At six months old, Aarash Darroodi’s parents, who were foreign students in the US, sent their son back to Iran to live with his grandparents so they could complete their graduate studies at the University of Houston. That was 1979. A year later, the Iran-Iraq War erupted. It took seven years and and attempts in many countries to get a US visa before Darroodi would reunite with his family in America. That experience, Darroodi says, shaped his life, which would forever be changed.
Darroodi is now general counsel, executive vice president and secretary of Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, one of the world’s global leaders in manufacturing instruments and amplifiers. Darroodi attributes his success to several factors, including taking a Dale Carnegie course while he was a teenager. He offers three key pieces of advice that are core to his success and ingrained in his philosophy of life:
1.Connect to humanity. “Everybody has a story when you connect to humanity,” Darroodi says. “What you realize is that those stories bring a lot of life learning, and there is a lot of power that’s locked up within people that they feel that they should hide it away and not embrace it. I fundamentally disagree. I think you embrace it because those are where the learnings come from.” When hiring for his team, Darroodi goes beyond the resume. “I just don’t want to see the resume,” he explains. “I want to know the story. What were some of the challenges you faced in your life? How did you overcome them? What did you learn from those challenges? How do you think those challenges will help you in the future? That’s valuable. That’s what I want to see. I want those people, the ones that have overcome difficulties and challenges. … People are more capable than they know … But people themselves, a lot of times, we need somebody to see that within us and push us, and then we can achieve greatness we never thought possible.
2. Learn to learn. You must learn the power of learning, Darroodi says. Put yourself in a constant state of discovery: “Meeting new people, learning about new ideas, whether they’re exciting or scary, whatever they may be, whether it’s technology or societal changes and learning how to learn. Because, in the end, people have a lot of value to provide. … I’ve had such amazing mentors throughout my lifetime that completely shaped my life. I don’t remember the hours of conversations. I remember punch words, punch lines like sayings. I remember those [as] they are etched in my memory and serve me to this day.”
3. Find your North Star. As a leader, Darroodi says he works with his team members to listen and learn from them. He encourages them to learn about other cultures and makes a conscious effort to engage with the GenZers on his staff. He bucked the trend of a hierarchical structure in his division to create a flat organization, empowering everyone to have the freedom to share their ideas. As he works with individuals, he immediately asks them to figure out what they want to achieve in their lives. “My role is not to carry you there,” Darroodi says. “My role as a leader is to guide, to advise, and try to help you achieve and reach where your North star is, and everybody is different. I mean, there are individuals that I have on my team that tell me I wouldn’t be one. They love to be the general counsel of a company. Others say I would love to be the head of nonprofit organizations. ‘Great, fantastic. So, during this time and period that you’re in this organization, and I am your leader. I’m going to do everything that I can to help at least get you closer to whatever that North Star goal is.’ … I see it more as a guide. That’s how I see leadership.”
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