- Standing in front of a movie theater with his dark complexion, big almond-shaped eyes, a heavy beard for his age, and wavy 80’s styled black hair, Alex is a typical 16-year-old teenage boy – A young man with big aspirations and big dreams. From the perspective of an American however, there are two very scary details. His heart is thumping loudly in his chest as he stands in front of the movie theater located in an Iranian town on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
I’m sure his infectious smile looks just like it did in the 80’s. As you speak to him today, there’s a heavy unique element of empathy to the present-day Alex. You get a sense of character built on a foundation of struggle and optimism. He has a sense of ease, ease that has been earned with hard work. Like a desert flower blossoming out of an impossible environment, Alex’s gentle nature somehow evolved out of arid circumstances. The same experiences would have hardened many of us. I’ve seen it over and over again, and in myself: that toughness from doing battle, from running a business. But Alex is strong, tempered well beyond his years.
Only his mother, father, and his Brother-in-law (who was instructed to drop him off at the theater), knew he was to be smuggled out of the country. Just imagine the heart-wrenching experience of allowing your young son to leave, alone, and the circumstances shaping a parent’s view that such a risky endeavor was worth it. It had been his dream to flee to the U.S. having spent some time there in grade school with his family. The instructions that day were to wait in front of the theater, by the street. Two large Iranians grabbed him and threw him in the back of a pickup truck, whisking him away to a safe house. There he waited with others until nightfall the next day.
In a truck with a canvas-covered bed, a fearful group of over 20 Iranian’s raced to the border. “All of a sudden they just turned the lights off, veered to the right, came down an embankment, and hit the desert in the Persian Gulf. . . . they hit it and they just ‘floored’ it,” said Alex.
As they came to the border, the two trucks stopped, everyone piled into one vehicle, leaving one empty. The drivers were armed; the headlights still dark. “They would stop. They would put their ear on the ground, listening, then we would go again.”Within minutes, there was open gunfire from a patrol, orange tracer rounds burned through the night sky.The empty truck turned on its headlights and continued driving, presumably until they were halted and searched by the border patrol. The truck full of immigrants veered off, practicably invisible in the dark, to quietly cross into Pakistan where they were told to wait for the next pickup.
“Next thing you know there were five or six brand new trucks coming in from the Pakistani side as dawn broke. They all hadAK-47’s. They were armed like you can’t even imagine. They took us. They gave us some Pakistani clothes, separated us into the four or five trucks, and drove to a nearby village,” said Alex. As they passed poppy fields and ages-old drug-running routes, the border patrol in Pakistan approached Alex’s truck.His escorts fired at them with automatic rifles. Thankfully the authorities simply turned away. Alex was almost free.
As was the plan, he was moved to Austria where he lived for a year awaiting his immigration package organized by the Jewish Family Federation in the U.S.
When he finally arrived in Los Angeles, almost a year and a half later, he went to work. Starting as a construction worker for a cousin. His natural entrepreneurial abilities quickly emerged, overcoming many obstacles and ultimately obtaining success. Today, Dastmalchi, LLC, an organization marketing hygiene products with over forty employees is growing rapidly: the Persian/American dream. Alex leads a company packed with Millennials, who work in innovative pods, sharing wins in a fun and creative environment. In Alex’s words, “one of the coolest things that we do here is constantly think outside of the box. We don’t follow the norm. We don’t care about the norm. We don’t care about following the exact footsteps of everyone else. We are actually creators.”
A single parent, building a business, Alex’s ability to focus on things most important is apparent in his relationship with his son. He’s an exceptional father; and, he did it on his own. Looking at Alex’s 16 year old son Pasha, I imagine Alex thirty years ago, wide-eyed and heart pounding in front of that theater. His son has taken on the same graceful ease as his father- a real testament to Alex’s character.
In his words, “I have nothing to complain about. I have a pretty good life, things are great, I have a fantastic family, I have wonderful friends, andI have a brilliant team at the office that I really care about…. and vice versa.
Alex’s thoughts about STARK:
“You need a vehicle, and your vehicle is your body. This is an important part of your wellbeing.If your body is not functioning right, it’s going to affect every other aspect of your life. It’s going to affect me as a parent, at work, and my capability to serve my folks here that are responsible for many families. I can’t put a value on what I get out of making a change in my physical activity.
“Being a CEO, you put a lot of priority on work. Your physical well-being can become an afterthought. I’m forty-six now. I started seeing a big shift in my energy levels, my physique, and my health. I’ve had three back surgeries. I’ve had major right leg reconstruction. I started feeling a lot ofpain, and last year in April I had my third and final back surgery. So, I realized that if I don’t create a major shift and change in my lifestyle, my health would decline.
“A big inspiration came from my dad. At 59 he had a quadruple bypass. He had never exercised. He never went to the gym, not once in his life. He didn’t want to take any medications. After Surgery, he started putting one foot in front of the other.He began walking, and then running, and he’s 76 now!He walks and jogs for about 48 miles a week, eight miles a day, and six days a week. He’s in the best physical shape that he’s ever been in. His energy level is greater than ever. He has become a completely different man, and he’s been a big inspiration to all of his children. I actually came to Stark because of my son, thinking that I’ll start exercising with him as well, and can motivate him like my father did for me. It turns out that I’m enjoying it more than he is.
Dastmalchi, LLC is also a member of STARK’s Optimized Workforce Program. “It’s had the biggest impact of anything I’ve done for my company culture,” says Alex. “If I can help my employees feel better, they’re going to be better people, and by proxy, we will all benefit.