Ali Reza Arabnia '87

CEO, President, Chairman

Wednesday, October 24, 2018TOPICS: AlumniLeadershipSpotlights

USD alumni and Italian Knight of Labor, Ali Reza Arabnia
begin quotePersonal sacrifice as a corporate manager for the benefit of the whole seemed ‘innovative’ but for me, I was simply doing my job responsibly. My pledge is that each company understands its influence on society and contributes something positive.

GeicoTaikisha

Chivalry is not lost; it just looks different in the modern world. Fast forward hundreds of years from knights in shining armor galloping into battle to one company president and CEO battling the recession, keeping his company active and employees afloat through the 2008 economic crisis -- chivalry is still alive.

Chivalry was an early standard of professional ethics for knights. Knighthood was and still is an honor granted by a monarch or head of state for a meritorious achievement. Ali Reza Arabnia ’87 (MBA) never saw knighthood coming.

“I was nominated without my knowledge. It was surprising,” says Arabnia.

In 2014, the former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano knighted Arabnia as a Cavaliere del Lavoro, or Knight of Labor. This title is a significant one in Italy—only 25 people are recognized annually. More than half are leaders of successful corporations. The others, like Arabnia, are entrepreneurs who have contributed to the country’s growth, taking personal risks and creating not only jobs, but success and wellness in their communities.

During the Eurozone financial crisis, Arabnia used his own resources to enact change. The focus of his Milan-based company, GeicoTaikisha Group, is the planning and construction of automated car painting systems. Because of the downturn, the company faced a total blackout on new investments—even the majority of existing orders were postponed, frozen or canceled by vehicle producers worldwide. He decided he had to come up with a plan. Instead of downsizing, he invested more than ever into innovating both the company’s processes and new technologies based on the market’s critical expectations, while focusing on aggressive training programs of his staff.

These plans paid off. The most concrete result of all these efforts came when the first international bid to build a new Paint Shop realized in 2010. His company was awarded over a $100 million dollar contract from Renault/Nissan. From there it became easier to win other project bids in BRIC countries, as well as others.

Once the crisis was over and Geico was back on track, Arabnia decided to pay back his people what they had lost during the crisis.

“I did this simply because I had considered it a moral debt to people who during the two years of crisis had made a lot of sacrifices not only to themselves but even more importantly, to their families,” he says. It wasn’t the first time Arabnia made that type of decision. After 9/11, when he was working for a listed American corporation, he gave up his bonus and part of his salary to avoid laying people off.

“I was not going to make quick, superficial decisions just to show that I am able to make tough decisions,” Arabnia says. “We are talking about people and families. Their wellness is a concrete contribution to our society’s serenity. I am disinclined to make decisions that might seem logical only to make quarterly results look good, causing grave consequences to the future of the company and its people. Making personal sacrifice as a corporate manager for the benefit of the whole seemed quite ‘innovative’ at the time but for me, it was simply doing my job with responsibility.”

This type of leadership is what drew Arabnia to the University of San Diego School of Business in the first place. The School's mission of preparing responsible business leaders aligned with Arabnia’s values.

“I was talking to Sister Mary [during a visit], and everything I heard was about ethics. Ethics was infused in conversations about the MBA program and the leadership culture. When I started to study [at USD] it was a beautiful experience, which gave me the confirmation I could do business in a selfless, community-orientated way and still be successful,” says Arabnia.

Arabnia’s dedication to the people of Italy manifests in many other ways. In addition to the measures he put in place during the economic crisis, Arabnia also made an effort to impact the high unemployment rate in the country. In 2011, he invested in the younger generation by creating an internship program that often leads to full-time employment. So far, 21 interns have been hired.

“My pledge has been, and what I hope to see, is that each company does its part to understand its influence on society and contribute something positive,” he says. “Twenty-one people may not change the economy of Italy or even a company of our size, but it will open doors to those youth and hopefully change their lives.”

So as it turns out, chivalry is still alive. Arabnia continues to brighten people's lives and hopes to encourage other companies to follow his lead, even while battling tough times.

Contact:

Renata Ramirez
renataramirez@sandiego.edu
(619) 260-4658