If not quite rags to riches, the story of Javad Marandi’s rise from a child forced to flee revolutionary Iran with his parents to one of the UK’s leading businessmen is still a remarkable one.
From life as a political refugee through to becoming one half of what the Evening Standard recently called, “the most connected couple in London”, Marandi has already secured his place at the top table of British public life.
While recent allegations, which he strongly denies, have shone a spotlight on Marandi for the wrong reasons, his role as a philanthropist has seen him awarded the OBE in 2020.
This philanthropy, particularly in the field of education and youth development, is made possible by his success as an entrepreneur and investor.
Who is Javad Marandi, how did he become successful, and why is he so widely regarded in the charitable sector?
From Tehran to Notting Hill and Beyond
Born in Tehran, the capital of Iran, in 1968, Marandi’s early life was shattered by the Iranian revolution.
The son of a property developer and teacher, the country of his birth was experiencing a period of prosperity fuelled by rising oil prices. With its stable constitutional monarchy and long history, Iran was seen as a reliable presence in a region experiencing considerable volatility.
When Marandi was 10, the Iranian revolution disrupted a settled family life.
Despite having no connections to the former regime, Marandi’s father was considered a suspect by the revolutionary Islamic government. Like many of their peers, the Marandi family fled Tehran for asylum in London, where they lived in a small flat in Notting Hill that they’d previously used for European holidays.
While Javad, his mother and sister were able to move in 1979/80, his father was forced to remain in Iran for two more years. An exit visa was delayed, and the family assets were seized.
Finding himself in a strange country, Marandi taught himself English from pop culture, later admitting that:
“I can literally recite the words to every song by The Police, even the obscure ones!”
Through hard work, Marandi gained a place at Cardiff University to study electrical and electronic engineering. He went on to qualify as a chartered accountant at Coopers & Lybrand, but his career took off with Coca-Cola where he played key roles in their expansion into Central Asia and the Caucasus. Later, he ventured into entrepreneurship, establishing distribution and outdoor advertising companies in Azerbaijan.
Marandi’s successful joint venture with Motorola in mobile communication led him to focus on establishing the McDonald’s franchise in Azerbaijan, transforming failing restaurants into a network of 19 thriving locations. In Azerbaijan he met Narmina, the daughter of Ali Alizadeh, an oncologist in Azerbaijan, where Marandi’s own grandfather had been forced to flee after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1920.
In 2010, with a growing family, the couple made the decision to return to the UK to be closer to family.
A commitment to philanthropy
The couple have established themselves as prominent philanthropists, making a significant impact through their charitable endeavours.
In 2017, they founded the Marandi Foundation with a mission to provide underprivileged young individuals and communities essential opportunities for training, education, and vital mental health support services. The foundation serves as a beacon of hope, actively working to address societal challenges and empower those in need.
The Marandi Foundation has earned recognition as a “core funder” for The Royal Foundation, an organisation founded by the Prince and Princess of Wales dedicated to tackling important issues and making a positive difference in society. By supporting The Royal Foundation, the Marandi Foundation contributes to a wide range of impactful initiatives that address pressing societal issues.
In addition to its involvement with The Royal Foundation, the Marandi Foundation has made significant contributions to various other projects. One notable example is the provision of bursaries for talented individuals to St Paul’s School, one of London’s leading educational institutions.
Marandi has also played a key role in developing services at Centrepoint where he heads up the Growth Board. He has been pivotal in developing the Independent Living Programme that seeks to combine employment opportunities with stable accommodation for young people aged 16-25 in London and Manchester. Should the scheme prove successful, it’s hoped it can be rolled out across the country and among all age groups.
Driving Positive Change
Javad and Narmina Marandi are a high-profile couple with a commitment to education and youth development. They have demonstrated how success and societal influence can be used as a catalyst for positive change. With his own story of overcoming bad luck and difficult circumstances, Marandi is keen to ensure that young people have the opportunity to develop their talents and succeed, whatever their start in life.