Q+A with Inspiring Iranians Founder Fred Parvaneh

By Iman Sadri

Fred Parvaneh at an event in Los Angeles (Image Credit Getty).

February 28, 2018

In a diaspora every once in a generation comes an influencer so prolific that you are grateful for their existence – everyday. Fred Parvaneh is ones these rarities. He is to the Iranian American community what Ryan Murphy is to network television. Groundbreaking and historic. In the almost 40 years that Iranian Americans have resided in Southern California, Fred Parvaneh has already been enshrined in the proverbial Persian American Hall of Fame. His contributions to the social media outlets of Inspiring IraniansBeyond Shahs of Sunset and Kayhan Life have left an indelible mark on the global Persian community. Through social media’s connection to millions of Persians around the world, Mr. Parvaneh’s reach to Iranians everywhere is felt through this vast new medium. His posts and bios of influential Iranians serve as a constant reminder of the diversity of talent, positivity and inspiration within the Persian populous.

Fred Parvaneh shares stories and bios on achievement within the global Iranian community. For its current time in this Information Age they are unique and historic. Unique because Parvaneh delivers posts on the best of a community – showcasing an Iranian Olympian on a Monday and an Iranian Astronaut on a Tuesday – Iranians everywhere in the world from Mazandaran to Malibu are reached with the same positive stories of inspiration and influence within their community – not just because of the outlet of their distribution – namely Facebook, but because of the impactfulness of Fred Parvaneh’s posts. Via social media they are more far reaching than satellite television, more than magazines and other forms of thinning print media. Mr. Parvaneh’s contribution are on a global scale, real time, all the time. Which makes them historic. For the first time in over 30 + years Iranians are connecting globally – with social media – and Fred Parvaneh serves as a refreshing non-political conduit showcasing the best of a 21st century diaspora that goes back to 550 B.C.

The word Parvaneh is Farsi for Butterfly. And just like in a real life Butterfly Effect,  where a butterfly’s wings can be a catalyst for a seismic weather pattern, Fred Parvaneh is seismic for the global Persian community and humanity at large.

To gain further insight into the life of a such an influential force in global Iranian media we caught up with Fred Parvaneh, who resides in Los Angeles. 

Iman Sadri: Thank you for sharing your remarkable story with us. Can you elaborate on your early life, education and background, including when you emigrated to the U.S. ?

Fred Parvaneh: I came to the USA in 1975 after graduating from high-school (Iranzamin-Tehran International School) and attended Bucknell University. I studied civil engineering and received a Masters in Structural Engineering from Northeastern University. The last time I visited Iran was the summer of 1976. My parents had a second home in London and when the Iranian Revolution happened they became British citizens and made London their permanent residence. I am a naturalized U.S. citizen, divorced and have two sons, Andrew (age 24) and Philip (age 22).

Fred Parvaneh with friends.

IS: Can you elaborate on your early work history and some of the lessons you can share from these work/life experiences?

Fred Parvaneh: After graduating from college I worked at an engineering firm in Boston and eventually got transferred to the Los Angeles office of the company in the early 80’s. Having fulfilled my obligations, I decided to move back to the East Coast, got married and started one of the very first mortgage brokerage firms in New York City along with my wife and another partner. The industry at that time was not well known and it was both exciting and challenging to establish a foothold in the NYC market. My wife had been a senior underwriter at a large mortgage servicing company and it was her idea to start the company. Being young and having an entrepreneurial spirit, I abandoned engineering and decided to go into mortgage banking. When our first son was born, my wife retired and eventually we sold the company and I joined a mid-size mortgage bank in NYC as its Chief Operating Officer.

The most important lessons I learned as a self-employed individual was that its OK to gain experience by making a mistake but to make sure that mistake is never repeated a second time. I also came to realize that every business will have peaks and valleys and its vital that one surrounds themselves with a good team.

IS: In your bio it states that you were a private client Mortgage Banker and Director at a home loan company. What was the inspiration to pursue this field and what are some of your fondest memories / personal milestones in this career?

Fred Parvaneh in early childhood.

Fred Parvaneh: When I reached 50 years old I decided to retire from the mortgage industry. The financial crisis took its toll on me both financially and emotionally and I needed a break. After spending a few months off I had an idea of starting a restaurant chain, but the project faced many obstacles and was eventually shelved. I subsequently worked as a Realtor in Mendham, NJ where I used to live and then later joined JP Morgan Chase as a Private Mortgage Banker covering some of their branches around 57th & Park Avenue in New York City. After spending 5 years with Chase, I came across a notice that an old competitor of mine had started a new mortgage company and I joined her firm as a Director. I worked there for a year before embarking on a new career change and my move to Los Angeles.

“The word Parvaneh is Farsi for Butterfly. And just like in a real life Butterfly Effect, in which a butterfly’s wings can be a catalyst for a seismic weather pattern, Fred Parvaneh is seismic for the global Persian community and humanity at large.” – Iman Sadri

IS: Can you elaborate on how you made the transition from finance to media and what the catalyst was to make this change?

Fred Parvaneh here resembling a real life mix of Pete Sampras and Michael Keaton.

Fred Parvaneh: The mortgage financial crisis made new lending a difficult task. Strict new regulations and the hesitancy of banks to approve new mortgage loans created an acrimonious atmosphere and I simply did not enjoy being part of that industry anymore.

Social Media from its early days fascinated me and even at my advanced age (I am now 60 years old), I had been a participant but strictly as a hobby. I thought that social media marketing was a viable business and I decided to give it a shot.

IS: Was this the first media venture that you started after a career in finance?

Fred Parvaneh: Yes, and by far this has been the most enjoyable profession I have had in my life. I have met so many wonderful people both virtually and in real life through my work.

Fred Parvaneh with sons Andrew and Philip.

IS: When did you start Inspiring Iranians and what was the motivation behind it ?

Fred Parvaneh : About three years ago the founder of the Facebook page Beyond Shahs of Sunset approached me to see if I can act as a co-contributor and a co-administrator of his page. I told him I would be happy to do so as I had been a fan for a long time but asked if I can start an Instagram page that followed the original idea of the page – to highlight and introduce accomplished Iranian-Americans to the general populace. Beyond Shahs of Sunset began as a reaction to the Bravo reality series Shahs of Sunset. It was never meant to disparage the actors or the format of the show, but simply to educate non-Iranians that there is another side to the Iranian diaspora.

Like most pages on the web, Beyond Shahs of Sunset has now morphed into something entirely different from its original idea. The page currently has numerous contributors each with their own editorial agenda and stories.

For some reason I was being singled out and admonished for other people’s content.

To avoid any confusion, a year ago I changed the Instagram page to Inspiring Iranians and simultaneously created new Facebook and Twitter pages under the name Inspiring Iranians.

Back to the Future : Fred Parvaneh and friend.

IS: Can you elaborate on some of your fondest recollections with Inspiring Iranians thus far, and your plans with it moving forward?

Fred Parvaneh: What has surprised me and delighted me at the same time are the gracious and beautiful messages I receive from the fans of the page as well as the people I feature. Without exaggeration, I get daily positive messages either privately or publicly in the comments sections commending me about the posts.

On the rare occasion that I get negative comments from trolls seeking their 15 seconds of fame, I delete their comments and ban them from my page (but not before I respond to them and let them know where I stand).

As far as whose comments stand out? There have been so many that have brought a tear to my eye, but one in particular was from Mahsa Ahmadi, an Iranian stunt woman now working in Hollywood. In her email she thanked me profusely and said that no Iranian man had taken the time to appreciate her work and after facing so many obstacles in Iran she was so grateful to see her name in America. I have printed her letter and it sits on my desk as a daily reminder of the good in most people.

Fred Parvaneh first row, first from the left.

IS: What was the key to success in gaining such a large Facebook following for Inspiring Iranians?

Fred Parvaneh: Well, I can’t take credit for the large followers for Beyond Shahs of Sunset. All credit should go to its founder and the page’s other co-contributors. I’m delighted to have contributed in a small way to its success, and hope my daily posts through Inspiring Iranians will gain more followers for both pages.

I think the reason Inspiring Iranians is popular is because the page’s message is always positive and I try my best to keep politics out of it. However like most articles associated with Iran, a political discussion inevitably filters in.

IS: Do you feel there is a shortage of the promotion of the Persian culture and people to Americans within the Iranian American diaspora? If so, why do you think Iranians are not vocal enough about the Persian culture to change the public perception?

Fred Parvaneh: YES!!!! Absolutely there is shortage, but I am happy to see the perceptions are slowly but surely changing. Non-profits like Farhang Foundation and individuals like Roshi Rahnama (owner of The Space-by Advocartsy) and Shari Rezai to name a few have been instrumental in promoting Iranian art, culture and lifestyle relentlessly. Even Persian food has finally been recognized as one of the finest and deservedly so best cuisines in the world, thanks to the efforts of some renowned Iranian chefs.

I think the reason more Iranians, especially those around my age have not been vocal is because of the hostage crisis and the impact it had on our small diaspora. In a sense we were hardwired to get assimilated in the American culture, study and work hard and earn a life without making too many references to our culture or history. I am happy to see the public perception changing and the yearning of the younger generation of American-Iranians discovering their roots and learning about their rich culture.

Fred Parvaneh.

IS: What more do you think can be done to change how Iranians are perceived publicly in America ?

Fred Parvaneh: Higher Education has been and will continue to be the driving force in promoting our community. I also think social media and positive stories about Iran and Iranians in general will have a tremendous impact on how everyone views and learns about us.

Sites like yours are invaluable and authors like Dr. Nina Ansary, media personalities like Christiane Amanpour, Rudi Bakhtiar, Nazenin Ansari and Maz Jobrani have all been in the forefront of introducing Iranian stories in a positive light.

Furthermore having a political voice is crucial to our growth as a community and it gives me great hope to see people like Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, Goli Ameri and many more especially the younger generation getting involved in the American political system.

IS: What other media goals and pursuits do you have planned in addition to Inspiring Iranians?

Fred Parvaneh: I am extremely proud to be part of KayhanLife.com as their Social Media Executive Director. A little over a year ago, the managing editor of Kayhan LondonNazenin Ansari decided to start an English only digital publication with a spotlight on Iranians and the Iranian arts, culture and lifestyle and hired me to run their social media pages (@kayhanlife) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Working at Kayhan Life has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Thanks to a very helpful senior editor, I have also become a journalist late in life and as I write articles for Kayhan Life and conduct interview with celebrities and dignitaries.

As far as other goals, I always looking for more clients that I can promote on social media and as a side project, videographer Shahin Shafaei and I have a page called L.A. Foodies Social Club which tapes video stories about restaurants in Los Angeles. We have taped two with a focus on Persian Restaurants (Taste of Tehran and Sadaf in Encino) and time allowing plan to do some more.

Fred Parvaneh doing a feature with Sadaf Restaurant.

IS: What are some career lessons and advice that you would give to your 21- year old self and to Millennials ?

Fred Parvaneh: It may sound cliché, but READ MORE BOOKS and PURSUE YOUR PASSION. I will also tell everyone at any age to further their formal education.

IS: If you could go back in time and interview inspiring Iranians in history no longer alive who are some people that you would like to meet with?

Fred Parvaneh: Reza Shah – he was such a forceful and intriguing character. Zoroaster – he was a game changer and prophet. Maryam Mirzakhani – a beautiful mind.

“Fred PARVaneh serves as a conduit showcasing the best of a 21st century diaspora that goes back to 550 B.C.” – Iman Sadri

IS: Imagine you are 100 years old and reading your Wikipedia profile. What other life milestones would you like to see on the list?

Fred Parvaneh: Well, I hope I will be reading my re-edited Everipedia Page (shameless plug and thank you Mahbod Moghadam J) but I would very much like to see a book or books under my name and some type of philanthropic effort furthering women’s causes and rights.

IS: If you could travel back in time and visit in Iran during any point in its 2500 + year history when would you travel to and why ?

Fred Parvaneh: I would have loved to seen Persepolis in it’s heyday and splendor. Entering the gates would have been an awe-inspiring sight.

Also Isfahan during the reign of the Safavid Dynasty. The city remains as one of my favorites in the world.

IS: Can you elaborate on you daily life / schedule now during the week ?

I have terrible sleeping habits and because of the London/LA time difference I work on posts for Kayhan at odd hours.

Im addicted to my Iphone and for all intents and purposes I am on call 24/7. My day begins with a cup of coffee and I visit and interact on social media pages and my posts. I also try to complete all my articles and submit them to my editor on a timely basis.
By nature I ike attending as many events that will help me grow both intellectually and culturally, and I never pass up a good meal with close friends.

I have promised myself that I will exercise regularly and at least in my mind I have made a commitment to lose weight and stay healthy. Effective March 1st, I plan on allocating an hour a day to physical exercise.

Fred Parvaneh is a cultural influencer who’s impact has been far reaching in the Iranian community at large. From his contributions to Beyond Shahs of Sunset, Inspiring Iranians and Kayhan Life, and his interviews with filmmakers and restaurateurs, Parvaneh is a constant source of daily information the Persian community had been in need of for many decades – Parvaneh through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is empowering our community with his enriching links with a focus on people, not politics or agendas. With Fred Parvaneh there is an emphasis on culture, the arts, impactful people, inspirational stories, history, woman’s rights and events bringing the Iranian people together. In essence, Fred Parvaneh puts people and the best of the Persian people first.

Follow @FParvaneh on social media

Iman Sadri is the founder of @ThePersianObserver