Mahan Tavakoli on connecting and networking in Our Town region~
Leadership Greater Washington . . . brings people from different backgrounds, different industries, and different parts of our region together. But there’s also a connection to meaning . . . All of us want to connect and network, want to do good and have meaning in our work lives, in our networking. So Leadership Greater Washington allows for the senior leaders in the region to address those issues and have meaning in terms of their involvement.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town, and I have the opportunity to talk to a wonderful, wonderful man who means so much to this community, to Our Town. He was one of the leading business executives in my estimation. Mahan Tavakoli, welcome to Our Town.
Mahan Tavakoli: Andy, thank you very much. I am super excited to be here with you as your guest.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, yeah, I know you’ve been telling me that and I am so flattered because you’re an important man, Mahan. You’ve made a tremendous impact on this town. So let’s talk about pre WMAL, and pre Washington D.C. What was Mahan doing? Are you a native of D.C.?
Mahan Tavakoli – A Washingtonian from Iran
Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah, so Andy, my parents are from Iran and the first few years of my life I actually lived in Iran.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, you did?
Mahan Tavakoli: I did. Yes and-
Andy Ockershausen: Of all these years, Mahan, I never knew that. I never knew that. That’s wonderful, I think for your parents.
Mahan’s Dad – A Servant Leadership Attitude
Mahan Tavakoli: It is. It is. And we settled. My Dad traveled a lot for his work, but we settled right here in Bethesda on Wilson Lane.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow, a thoroughfare. What business was your dad in?
Mahan Tavakoli: He was with ITT when ITT was more of a telecommunications company. So he-
Andy Ockershausen: ITT Worldwide.
Mahan Tavakoli: They were worldwide. One of the best that eventually lost some traction. I tend to believe post my dad, they lost some traction.
Andy Ockershausen: I heard a story about the man that was the president of ITT used to drive himself to work and brought his lunch. That’s when he made that company great. I’ll think of his name, very famous name, head of ITT, International Telephone and Telegraph. Nobody has a telegraph anymore, do they, Mahan?
Mahan Tavakoli: No, they don’t and Andy, what you mentioned is actually one of the things that had a big impact on my life. My dad also had a servant leadership attitude with respect to the role of the leader to the organization. So I think that had a big impact for me, as I ended up getting into the business community, I try to emulate a lot of what my dad had done.
Andy Ockershausen: What a great role model though. Listen Mahan.
Andy Ockershausen: When did you move to D.C.? You spent the first four years of your life in Iran?
Mahan Tavakoli On Growing Up in Our Town
Mahan Tavakoli: Yes. So right about middle school, right before middle school moved to D.C. Went to Washington International School right out there on Macomb Street.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh yeah, that’s right.
Mahan Tavakoli: From there to Whitman, Maryland, Georgetown. So-
Andy Ockershausen: A real local guy.
Mahan Tavakoli: Absolutely. I said I’m not moving anywhere else for the rest of my life. I love it here.
Andy Ockershausen: All these years I’ve known you, I never knew that, but I know you were involved in everything. So your dad must have taught you that to get involved and you have done that to a fare thee well. You brought so much to the table.
Our Town Business Leaders Espouse Responsibility to Give Back to Community
Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah, there’s a big sense of responsibility, Andy, that I have. There is a great privilege that all of us have living in this region, benefiting from the region. A lot of times people get stuck in traffic or complain about things rather than acting on it. And early on, whether it was you, Charlie Brotman, John Tidings-
Andy Ockershausen: Local yokels.
Mahan Tavakoli: Lyles Carr. So many people, as I got into the business community were kind enough to help me, support me, nurture me, give a lot to me. And that’s why I think there is a big responsibility on my shoulders now to try to give back to the community.
Andy Ockershausen: Mahan, you’re a living example of something that Janice and I preach all the time. The more you give, you get back in multiples by joining, participating, you’re giving yourself, which is worth a lot. Not just money, but given your thought and your body, you get it back in spades. Correct?
On Becoming Chair of Leadership of Greater Washington
Mahan Tavakoli: Absolutely. And, now I have the fortune of being the chair of Leadership Greater Washington, an organization that has become so impactful in our region, that you are one of the founders of. So think about the legacy that you and other founders have had in terms of impact on this community.
Andy Ockershausen: And we never knew how the growth would be so big that it is. As I said, I think we have taken the place of the Board of Trade. I really mean that. Leadership Greater Washington has the opportunity to be everything that the Board of Trade… Let’s face it, the Board of Trade’s too big. Where the Leadership is of size, that the members can know each other and get together. And it’s a comradery of membership I find, it really is the secret of joining. It’s a secret of business. It’s the secret of everything is be a part of what the operation is. And you’ve done that to a fare thee well.
Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah, and there’s one other part of it, Andy. Leadership Greater Washington as you know, brings people from different backgrounds, different industries, and different parts of our region together. But there’s also a connection to meaning, which is much more important for this generation. Everyone talks about millennials. I don’t necessarily think it’s just millennials. All of us want to connect one and network, want to do good and have meaning in our work lives, in our networking. So Leadership Greater Washington allows for the senior leaders in the region to address those issues and have meaning in terms of their involvement.
Andy Ockershausen: Well Mahan, I know from past experience, I know from the initial class, we had to recruit for the first class and spent a lot of time and effort to get the first one started. One of the things we pledged, it was going to contain people from all walks of life, all colors and creeds, and it was going to be a bigger organization. Not to put down the Board of Trade because the Board of Trade was based on business and money. Leadership is not, it’s based on people that want to get ahead and help the community. So that’s the beauty of it is it contains all, all strata of people and I love that. I love that.
Critical to Bring People to the Table from Across Region to Address Issues Together
Mahan Tavakoli: Being mission driven is really important, and right now a lot of organizations talk about the organization’s why and connecting people to that purpose. So Leadership Greater Washington does that effectively. When we think about the region, this is an odd region with a city operating somewhere between a city and a state. Two states, we’ve got geographic boundaries. We’ve got organizations in this region that are government based or quasi government. Some that work with the government, some that are international and don’t even view themselves as regional citizens. So, it’s important for us to bring everyone to the table if we want to address the issues, whether it’s housing prices or it’s transportation. All the issues that are important in this region, it’s critical for us to bring people to the table from across the region to address the issues together.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s what Leadership Washington means to the community and I’m want to talk to you about that, but we’re going to take a break right now. We’ll be right back. Mahan Tavakoli, my pal.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
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Andy Ockershausen: Okay, this is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town. I’m talking with Mahan Tavakoli.
Relationship Building is Priority for Leadership Greater Washington Participants
Mahan Tavakoli: 30 plus years ago, Andy, you and a group of key regional leaders came together to found Leadership Greater Washington with the intention of bringing people from government, nonprofit, business, people from the entire region together with all kinds of backgrounds have an impact on our community. Now fast forward 30 years, the senior leaders in this region meet each other and get to cooperate with each other as a result of Leadership Greater Washington. So when we have issues with it from housing or transportation that need to be addressed, the relationships are first built in Leadership Greater Washington, thanks to founders of the organization like you.
Andy Ockershausen: One of the things Mahan, that appears to me is that you have such a broad background. You’ve got involved in so many things and but look what you won. You’ve won so much respect and so many people admire you, Mahan, and I think it’s great. It’s a tribute to you and to your dad. Obviously he was smart enough to push you in this way, but you’ve got a great educational background at McDonough School, I mean the things that you learn. But you’ve learned more on the so-called street than you did in school. And that’s proof of all your people.
To Impact the Region You Must Connect with Other Like Minded People in the Region
Mahan Tavakoli: Andy, one of the things I tell people right now is, “Look for those that you want to become like.” And that’s why I looked for the Charlie Brotmans of the world, Andy Ockershausens of the world, John Tidings of the world. And they were willing to help me understand how I can connect best in this region and how I can have an impact. And the mindset of give, give, give rather than look to take, was something that was consistent in what I heard from you and others. And I’ve tried to do that and I’ve been fortunate as a result. I’ve been given opportunities because of it.
Andy Ockershausen: You’ve done fabulous, Mahan. You’ve done a fabulous thing. One of the things that I found out at a very early age of so called fundraising was people that give are the people that give. There’s no more money out there. You’ve got to tap everybody. And I preached to everybody, go back to the person that gave you money because if he gave you money, you must have done something, right. Maybe he’ll give you money, more than money, but give you a membership, give you support. The guys that support the community and the women are the same people. There are no new people.
The Amazon Rule and Fundraising
Mahan Tavakoli: Andy, I call it the Amazon rule. So when you buy a book on cooking on Amazon, the next time you visit Amazon, they don’t recommend a book on business. They recommend a book on cooking because the person that is most likely to buy cooking books is someone who’s already bought cooking books.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely. They’re into cooking books.
Mahan Tavakoli: Absolutely. So the people that are both giving in our community are the best people to go to because they’re the ones that understand the need for us to give back to this community that has given so much.
Andy Ockershausen: You mentioned Lyles Carr, an outstanding example of somebody that belongs to everything. Lyles, he’s fabulous. Cary Hatch she belongs to everything. Every time you go somewhere there’s Cary, she wasn’t at the Leadership Washington luncheon, but she was at the Board of Trade party at PEPCO.
Andy Ockershausen: But those people belong to everything and it really, it turns the community on. It’s really important. So Mahan, tell me, you have a business life away from your so-called social… Your social life and your private life are your own, but you have a business life. You started a business called Unisys?
Tavakoli’s Dale Carnegie Experience
Mahan Tavakoli: So, let me rewind on the business side, Andy. My first love ended up becoming Dale Carnegie very early on. I’d taken the Dale Carnegie course and-
Andy Ockershausen: You are Dale Carnegie to this community.
Mahan Tavakoli: Thank you.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, you are. That’s where we know you from. I’ve always respected you as being from Dale Carnegie.
Mahan Tavakoli: Yes, it’s a-
Andy Ockershausen: It’s a great name.
Mahan Tavakoli: It’s an outstanding organization, has done great things. Dale Carnegie himself had passed away back in the mid fifties. It was his wife that grew the business-
Andy Ockershausen: Kept it on.
Mahan Tavakoli: … made it international and now one of the largest international organizations in the world. So sales and training there, ran the local operation, and then spent a big part of my life traveling internationally and studying international operations.
Andy Ockershausen: I was introducing you to the luncheon as a trainer and that’s something to be proud of.
Mahan Tavakoli: Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: You’ve trained so many people in so many ways. You know, you trained them about business, about life, and it’s paid off. I know it has.
Mahan Tavakoli: There is nothing more rewarding Andy, than to this day I run into people who say, you know what, I was in your class 20 years ago or 18 years ago and you had a significant impact on my life. The ability to have an impact on people’s lives and make their lives better is very meaningful and that’s what drew me to the organization and that’s what kept me involved for so many years.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, and I would say they were very wise to support you in these efforts of what your involvement in the community. Dale Carnegie was very wise to support you and I know they did. And the community is the winner for it because they got you and Dale Carnegie.
Mahan Tavakoli: Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: The same price. Two for the price of one. But Mahan, I want to hear about your business, so, but we know about your training work and what you do to help people, but I want to find out about Genesys and we’ll be right back. We’re going to take a break right now. This is Andy O. This is Our Town.
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Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen with Mahan Tavakoli, to me has been the epitome of the representative of a training world. What he has taught for this area, and this community is incredible. It’s all through the good graces of Dale Carnegie and I salute the organization that supported you because you couldn’t have done it without him.
Mahan Tavakoli: Absolutely, Andy and-
Andy Ockershausen: You also have a family to support. We haven’t talked about that.
Family – On Making it a Priority
Mahan Tavakoli: I do, Andy, almost 20 years ago I met the love of my life and to this day she’s my bride. I joke in front of my girls that I’m going to marry their mom one of these days.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, they’re perfect.
Mahan Tavakoli: They get a little annoyed. They’ve got the-
Andy Ockershausen: Two girls?
Mahan Tavakoli: Two girls, nine and 12.
Andy Ockershausen: Uh-oh, teenagers coming.
Mahan Tavakoli: I don’t know Andy. Maybe there’s a pause button I can press because they are adorable right now and they still love their daddy, so I may be in denial.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, they always will. They always will love their daddy, but seriously, children change as they age and you know, you’re going to have to go through it. You’re going to face it. Whatever it is today will be different. Isn’t that great? That’s what you want out of children.
Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah, which is and that’s actually, Andy, one of the reasons I decided to make a slight change in my career. I’ve a good friend, Glenn Howard has been very involved also in the community, serves on lots of boards. Glenn told me, “Mahan, don’t blink your eye because the second you do, your girls will be out of college and will be gone.” Right? So the fact that you need to take the time to appreciate the moments while you have them, which is why I decided… I was literally traveling to different countries every week-
Andy Ockershausen: You were on the move.
Mahan Tavakoli: I was on the move and I said, I talked to organizations and leaders about living by their values, I wasn’t living by my values. My values were my girls.
Andy Ockershausen: Family.
Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah. Which is why five years ago I decided I want to stay closer to home.
Andy Ockershausen: Our Town.
Mahan Tavakoli: Our Town, absolutely. And not just come back to Our Town to do laundry and get back on the road again, but be in Our Town, and enjoy my girls. So now I get the opportunity to have dinner with them at night and it is wonderful.
Andy Ockershausen: Another world for you.
Mahan Tavakoli: We can make pesto pasta. It tastes a heck of a lot better than any five star restaurant anywhere in the world because I look at my wife and the girls.
Andy Ockershausen: And your wife makes this all happen. You understand that, don’t you?
Mahan Tavakoli: Absolutely, Andy.
Andy Ockershausen: She is the glue, babe.
Mahan Tavakoli: I joke with her that I am not the man she married and she is not the woman I married.
Andy Ockershausen: Right. Isn’t that great though. You-
Mahan Tavakoli: I’m a heck of a lot better since because of her.
Andy Ockershausen: I can relate to that. I share that too.
Mahan Tavakoli: I definitely know that. I’ve seen you get better because Janice.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, 26 years. I’m just a completely different person.
Mahan Tavakoli: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: But I have Our Town now. I’ve always got Our Town, but the impact on Our Town is important because you live it, it’s part of you now and I hope people realize what you’re doing is out of love as much as anything. You love Our Town. You love your career, but you shifted gears. Tell me about Genesys. Is that a company you started?
Mahan Tavakoli: Yeah, Genesys is also an organization that targeted underserved youth. So again, in this region we’re very fortunate because many of us are used to going to college and having degrees, not recognizing that even in Montgomery County, Fairfax County, more than a third of the students are on free and reduced lunch. In most instances they don’t even aspire to college. They are not the kids that benefit from take My Kids to Work day, because their parents don’t have those professional jobs. So Genesys works, recruits these young adults. Both trains them in IT skills and then gives them an opportunity to do internships in professional organizations. So they get paid for it. They get college support and college access support, but also start visualizing themselves in a different environment and visualizing themselves in a different level of success.
Andy Ockershausen: And this Genesys then is a ground up, because you go from what grade? From kindergarten on up?
Mahan Tavakoli: No, no, no, so Genesys recruits juniors in high school that are on free and reduced lunch, first generation college, and works with them in the summer between their junior and senior year. And then their senior year they end up working part-time in these internships with the likes of Accenture, Strayer College, lots of different employers in the area.
Andy Ockershausen: Janice, because of Janice, we have a relationship with a high school that works and we call it the High School. Don Bosco Cristo Rey School, out in the suburbs and I don’t know how many there but, the kids, they were like 63 zip codes or something in that school and they’re very, very poor children and we get them started. So that work is the same thing you’re doing and there’s not enough of it, but they’re more and everybody now wants to help because if you don’t save these children when they’re kids, you’ve lost them when they’re adults. You’ve got to save them now.
Important to Get Out of Our Daily Bubble and Recognize the Poverty Pockets that Exist Around Us in Our Town
Mahan Tavakoli: Absolutely. Andy, one of the things that I realized with my international travels, in many parts of the world you see sort of poverty and wealth intermingle. Here, in most cases we don’t know those pockets exist. We can live in our bubbles, commute to our workplaces, and not recognize that we do have lots of neighbors, people in same zip codes or at least same counties that don’t have the same privilege that many of us do. So that’s why it’s important for us to recognize that and engaged for the betterment of the entire community. It makes it better for all of us.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely, and the future then becomes much, much better. How big is your organization, Mahan?
Mahan Tavakoli: So Genesys works right now is in six cities across the country.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, really it’s a regional organization?
Mahan Tavakoli: Yes, and it’s growing in this region also. The need, as you said with Cristo Rey is the same thing. The need is always greater than the ability of the organizations to support. But still whatever we do helps.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, if more organizations would take that attitude and you’ve got to do something and then whatever you do, it’s going to help. I think it gives a lot more people enthused about it. And it’s been a constant problem with the community at large because we have these pockets and areas and it’s in every major city. It’s not just Washington D.C. or Baltimore. It’s everywhere and I’m not sure until we take care of that problem, Mahan, we’re going to take care of the family. If families don’t stay together, those kids got no chance in my estimate.
Mahan Tavakoli: Andy, one of the things, I’m a big listener to your podcast. Love all the episodes, love-
Andy Ockershausen: You’re flattering.
This Podcast is a Story for Today as Much as it is of the Past
Mahan Tavakoli: Love the many great people that have been on the podcast. Many of the people that have a great track record of impact in this region and I hope the younger folks that listen to the podcast, get a sense of greater responsibility. There are a lot of people that came before us and did incredible things that give us these opportunities. We do stand on the shoulders of giants, that Leadership Greater Washington. We do stand on the shoulders of the Andy Ockershausens of the world that started the organization, so we have a responsibility to continue that. So I hope people don’t listen to the podcast as this is the story of the past. No, this is this story-
Andy Ockershausen: Today.
Mahan Tavakoli: Absolutely. The responsibility that is being passed on to the new generation for us to have the kind of impact that you all did on this region.
Andy Ockershausen: You mentioning John Tidings, said to me that John was in part of our group that got this thing started. He introduced me to a lady that ran an organization in Georgia called the Junior League. I thought the Junior League was in a way a highfalutin, but she was great. She pitched in, helped us recruit, help us get started. Like 25 years later, I’m looking for somebody. I go and knock on the door for Junior League. And again, the lady that answered the door knew me from Leadership and starting the campaign. And I met the new director, an African American female who’s taken over the Junior League, which used to be WASP central, if you know what I mean. So why are our communities saying so grammatically? I think it’s so great. So we get the Junior League involved again.
You’re too young to remember, but they we’re supposed to be a snob group, you know, they had an office in Georgetown on M Street. That takes money.
Mahan Tavakoli: But that’s why it’s important for us to also understand our history, Andy. So part of what you’ve done, part of what Charlie Brotman did for me and a lot of other people, is understand the history of what brings us here. I think that’s pretty important and increases the sense of responsibility that I feel on my shoulders and we need to take on to move forward and impact the community.
Andy Ockershausen: Mahan Tavakoli you’re so, so bright, and so smart shows why we got to look back to look ahead. And that’s what Leadership does. That’s what Board of Trade should be doing and they’ve got their highfalutin idea now, but what Genesys is doing and what Don Bosco Cristo Rey has done is create an impact in the suburbs has been bigger than we know, but it’ll pay off. I’m convinced in the future. You’ve got to keep going. It doesn’t end. You know, you can’t… Poverty is not going to end because we say we want it to end. The market has got to help the people fight their way out of it, work their way out of the poverty. The only way out of it is the work. And that’s one of the things I hope you do with Genesys. Impress upon the young people. Nothing happens without people doing some work.
Mahan Tavakoli: Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: So you know what I’m saying.
Leadership Greater Washington Provides Pathway to Success by Bringing People with Varied Backgrounds to the Same Table
Mahan Tavakoli: Whether it is with Genesys, Don Bosco Cristo Rey, and all these other organizations providing a pathway for people to succeed is what we’re all about. And Leadership Greater Washington brings these people to the same table-
Andy Ockershausen: I think it’s wonderful. Absolutely fabulous.
Mahan Tavakoli: … even to provide pathways.
Andy Ockershausen: And you got to look forward now to the summer, and here in the fall, whatever we have. Mahan, thank you so much for being part of Our Town. We’re blessed to have you. And we’re here for you 24/7 and I’m very flattered about your remarks, but the fact is a lot of people push me into it and I got my start by helping people and I just lucked into it. I found out years ago, the harder you work, the luckier you get. And I’ve been very lucky. So thank you, Mahan Tavakoli, and thank you for Genesys, and thank you for everything you do for Leadership Greater Washington.
Mahan Tavakoli: Thank you, Andy. It’s been an absolute honor. You’re way too modest, because still to this day you are continuing to shape regional initiative in greater Washington. And I’m very thankful for you personally and regionally.
Andy Ockershausen: If you don’t give, you don’t get. And I give and I’m so happy because my wife is… As your wife is your ideal, my wife is the light in my life and she pushes me into so many things and thank God they’re pushing us both, Mahan. So thank you for being here and thank you for Our Town.
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