Los Angeles, CA – “The pressure is having an impact on everybody, but we’re not suffering from it,” says Izak Parviz Nazarian, considered the world’s richest Jewish Iranian.
“We didn’t diversify into a bunch of different fields that are now failing and are not strong enough to get back on their feet,” the 81-year-old told Hebrew-language daily Maariv in a recent interview. “As businessmen, we examine every business that comes up and that’s why we didn’t suffer from what happened. We run our businesses cautiously, and also we’re very strong financially and we’re able to cope with the current situation.”
Nazarian was born in Tehran, where he lost his father at the age of five. At 12 he was already working in a car repair shop to help the family make ends meet. Five years later he moved to Italy, where he made contact with Jewish Agency emissaries.
He moved to Eretz Yisroel in 1948, just after the founding of the state. “When I was a poor boy in Iran, my goal was to be in Eretz Yisroel, in Am Yisroel, with the heads of our kehilloh.”
He joined a tank brigade and was seriously injured in a mine explosion during the War of Independence. After spending five months in the hospital he opened an auto repair shop in Tel Aviv, but eight years later decided to return to his home country. There he became a major industrialist and contractor, partly thanks to his ties with infrastructures companies in Israel. He had hundreds of employees working on the construction of the sewage system for Isfahan, laying roads and building irrigation canals. Shuttling between Israel and Iran, he established joint enterprises in construction equipment, electronics and sheet metal production.
In 1979 Khomeini returned to power, ousting the Shaw. Nazarian and his brother Younes quickly left for Israel after a Khomeini associate hinted that if he valued his life, he should leave the country right away. After a short time in Eretz Hakodesh he again packed his bags, this time settling in the US.
Teaming up with three MIT professors, he founded Omninet, which developed technology capable of tracking trucks by satellite – the precursor to GPS – and when it merged with Qualcomm in San Diego, Nazarian became a major stockholder in the pioneering cell-phone company. He took over, expanded and still chairs Stadco, a leading producer of high-precision tooling and parts for the aerospace industry. He also served as chairman of Omninet Capital, a diversified investment firm in the fields of private equity, real estate and venture capital, and has holdings in Eden IQ, which develops technology for greener fuel use, and PWP Industries, which develops specialized food packaging.
“I’m still fully involved in the business,” says Nazarian. “I come into the office at 9 a.m., I have the honor of having my children and employees with me and we work together. It’s nice to come in and work with the young generation. They have their own way of thinking and you have to respect it. They present their ideas and we discuss them and reach decisions.”
He attributes his success to meeting the right people in the US, honesty in his business dealings and respect for others.
Most of the Nazarian clan – three daughters, one son and 11 grandchildren – live in Beverly Hills, where he takes an active role in the Jewish community. “We were attracted by the climate, which is similar to Tehran’s, and we were readily accepted by the Jewish community, which wasn’t the case in other American cities,” Nazarian told the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.
“I’ve always been involved in Jewish society, both in Iran and in Israel. I learned how to manage groups, and when I came to America I was involved in all of the Zionist and Jewish institutions here. I considered it a great pleasure,” he recalls.
Over the years the family, whose collective net worth has been estimated at between $1.5 and $2 billion, has been involved in a variety of philanthropic activities: aiding Jewish refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan, helping Israeli diplomats escape Iran when the Islamic Revolution broke out, organizing the secret emigration of Soviet Jews through Armenia to Israel, providing college scholarships in Israel and supporting Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University, the Technion and the Weizmann Institute of Science.
“Today it’s very important to me to help the Jews in America, especial Jews of Persian descent, to ensure they settle here successfully. This will allow us to be united and listen to one another, and also support the state of Israel together.” The Persian Jewish community is known to be extremely close-knit, especially within families.
“A few of my friends and I bought a church in Beverly Hills and turned it into the most stately and modern synagogue in Beverly Hills.
“I’m observant and I also teach my children to be good Jews, and so the state of Israel is important to us. We keep kosher and speak about Judaism. Here in Los Angeles we have a lot of Persian synagogues. We adhere to Jewish tradition and enjoy it, especially when we all gather together and suddenly I see 70 or 80 children, grandchildren and family members gathered together for one of the holidays.”
Nazarian also keeps tabs on the kehilloh in Iran, which numbers 25,000 Jews. “The kehilloh and I monitor everything that happens in Iran, to ensure no harm befalls the Jewish community, chaliloh. We’re in touch with them, monitor the stability of this community and I’d like to take all of the Jews out of there and bring them to Israel.”
After not stepping foot in Iran for three decades, would he like to return to his homeland for a visit? “No. As far as I’m concerned Israel is the country where I was born.”