A day in the most famous city on earth. A day with the man who runs the show.
Way too often, we Americans (those of us born in the United States) take our freedoms—life, speech and pursuit of happiness for granted. We forget that despite any difficulties we face as a nation and a people, America is still the greatest country on earth. We enjoy life-born privileges that billions of people in other countries never get to experience. Sometimes it takes listen- ing to a person who fought through a life of prejudice and poverty, struggled to live in the midst of zero freedom, and survived purely on faith—to remind us just how lucky we truly are.
My interview with Mayor Jimmy Delshad was just such a moment for me. Our time together was filled with moments of pure happiness as he spoke about his family and how his life has taken many twists and turns, evolving in directions he never imagined. There were also recollections of utter sad- ness recalling the hardships he not only endured, but forced himself to overcome to get where he is today. The word that seems to define his life best is…faith. Even as a small child, during his worst of times… he never gave up on himself…never allowed his spirit to be broken by anyone. Growing up, he found the strength deep inside to keep going, and the courage to move forward. Almost as if he knew that to survive meant that one day he would have a life he dreamed of; a life like he has now.
Delshad was re-elected to a second term as Mayor of Beverly Hills, California—only the second person in the history of the city council to be Mayor twice. He has been a resident of Beverly Hills for 21 years and lived in Southern California for more than 50 years. He and his wife, Lonnie have two children: Debra and Daniel. Debra is a graduate of USC and Loyola Law School; Daniel, a computer businessman, also graduated from USC. Delshad and his two brothers immigrated from Iran to the United States in 1959. Still teenagers, they took a gamble coming to a new country. They didn’t speak the language and knew nothing of the culture. But they had faith that what they had heard about America— the promise of freedom and opportunity would become their reality.
“The transition from Iran to America in the beginning was very strange; very hard. There were nights I cried being away from my family and friends. But every time I looked back, I saw it as a challenge to overcome. I wanted to see what I could do in this country—more for the sake of the old country—to elevate people’s perception about those who live in what may be considered a third world country. I made a challenge out of the pain and continue this way of thinking to this day when I run into an obstacle that I must overcome. Looking back, though, I realize that learning to make a challenge out of an obstacle started in my childhood. Being Jewish in a predominately Muslim country wasn’t easy. Jews were considered second-class citizens and that way of thinking was outwardly accepted. But inside, I never accepted it. I wanted to be better, more…I wanted to be equal. Being a minority shaped my life, made me strong and willing to do what it takes to overcome the feeling of not being good enough. I took this determination and used it to become a better person myself and help others do better in their lives.”
Six-years-old, and on his first day of school Delshad’s teacher singled him out because he was the only Jewish child in the class in the front row. She made him stand in the back of the room. Embarrassed, he took his pain to the books and over time became the smartest kid in the school, a position that offered him a great deal of clout. Students went to him for help with their homework, and teachers put him in charge of their classes when they were away.
“During school I thought: what can I do to become more accepted? The only thing I could think to do was be the best student in the school. I believe to this day that if I hadn’t had that traumatic experience when I was six-years-old…I would not be where I am today. I may not have pushed myself to accomplish what I have to this point in my life. I may have settled for ‘good’ and not pushed myself to be the ‘best’ that I could. ”
In 2000, Delshad was the first Jewish Iranian-American to be elected president of Sinai Temple in L.A—a non-Persian Jewish Temple. In 2003, he became the first and only Iranian- American to date to hold office in the Beverly Hills City Council. And, in addition to being the highest rank- ing Iranian-American citizen in the American political arena he was named one of the “10 Most Influential Jewish Leaders” in America, by Forward Magazine. All of this is fabulous of course, but how many of you know that when the Delshad brothers came to the United States in the late ‘50s (each was accepted to the University of Minnesota) they formed a band The Delshad Trio to help pay their bills? There’s more. They sang at parties, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and holiday events in and around Minnesota. And The Delshad Trio was not small time—OH NO! They became so successful that they recorded their music and played at top venues. Yes people…the Mayor was a Rock Star! This leads me to ask Mr. Delshad the million dollar question: Does he still sing in the band, and if so where do they play? Because me and the rest of the city want to go check it out.
“At first we worked at night as janitors, busboys and waiters. But because we owned our own musical instruments people started asking us to play at parties. The more we played…the better we got and the more popular we became. During the Christmas holidays we were asked to play at all kinds of parties. We were a Persian group playing Persian instruments, performing at Christian venues and singing songs like Jingle Bells, and Silent Night. Our sound was very exotic. We got an agent and started getting so many jobs that we made enough money to pay our way through college. Even after each of us got married we kept playing. We had such a wide audience that we were invited to perform in places like Mexico. We would take our wives with us, have a great time and just enjoy the weekend relaxing. It was so much fun. We still get together and play music for a jam session, but we don’t play professionally. There are many talented Persian music groups here in Los Angeles that get together and play. I love listening to them. “
How great is it to be the Mayor of Beverly Hills? Well, from what I saw following Mr. Delshad around for a day I would say that it’s pretty darn good. And fun. It looks like a totally awesome job and everyone waves and yells “Hi” and “Good Job Mayor” from their cars when they see him. But I guess the real question is: What does it take to be the Mayor of Beverly Hills? And that is an entirely different dog to chase. Because even though it looks like a stroll down Rodeo Drive it is a 24/7 job that takes a genius at public relations and a rocket scientist at business to make it all work out. Luckily for the city, Delshad fits the bill to a tee.
First, Delshad is the most gracious, thankful and friendly guy that you could ever meet. From every hand he shakes, to every ‘Hello’ he acknowledges and every wave that he returns—the man loves his job and it shows. Second, he is smart. Like, rocket scientist smart. He is an electrical engineer who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from California State University at Northridge. He attended post-grad classes at USC, and participated in a continuing education program of ‘The Executive Committee’ a round table of CEOs, for seven years. He is a successful entrepreneur in the field of computer technology and pioneered his own business in a field few had even heard of at the time (late ‘70s): computer storage technology . His company made a fortune with prod- ucts he invented, manufactured and cleverly marketed throughout the world. When he sold his company in 1999, he stayed on as a management consultant and on the Board of Directors.
As Mayor his focus is on rallying the Beverly Hills business community, keeping residents happy and making visitors feel welcome. Delshad is a master at making his Mayor job look easy. But make no mistake he carries its problems on his shoulders 24/7. His main concern is that it pros- pers and everything runs smoothly.
“It takes persistence and passion to give your best to whatever you do, especially in your job. If you have persistence, but no passion it doesn’t last because it’s not coming from your heart. And if you have passion, but no persistence there comes the time when you can’t do what needs to be done. When I had my com- puter technology company I was so excited with the products that I had invented and I wanted to present them to a very large, five billion dollar company. Someone got me in the door for the interview, but then it was up to me to take it from there and make my presentation work. And I was scared. They had hundreds of employees and I had three. When I walked into the room there were two rows of people sitting around a conference table and there was me. The first question they asked: ‘Mr. Delshad how big is your company?’ I replied, ‘Much smaller than yours, but since we are a smaller company we can do things much faster. Now lets talk about the products.’ I talked about the products, sold the idea and got the contract. When people out- side of the country ask me what it’s like in America, I tell them that we have the freedom and the opport- unity to do whatever we want. But to accomplish what we want it takes passion and persistency—along with freedom of choice. This way of thinking isn’t just for minorities living here. It is for everyone who wants to be a success in life, regard- less of what they choose to do. I use obstacles as a spring board. I say bless the day that you find an obstacle— because that is the day that you learn not only to overcome it—but overshoot it—and then do even more than you ever thought you could.”
Delshad stands for much more than just a beacon of hope and pride for the Iranian-American community. His successes down the paths he has traveled are a spirited calling to each of us to not only go the distance to do the job…but do the job better than we ever imagined that we could. Growing up in a country where he had limited choices then moving to a country where he had unlimited choices, Delshad’s struggle and passion to succeed and overcome obstacles hasn’t decreased over the years…it has grown stronger. Looking at his life the lesson is: When we want something we can’t let up even for a minute. We have to push on through to make things happen, while keep- ing our eye on the end result that we hope to achieve. This is what makes the difference between going the distance —or not.
Delshad’s life has been one per- sonal and professional reinvention after another. With the over- whelming success of his computer technology company came the realization (inspired by his wife Lonnie) that he had to get out and take time to smell the flowers around Beverly Hills. Translation: get involved in the community .
His adventure began with him volunteering at his children’s school in the Beverly Hills Unified School District to help the educational process of children. He then became president at Sinai Temple, followed by President of Magbit Educational Foundation where he helped students get scholarships and interest free loans for college. Out of the blue came his next challenge. Just after 9/11, Immigration asked about 30 Iranians and some others to show their Visas; 12 Iranians were arrested and held in custody not able to leave, go back to Iran or back to their homes in L.A. There was nobody to help them, nobody to call, no representation. Little did they know that they had Jimmy Delshad on their side.
“I told myself that I wanted to be that person they could turn to for help. Right then, I decided to run for city Council. I took a year to plan my campaign. I went to every commission and council meeting; I read every book and law, every ordinance. My challenge was one day to become mayor. I wanted to open the door for all minorities who felt it was impossible to get into city politics, especially Iranians. I wanted them to see the importance of getting involved in the community, voting for or against laws that affect them. The platform I ran on my first term was my technology background and I am known as the creator of the SMART initiatives, resulting in a new trademarked tag for Beverly Hills—The Smart City.”
His hope is now a reality. Delshad brought Beverly Hills and its residents into the decade of…sure it’s good to be a beautiful city, but a smart city as well—is unbeatable! Using his computer background he has implemented technology that has secured the safety of the city and all who live and work in it. The Auto- mated License Plate Recognition and UNITE programs have increased the rate of recovering stolen cars by 56%. There are smart cameras watching over the city, smart solar parking meters, smart sprinklers, smart water meters and smart traffic lights. ‘Going Green’ in Beverly Hills now means more than just planting more grass, trees and flowers. It is about helping the environment with positive initiatives such as offering loans to people who install solar panels and utility saving devices in their homes. For the first time, Beverly Hills will make an appearance in the Rose Parade in 2011 with a very Beverly Hills- worthy float. And in keeping with our world wide distinction of 90210 being the top of the heap when it comes to Zip Codes, this coming September we have the opportunity to celebrate 9-02-10 and what a grand party in Beverly Hills it is slated to be.
“As an immigrant, when you first get to America you just don’t believe what you see. You think that it’s a dream that can be taken away at any moment. That feeling…feeling not good enough or worthy enough to have something good comes from growing up in a country that made you feel fearful that nothing was truly yours, and that at any moment what you have can be taken away from you.”
Not likely . Beverly Hills is definitely his city . Delshad talks about how lucky he feels to be here. I hope he knows how lucky we all feel to have him. I walk him to the door of his City Council meeting. Thank him for his time. And he’s gone. Another day making sure that the most famous city in the world stays that way .
Editor In Chief