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Lessons in success
Hopefully younger Iranian-Americans will try to emulate the success of their Jewish-American counterparts


June 8, 2006

I thought of what I'm about to write here after a brief conversation with a fellow Iranian-American. A young man in his late 20's who although was well educated surprised me with his comment that he was considering changing his name to a Jewish name. When I asked why -- he explained that in his field of work he deals with wealthy individuals and the Jewish people are more wealthy than other Americans. I asked him what about the overwhelmingly large percentage of Iranian-Americans who are also affluent. Just as I had expected he said he doesn't want to go after them because they don't want to work with Iranians!  

Well after that exchange for some reason I got motivated to learn if in fact Jewish Americans do have most of the wealth in this country, and as I was doing my research I instead digressed into learning more about their success story especially after I came across  Jewish Phenomenon: Seven Keys to the Enduring Wealth of a People. Granted it was not a book written by a quantitative social scientist thus missing some of the supporting stats and data that one may expect in a book that gives "keys" to anything, but even so the author's belief on the seven keys seemed so logical that I decided to read it and now share it here with you.

1) Understand that real wealth is portable; it's knowledge [education].
2) Take care of your own and they will take care of you
3) Successful people are professionals and entrepreneurs
4) Develop your verbal confidence
5) Be selectively extravagant but prudently frugal
6) Celebrate individuality: Encourage creativity
7) Have something to prove: A drive to succeed.

Now as I'm about to give you my opinion on this let me first mention couple of things with first being that I'm also not a social scientist. Also I think it is safe to say that when factoring in the Jewish success one also has to realize that the Jewish presence in America has a far older history in American than Iranians. After all the first Jews migrated to this country back in 1600's. Moreover many of the above mentioned keys/traits especially the education part which to many may be one of the main reasons behind the "individual" success of a person are not just exclusive traits of Jewish community, after all many other Asian ethnicities (e.g. Indian, Chinese) in this country have also exhibited that trait.

So with that said lets look at those traits. We know Iranian-American have the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 7th key down just as much as not only our Jewish fellow citizens, but as they say in business those traits aren't enough to give the community a competitive advantage over other communities with the same traits.  So lets talk about the widely talked about traits that we don't have, or at least I think we don't have and that is taking care of our own.

In his book the author Silbiger writes the following regarding this subject:

"To safeguard and enhance the health of their community, Jews zealously deploy their wealth and their time for both charity and social action. ... In spite of the stereotype that they are miserly, Jews happen to be the most philanthropic ethnic group in the country. Total Jewish philanthropic giving totaled about $4.5 billion in 1997. "

Now again I realize as a whole the Iranian-Americans don't have the same wealth as the Jewish Americans but still there are many wealthy Iranian-Americans. Yet have you ever looked at the budget of some of the various charity and non-profit Iranian-American organization here in US? Forget about billion, they are not even in millions; heck some will even be glad if their annual budget has six digits. Again this all while we have so many Iranian-Americans who have made not only millions of dollars but also some have made several hundred millions and some even billions of dollars.

The author also wrote about this concept called the Jewish Free Loan Societies that help immigrants and other Jews in need. Apparently there are about forty of these institutions around the country, and they make about $40 million in loans each year, interest free! Remember that the next time you hear someone calling them cheap.

He expands to include the simple concept of how the Jews support the community by patronizing and using Jewish businesses. Now some of you may think that by buying your barbari and lavash breads from your local Iranian market, you are doing your share of supporting the community; but for some reason I don't think that the Jewish community are where they are now because Mr. Silverman bought his kosher food from Mr. Cohen. Instead I think they are here because Mr. Silverman used Mr. Cohen's investment banking services to raise funds for his company or his legal services by hiring him on a retainer for X dollars an hour. 

Now I agree that sometimes Iranians don't deal with other Iranians because they don't believe that individual is experienced enough in his or her field, which is a completely valid reason -- after all business is business. So in those cases I can understand their logic, although at times and oddly enough they sometimes end up dealing with individuals in larger firms, which are ironically Jewish owned; and deal with someone who is also not as experienced. At any rate the point is that there are many Iranians who are well educated, and experienced in their professions be it technology, law, financial, medicine, etc ... who would like nothing but to work with fellow Iranians but given this hang-up they don't get the chance. 

Maybe one reason especially in the area of financial services has to do with the fifth key that the author had mentioned for the Jewish success. After all what are Iranians really famous for? Definitely not frugality -- for a while it was their BMW's and Benz's and now these days for stretching themselves thin with their mega mansions and homes in the most expensive zip codes. Which as a result makes them not wanting to deal with an Iranian because they don't want her or him to know about their net worth, yet again ironically they are perfectly fine and trusting of others with this secret.

I don't know what are the scientific causes (if there is any) behind this but this is a matter that although as I mentioned is widely discussed among Iranian-Americans yet up to now it has been just as a lip service and a prescription given to others and not thyself. I hope at some point we move from complaining to actually doing something about it. Hopefully the younger Iranian-Americans will try to emulate the success of their Jewish-American counterparts (as an Iranian) so in another 50 years or so there will be a book under the title the Iranian Phenomenon! 

In closing let me finish with the following actionable ideas from the book -- which by the way I highly recommend that you take a look at:

"From a purely economic perspective, it is critical to build the community's financial, educational and spiritual capital base. This builds self-esteem in its children and creates the means for them to succeed.

1. Support your own group's community based and national charitable organizations.
2. Create foundation and endowments for long term self help goals of your groups.
3. Organize, vote and participate in politics consistently.
4. Patronize your own group's local businesses.
5. Support general issues that also support your group's interest."

For letters section
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Book of the day

The Pursuit of Pleasure
Drugs and Stimulants in Iranian History, 1500-1900
by Rudi Matthee

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