to the lives of Latinos in this country?
A: These TV shows had no bearing on what it was like to be a young Latino growing up in the United States with immigrant parents who don’t speak English. We were living in a country where it was OK not to be married when you were 30. Here, you need to be successful, but your mother is telling you that you are a loser (if you are not married). It’s like when I bought my house in Los Angeles and my mother, who was crying, says to me. “I thought there would be the day that when I saw my daughter in a house like this, her husband would have bought it.” How do you deal with such shocking values?
Q: You were married and divorced when you were younger. What was the impact of this on your family?
A: I might as well wear a scarlet letter. My parents don’t see me as successful at all. I feel like damaged goods. When you are raised in a family that has certain values, part of you believes it. If you are a Catholic, and you are raised in a Catholic school, you believe part of it, too.
Q: How has that religious education played out in your business career?
A: Latin people don’t feel comfortable just making money, which is very American. I feel like I have to have a calling, a reason for what I do. I have to give back to my community.
Q: Why did Hollywood avoid dealing with the Latinos in this country?
A: It’s all about money. They felt the Latino community was just a niche. The market was out there, but it is complex.
Q: How has Hollywood shaped the view of the Latino culture in this country?
A: Horrible. Latinos in this country have seen themselves through the eyes of everyone else but themselves. We see ourselves through Latin America and Hollywood’s vision, which is the people who have maids and gardeners. That is their experience.
Q: People have described you as a firecracker. Fair?
A: I don’t mind the word firecracker. I am very opinionated, and I am strong in what I feel and I am very passionate. I have been told that is a flaw in Hollywood, but I wish more people had more passion and really had the feeling of what they do is important. I guess that is a firecracker.
Q: OK, you now come to California and you are a Cuban and you have to face a Mexican community that has long been established here. What prejudices did you face?
A: Luckily I lived in New York and Texas and I have a very national perspective of the Latino market. When I first got here, it was, “Who is this woman and how did she get here?” As anything in life, you have to prove yourself, even to your own people. People are very concerned if you are a Latino that you are not representing just Cuban views. If I was Cuban, I was supposed to be very right wing, which many Cubans are, then I couldn’t understand the Mexican American point of view.
Q: Do you have any memories of Cuba?
A: I have very vague memories, but when I went back to visit my relatives, I completely flashed back to when I was 3 years old. It made me appreciate what I have. It’s horrible over there.
Q: How influential has Catholicism been in your life?
A: There’s been good and there’s bad. Having been raised in all-girl Catholic schools has made me a woman’s woman. I love women. I am not jealous of other women. Women are my foundation. Catholic schools, I rejected it a lot for many years. I always felt more akin to Judaism. I felt more connection to the Jews I grew up with. As I grow older, I realize that the spiritual foundation I got in school is what I go back to. I always felt a calling in my life. I should make money, but why I am on Earth is to really change the way Latinos are seen in the media. If it takes me 40 years, it will take 40 years. I was raised with nuns and priests. I know what it is to have a calling.
Q: You have worked for Fox here and in Latin America. What is it like dealing with Rupert Murdoch?
A: He is really very sweet, like a really sweet dad. He is beyond smart. He is so singularly focused on his business that he knows everything. He’ll ask you a question and you’ll say, how did he know that? He is interested and interesting. News Corp. works well with entrepreneurs.
Q: Murdoch likes to work with tough women?
A: The only woman I have been in his presence with is his wife. The most incredible thing is how he deals with his wife and his children. He is so madly in love with his wife and his kids are so normal. He is not a harsh man.
Q: You could have had a broadcasting career, and you still appear on television a lot as a guest. Why didn’t you go into this world full-time?
A: It is a question that I have asked myself. I have been on camera a lot. Some of my mentors say, “why do you want to be a mogul-ette? Go be an anchorwoman and make $500,000.” The answer is, I believe that each one of us is on Earth for a reason. There are a lot of people who can be an anchorwoman. But I don’t think there is anyone on Earth who can bridge the gap between the American studio system and the Latino world in the United States except me.
Q: What is a typical day?
A: I get up at 6 a.m. and I meditate, or I get my thoughts together. I write in my diary every day. I come to the office by 9 a.m. My life is different. It could be approving an ad for a Fox channel, to creating a campaign on how to launch a news channel. I take a meeting and I talk to investment bankers about expanding my company. I love doing business plans and creating a great piece of work. I usually finish around 7 p.m. and then I go home and read. If I go out to dinner, maybe twice a week, I will still read. I go to bed around midnight.