Immigrating to California from Iran alone at 17 years old, Shirin Behzadi’s biggest professional goals were to run a large business—and to be featured on the front of a non-fashion magazine.
That goal “mobilized me to move forward” and alter her professional course several times, Behzadi told the Business Journal.
As an undergraduate at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona—while she was also working full time at a gas station—Behzadi decided to switch from a math major to accounting “to better understand the language of business.”
Her career path eventually took Behzadi to a 20-year executive stint at Home Franchise Concepts (HFC), turning the Irvine-based company into the country’s largest home services franchiser, an owner of popular brands such as Budget Blinds, Tailored Living and Concrete Craft.
In 2019, she decided to make yet another change and tap her experience to advise others on their own executive journey through her namesake firm, Shirin Behzadi LLC.
Behzadi was one of the honorees at the Business Journal’s Women in Business Awards on Oct. 20 at the Irvine Marriott.
“It’s a full circle to reconnect to the girl sitting at the gas station, to now being embraced and rewarded by the people of Orange County,” she said.
Behzadi’s entrepreneurial goals pulled her away from her first job out of college at Ernst & Young as a finance and accounting specialist to become chief financial officer at mortgage banking firm The Hammond Co.
Looking to join a business in growth mode, she later became CFO of HFC. In addition to overseeing a big expansion, she would help to lead the home services organization through the housing market crash of 2008, which put some competitors out of business.
During that time, Behzadi was going through turmoil of her own—she was diagnosed with brain cancer and spent two years recovering and learning to walk again.
That didn’t set her back.
After Trilantic Capital Partners acquired a majority stake in HFC in 2015, she was named chief executive and for four years expanded its core franchise base, furthering its operating platform and ultimately doubling its value—reaching 12,000 cities and installing 70,000 units a week.
By 2018, the company reported product sales of $700 million.
In 2019, she achieved another goal, landing a feature in Forbes magazine and cover stories in other business publications.
“My vision had come to life,” Behzadi said.
Advisor to Execs
Today, Behzadi is a board director to multiple corporations like the Junk King recycling service franchise and a consultant for C-suite executives via her namesake advisement firm to counsel firms in growth mode in topics such as private equity, franchising and business strategy.
“Adversity is something we all face from time to time,” she said.
“You learn from trials and errors, and I hope to use those lessons learned to help others avoid those pitfalls.”
This includes her own children; Behzadi is the chairperson of Bomani Cold Buzz, a seller of alcohol-infused cold-brew coffee launched by her son, Sam Madani, in 2019.
Ocean of Women
Behzadi describes her life in three acts.
The first was growing up in Iran; and the second act was her ensuing career.
“Now I have arrived at my third act,” Behzadi said when accepting the Women in Business Award. “Believe me, the third act makes the first and second make sense.”
The executive is now focused on finding ways to give back through philanthropy efforts and the handful of organizations she’s involved with such as OC United Way and Second Harvest Food Bank.
Behzadi was also invited to mentor women entrepreneurs globally with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, where she is a board member.
“The more mentors we have, the more women we can have moving up the ranks,” she said. “Representation sets up the expectation that it’s doable.”
According to data cited by Behzadi, just 3% of private equity-backed firms in the U.S. are run by women.
“I’m impressed and emotionally touched seeing an ocean of women who are ambitious and accomplished for either asking for a seat at the table or have built their own table,” Behzadi said.
Voices of Iran
As a teenager growing up in war-stricken Iran, Shirin Behzadi was arrested multiple times and was often in unsafe situations.
Her upbringing has inspired her to call upon others in Orange County to support the current cause of Iran’s youth who have been leading the Mahsa Amini protests.
Behzadi spoke with President Joe Biden about the matter while he was visiting Orange County earlier this month.
“This is a cause being led by Iranian women and Iranian girls, asking for their most fundamental human rights that are risking their lives,” Behzadi said.
“Please echo their voices and pay attention to what’s going on,” said Behzadi, who is a member of the OC Iranian American Chamber of Commerce.
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