Q+A with Shani Moslehi – Executive Director of the Iranian American Chamber of Commerce

January 8, 2023

Shani Moslehi, CEO of the OCIACC and LAIACC

By Iman Sadri

Iranian Americans are the most successful minority group in the United States, by a mile. Iranians are the most educated minority in America. Iranians have the largest income per household among minorities. And Iranians have the most discretionary income among all minorities in America. Despite the individual successes of Iranians, the unity among the diaspora pales in comparison to other ethnic minorities. Vietnamese Americans have three large cities next to each other with massive community centers. Korean Americans have over 150 churches in Southern California, alone.

Shani Moslehi, Executive Director of the Iranian American Chamber of Commerce, has been behind the forefront to unite Iranian Americans for the better part of two decades. Her efforts with the OCIACC and the LAIACC have helped bring together hundreds of Iranian-owned businesses. Shani has promoted these businesses with her live events, reaching thousands of prospective clientele for these Persian business owners.

Moreover, Shani has helped bring together Iranians in Southern California, to promote the Persian culture, arts, and businesses with networking. We caught up with Shani Moslehi for an interview to gain further insight into her remarkable career and organization.

Iman Sadri : Thank you for speaking with The Persian Observer. Please describe your early life, education, and upbringing. 

Shani Moslehi : I was born in Tehran, Iran. My father was an attorney and later was assigned as the head of the Iran National Warehouses. I started school at five, studied 5th and 6th grade in one summer, and went to Marjan High School when I was nine. However, being so young, I couldn’t keep up with the heavy school curriculum, so I left Iran at thirteen and moved to Kent, England, to live with a family and study English. In 1976 I moved to St. Georges boarding school in Switzerland, and in 1977, I moved to California, where I attended a private Catholic school. I grew up in a loving family, even when I was far away, and I am grateful for that.

Shani Moslehi speaking at an OCIACC event

IS : What have been your job experiences / Careers after college / and/or grad school? 

Shani Moslehi : I wanted to be a chef, but the takeover of Iran’s government by the Islamic Republic changed everything. You could only study majors they approved. Students had to submit their transcripts to the Iranian Section at the Allegrian Embassy in Washington to be approved and sent to Iran so their parents could send them money using the bank exchange rate. There wasn’t any other way to send money to us as the country was dealing with a major war against Iraq. I received my BA in Social Sciences with a minor in business in 1983. I met my husband the following January and moved to Orange County. My first job was in banking, where I stayed for ten years. I value everything I learned in sales, managing large staff, and providing good customer service.

Shani Moslehi and OCIACC members at an event.

IS : What have some of the highlights of the previous career(s) – before your current career. 

Shani Moslehi : I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. While an employee of the bank, I started my own catering company. In 2003 my husband and I purchased an existing business; the first five years were challenging, educational, and the most brutal years of my life.

IS : What is your line of work / what kind of business do you have? How long have you been in your current line of work ?

Shani Moslehi : I am working more than full time, doing what I love, and managing OCIACC. I started the OC Iranian American Chamber of Commerce in 2015 and have worked as a volunteer since. I worked in an event marketing business from 2011 to early 2021. My signature events were Newport Beach Wedding shows and Persian nights at UCI with the Orange County Soccer USL team (previously OC Blues).

IS : When did you start OCIACC ? What were some of the inspirations for you to start the organization?

Shani Moslehi : I started OCIACC with two other ladies. We first set out to create a charity organization in our city since we were all becoming empty nesters! However, later I met our 4th partner, a new immigrant, highly educated, and a business owner. She reminded me that with many years of experience in business, I could share my experiences with those who are new here. I had more than ten years of experience as an involved volunteer with both Irvine and Newport Beach chambers of commerce, so starting a chamber of commerce to help businesses was a good idea.

Attendees at an OCIACC event

IS : How did you develop your passion/talent for Networking? What were some of your early networking experiences ? 

Shani Moslehi : In 2003, when we became business owners, we had no idea where to go or who to ask for help. We soon realized that business ownership is a very lonely job. In 2004, I joined the chamber of commerce in Irvine and, shortly after, the Newport Beach chamber. I would attend all their events as I would meet other business owners and find many similarities. Being in a room with people that had same challenges as I had was refreshing, and I would find myself energized after every meeting. I learned that I needed to be organized and follow up with those I had just met at an event. My list of emails and phone numbers started growing, and I was using so many of my new contacts for work needed for my company.

Attendees at an OCIACC event

IS : How have you been able to so effectively grow your directory and member list ?

Shani Moslehi : Starting a new organization from the ground up wasn’t easy, but I had strong community connections. I was also consistent with our programs. We showed people we were there to help, provided resources, and made introductions. Our networking events were exactly that! We would not let people stand alone in a corner but rather engage with everyone.  We also collaborated with more than 60 business associations, non-profit organizations and local chambers of commerce.

Shani Moslehi speaking at an OCIACC event

IS : Your Norooz event was very elaborate and a massive success. What are some keys to hosting a large, successful event?

Shani Moslehi : The Nowruz event was a collaboration of our board members, our members, many community volunteers, and exhibitors. We would recognize exhibitors on our social media, and they would use our posts for advertising the event. I figured with 66 exhibitors, if each brought in ten people, the event would be a success, but to everyone’s surprise, we had an estimated 8000 visitors that day! The event was a testimony to the power of networking.

An OCIACC exhibitor

IS : What more can be done to engage the Iranian American diaspora as a whole network more and support each through small business growth?

Shani Moslehi : Our networking group has done a fantastic job. Our members wholeheartedly attend the events and want to help each other. OCIACC offers the platform; the rest is each member’s dedication to assisting others. And when you give, you will also receive.

Shani Moslehi has bring thousands of Iranian Americans together

IS : What is the key to successful time management, especially with running a large organization and a business at the same time?

Shani Moslehi : Before I start my day, I manage our social media sites, IG, FB, Linkedin, and Twitter. I reply to all emails and inquiries on the same day. I try not to leave things for later; when I fall behind, I prioritize. I think part of the success is that I take my role seriously. I am passionate to do good and stay consistent with our programs.

Follow Shani Moslehi on social media @ShaniMoslehi and follow OCIACC online @OCIACC