My immigrant story isn’t as simple as the tale of moving to another country and choosing to stay there. Though I spent some of my early childhood years in the United States, I was born in Iran and, because of my father’s job, my family moved around a lot. It wasn’t until I entered university that I was able to go back to the United States.
At the age of 17, I went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, after finding that Ursinus College wasn’t the right fit for me. There, I joined the Chi Phi fraternity, where an Iranian name like Fariborz was either too difficult or to intimidating to pronounce. Because there was no “Bob” in the house, my frat brothers thus decided to call me by that name. After earning two undergraduate and a master’s degree, I went to study at Harvard Business School, where I earned an MBA and a doctorate.
Upon finishing academics, I followed in my grandfather’s and father’s footsteps by serving my country as the deputy vice minister for international investments in Iran’s Ministry of Finance. My career took a turn, however, when I came across corruption in the ministry and reported it, without knowledge of how high up the practice went. So I resigned and returned to the States to join the World Bank group as an investment officer at the International Finance Corporation.
In 1977, when a number of my colleagues came into power in Iran, I returned to hold the vice ministerial post for just over a year. In late 1978, I realized the Shah’s government was about to be toppled in revolution. With my father’s connections with his majesty King Hossein of Jordan, I was fortunately able to leave Iran.
I once again came back to the United States, where I accepted a tenured position as a professor at the George Washington University. My arrival back to the U.S. coincided with the Iranian hostage crisis, when 52 Americans working in the embassy in Tehran were held hostage for 444 days by a group of militants in Iran’s revolutionary movement. During this time, it was a little disturbing being an Iranian, as the media whipped the public into a never-before-seen media frenzy. When dealing on a personal level, I was relieved to find my students at GWU being very respectful. It was also during this time that I made the decision to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
I continued to teach at the university level and grew my own consulting and executive education business for Fortune 100 companies. I became sought after as an authority on future business trends, global economic assessment, and global corporate strategy and implementation. In 1992, I interviewed with Penn State benefactor William A. Schreyer, chairman emeritus of Merrill Lynch, along with Dean J. Hammond, and accepted the newly endowed position as professor of Global Management, Policies, and Planning, with the understanding that I would additionally be the founding director of the new Center for Global Business Studies. Schreyer became my friend and mentor and later encouraged me to join the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the world’s preeminent think tank.
Eventually, I began to wonder when I would be asked to serve on any boards. While these Fortune 100 companies readily asked for my insight, I saw no offers proffered in my direction. I soon figured out I would have to swallow my pride and actually ask to be considered. So, in 2006, I was granted a seat on the board of directors at Westfield Insurance Group and was honored to serve. Then, a year later, the former Vice President of Kodak North America and prior head of Kodak’s Healthcare Business United Bob Hamilton approached me to sit on the board of the newly formed Nason Medical Center.
This is only one story of an immigrant. My success is built on hard work, a supportive family, and the American culture, which is based more on meritocracy and the tolerance of immigrants than on one’s heritage.