By WASIM KHIZARAN
Ali Reza Arabnia, an ordinary Persian man, who started his life in Iran, was recently awarded the prestigious title of Knight of the Order of Merit for Labor in Italy because of his extraordinary achievements in the business world.
Earning this award, however, was not easy. Born in Tehran in 1955, his young life was affected dramatically by the Iranian revolution. He lost all of his investments and was accused of being a terrorist. Even though Arabnia was shunned by his own society, he did not give up.
“Everything I have been through was painful for me, and I do not want to cause this pain to others,” Arabnia said.
Instead, he promised to treat people well and devote his life to helping those in need. His mantra: treat people better than others treat you.
Today, Arabnia is the President and CEO of Geico, a company with a long-standing industrial tradition that has always played a leading role in supplying car manufacturers with complete automated paint plants. He is also one of John Cabot University’s most successful graduates, and one of the university’s 30 trustees.
Arabnia’s face has graced the cover of many international publications. He received the official Knight medallion in October 2014 at the Presidential Palace in Rome. In addition, the Italian Republic awarded him for his merits in Republican affairs, which is Italy’s highest civil recognition.
The businessman is active in different charity organizations, including Gate Bridge and New Hope Bridge that invest in young people by helping them find jobs and gain work experience. Meanwhile, his company, Geico, pays for their education.
In addition, Arabnia created a youth group in Geico called Gnex. He employs a random number of students three days a week to come up with ideas to improve his company.
“He is a humble man who appears to be like anybody else. He did not use his success and his education to rule people; instead he uses these to help them,” said Chiara Cervini, one of the members of JCU’s business club who was invited to visit Geico.
“Based on my work experience in Geico, I understood that Arabnia is trying to build a model for future entrepreneurs in order for them to be not only great managers, but also great people,” said Davide Menci, a former JCU student who interned in the marketing and communications department at Geico.
Arabnia made it to Italy after falling in love with an Italian woman, who he later married, while studying in England. Then in 1983 while studying at JCU, he started working as a consultant for Gecofin, his father-in-law’s company. Arabnia graduated from JCU and moved to Nigeria to work as the CEO of Econi (engineering and contracting).
But his father-in-law was forced to sell Gecofin because of financial problems. Arabnia did not want to lose the company to outsiders, and so he invested his own money and bought it in 1994, naming it Geico.
In 2005 Geico reached its highest record, until it faced the second wave of the economic crisis in 2008. The company, like the rest of the country, faced tough times; though Geico lost a lot, the company never gave up. To recover, Geico invited the CEOs of prominent Italian banks to see how great the company still was, how successful it would be if they invested in it.
Geico succeeded in convincing the CEOs. In 2011, Geico went global, forming an alliance with Taikisha Ltd of Japan.