There are many who can say ‘No Dream Too Big’, fewer who begin to execute their dreams, and the rarest of them all, those few who dare to see them through to the end. Farzam Kamalabadi falls in the third category. With his vast network of resources and know-how in over 120 countries, the founder and president of Future Trends Group has led it to complete over 100 projects or transactions and generate a staggering turnover of some USD 30B in the past 25 years.
The captain of the ship, Farzam Kamalabadi, is a force of pure human grit, having built Future Trends simultaneously as he forged and chiseled the fate of nations, particularly China, the Middle East, Africa, and the West. Over the years, he has risen to hold key positions, including Senior Economic Advisor to over 20 municipal and regional governments in China; advising and overseeing projects of the national oil systems of several countries, including Oman, Kuwait, and China; proved instrumental in the China-Oman trade volume hyper-jump by 18 times multiplication from $600mm to $11Bn between 2001 to 2007; masterfully guided the first-ever zero-bullet peaceful transition of power in Africa, Zimbabwe in November 2017; and successfully changed several rounds of key national policies of China. It is no surprise that he has been stated as “The Most Influential Foreign Figure in Modern China History” by Chinese state media and several international forums.
We chat with Farzam to journey with him into the past, of how an Iranian boy with humble beginnings came to alter the fate of the world, past, present, and future.
Teachings from the sea
Growing up in the northern territory of Iran, between the mountain and the Caspian Sea, Farzam’s earliest teachers were the trials of nature and the way the seasons changed.
“My father was a complete humanitarian, the only doctor of nearly a hundred villages. He must have healed close to a few 100,000 patients in his lifetime.”
Born in the middle of 5 children, one brother and one sister on either side of him as siblings, Farzam was a precocious and observant kid. All of three years old and barely speaking, a child in his own world, uninterested in the trinkets and flashy luxuries, he remembers a time loitering the beach with family, where they collected pretty, shiny shells and little conches, like gifts from the sea.
Farzam came upon a shore-cast dead little fish and was aware that it should be in the water. As his older relative backslapped his hand, thinking he had mistaken the dead fish for a shell telling him that he should drop and toss the carcass away; instead, the little boy wordlessly lifted it with a look full of meaning, placing it gently in the water. As they watched, awestruck, the fish returned to life, swimming back into the sea with a second life, leaving Farzam with a meaningful look of satisfaction and moral victory.
“I learned a lesson. If I had been one minute earlier, it wouldn’t be there. One minute later, it would have been really dead. So, you have to be in the right place at the right time, then do the right thing, without heeding to other people’s opinions who do not understand you.” This, among many other factors, created in him the urge to change the destinies of nations and humanity at large.
As he grew, the lessons from his surroundings kept shaping the man he was destined to be. Bored with regular slow fishing experiences, when he first witnessed the fisherman employ dynamite fishing, throwing an explosive bomb in the water to kill and capture hundreds of fishes at once, the empath in him was appalled, and the strategic mind in him was greatly intrigued.
“There was a business strategy here – Don’t go for projects or clients one by one – don’t be linear. Instead, place a powerful impression bomb, capture attention, harvest group by group on the aggregate, and produce prolific results.”
The land of opportunity
In 1978, Farzam moved to Boston. 1979 saw the first ‘boat people’ arrive in America – Southeast Asian refugees, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians. An immigrant himself, he forewent the crisis that comes with that enforced identity and instead found the courage to become a support for the refugee community and a leader indeed.
At just 19, he was rallying the groups to come together and stay strong. “Even though I was at school, I missed most classes. I was up every day from early morning 4 AM till late night 2 AM, running around to the airport, picking up the refugees, housing them, getting them clothing, then barely going to my classes, taking them to obtain welfare, getting the driver’s licenses, so on and so forth.”
Those years opened Farzam’s eyes to the breadth of human suffering and the combative power of human resilience. He saw people who met on the boat in the worst of conditions, yet fall in love, marry, and dream of a better life for themselves and their families. Most refugees were robbed of all their money and gold when on the boat, sometimes chucked out in the vast sea to drown, but against impossible odds, they got to the fabled land of opportunity.
Born and raised, again and again
To help the refugees, he decided to learn Chinese. “I wanted to change ideologies, create a new civilization, a new mindset. I have seen that action with a pure motive and strong methodology can create the widest impact, and that fascinated me. So, I learned Chinese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese, asking Vietnamese villagers to teach me their language, and then formally took classes at Harvard University and drilled days till nights at Boylston Hall Language Laboratory.”
Investing in languages allowed him to make friends out of weary strangers, widened his network, and thus made him a vital cog for the businesses around the place.
“My first formal job was in the Baybank Harvard Trust, for I had such a strong community system and network that the banks said, oh my god, we need these clients. I had a strong network comprising 2000-3000 people from the Chinese community in Boston. So, I became the Iranian in America in Baybank Harvard Trust at Harvard Square in charge of the Chinese students and scholars.”
The Chinese academia were the first group of mainland Chinese arrivals in the USA, and they all became Farzam’s community as they arrived in Boston – to study at Harvard, MIT, or Boston University. “Just like with the refugees, I used to take them from the airport, go with them to their classes, translate for them and learn Chinese that way.”
Just like that, Farzam was bestowed a second childhood – growing up with their memories of the Chinese cultural revolution. Within two years, Farzam had all the knowledge of how these thousands of students and scholars grew up in China. Their movies, the anecdotes, stories, and cliches swirled in his subconscious, as if he were born and raised in China. What started as merely learning the words became an adoption of their culture and mindset as his own.
Farzam made some very astute predictions about China during this time, as consistently in various stages later, all of which have proved true in the decades that ensued. “I would give lectures about how China will move from being introvert to extrovert, from a follower to a leader. At the time, the scholars themselves were very pessimistic about the future of China. I became involved in giving lectures in universities and printed about 30,000 of my own articles or white paper of my analysis. It went to every top student and scholar from China, whom I didn’t know but were the children of generals and prime ministers, people of top consequence. They took my thoughts and white paper and circulated them to the top national leaders of China as well. Unknowingly, I was able to influence a whole generation of China and their thinking.”
A confluence of ideologies
Farzam’s work takes him places, but given that all his goals are humongous and long-term, it can be confounding for the layman to understand how Farzam profits out of his calling. He explains, “I have two initiatives – one is corporate, one is government.
On the corporate front companies join me because my ecosystem and influence help their growth. I don’t work as a third-party consultant; instead, companies invest in me and offer shares, as I take on a chairman role and help grow the companies. I bring all the vectors of growth, global sales and distribution system, global partnerships, reps, resellers, agents and JVs, investors in each region, bringing in government support in the form of permits, branding, capital raising, increasing financial growth, an entire system of acceleration within each corporation. As they grow, the payment increases, the revenue increases, and so do the shares. I am working with 50 such companies at the moment – a Belgian Renewable Energy Group, a US company HNO in the domain of hydrogen generation, fund operations in the Cayman, and a few blockchain companies, and at the moment finalizing several new partners and member companies.”
Farzam is aware that his achievements are extraordinary; there are hundreds who perhaps envision creating an impact of this kind, but few can reach the heights that he has. On being quizzed if there is a scientific method or a process to his humongous growth, he answers, “Diversify – do not stay restricted to one region or industry. I have a plug-in system that leverages the seven vectors or verticals of growth in a global ecosystem. It’s like an implosion. I bring all my resources to be owned by the companies that join me. I download relevant resources in key areas of the growth – market, partners, government, capital, and then implement strategies through them so that the company starts growing, and often by mega multiplication.”
The mantra here – implode (download into the member or partner company our key resources in parallel first), digest (turn those resources into commercial contracts and consistent monetary results), and explode (grow the company by mega multiplication).
Farzam’s operational style
One can guess that ambitions of this scale are neither for the lonely nor the fainthearted. Of his system, Farzam says, “My global network, system, and process has a very wide coverage, with multi-layer value and having multiple strata, going from high to low. So, it’s like a high-resolution megapixel three-dimensional hologram, where you see all the different networks of all the different categories.”
While most people simply consider good human resources and top connections as a huge win, to Farzam it is only the minimum. Whenever he is entrusted with a new client or a new project, he hires a trusted team of 3 to 5 people, sometimes more, who can work deeply with the client for particular functions to bring the goal into reality. But even that is the basic mechanics and tools of processing the resources.
As he says, “I become like a rainmaker. My teams provide the key resources, and between their team and my team, we run the processes on our invented strategies. From time to time, my core team and I fine-tune the larger teams that belong inside these companies, which interface with my global resources; but ultimately, the main gain comes from our proprietary know-how and superior modeling developed by me within Future Trends.”
In due time
To some, Farzam’s life may seem unimaginably arduous, akin to an obstacle course; to him, it is just proof that everything worth achieving takes its time to arrive.
As he puts it, “The process of crystallization of results is at times slow, like how milk slowly turns into curd. You cannot rush the process, but there is always a tilting point of fast and sudden fermentation.”
For the first 25 years, Farzam hustled and broke sweat, consulting, brokering, and taking on ad-hoc transactions to prove his mettle. Now, as the pace slows but the dreams burgeon bigger than ever before, he is focused on building institutions. “Somewhere in the last five years, I have upgraded to a series of part-ownership model level. And now, we are on the verge of upgrading one more layer so that I can monetize the ‘Future Trends’ ecosystem itself, on digital economy, and blockchain exchanges.
Our ecosystem will most likely have a native coin, and I don’t want it to become only commercial. So, we will not float it too aggressively into the market. But it becomes an umbrella or infrastructure within which my projects, programs, subsidiary companies, or assets are floated one by one in a digital world and will produce huge upside. That’s my next phase of mega monetization.”
Given that Farzam has created an infallible business model, he is keen on evangelizing it. “From the beginning, my objective was to create a hybrid business model that is both for-profit and nonprofit in the same entity, non-governmental and yet related to governance, finance-oriented and humanitarian all in one to help people, while you create wealth. I’m still in the process of perfecting it. I want it to be a model that future companies can emulate.”
The view from the summit
Farzam does admit the twinge of loneliness that comes with being centuries ahead of his time in his vision, but he is quick to dismiss it. “God surrounded me with a lot of good-hearted and strong-minded people, especially from the young generation,” he says.
Having never sought outside funding for his audacious vision but relying on his own money-generating machine that he terms has produced “mid-level miracles”, Farzam is proud of what he has achieved yet is aware of how much further he could grow with monies behind his vast global system. “What I can do with pools of super large capital behind me is unbelievable. I know it myself, and yet, I did not develop it until recently till my system is fully mature and powerful. So, I’m working on that element.”
When a man doesn’t compare himself with others, his biggest enemies are only his flaws, the unquantifiable challenges of life.
“My first enemy is mediocracy – being passive or being less than your full potential. The second enemy is time. The third enemy, actually, is a rather popular concept – which is called ‘beauty in the eye of the beholder’. I don’t believe in that. I believe that no matter what you are seeing, there is always a higher standard and new realities that one must strive for to discover and achieve.”
As our time with Farzam ticks away, we are unwilling to let the conversation fade without a final nugget of wisdom from him. So, we go for the gold – what is the one thing that paves the way to greatness?
He replies, “There is no one factor; instead, there is a formula. Like with any formula, there are 20 plus elements, and if any one element is missing, it falls short and is aborted.”
He counts out a few – finding crystal clear the calling, the mission, keeping the vision, creating superior methodologies and modeling, observing and adopting a systems-oriented mind and process-oriented system, consistency and perseverance. One could say that parsing through his life so far and the experiences he has snatched away, even from the most unforgiving of situations, layout the blueprint to greatness. But he leaves the most surreal one for the end – a sense of destiny.
Farzam’s destined focus during this decade is to affect the collective rise of Africa, a hyper jump in wealth generation and wealth distribution of its state nations and peoples, as stated and described in his open letter, the ‘Future Trends Manifesto for Africa’, a process which has gathered momentum and received huge reverberations in Africa and globally within a very short time.
If you believe it is fated for you, there is nary a force in the universe that can’t be harnessed and tapped into, or that can stand between you and your greatness in impact and in service to the world of humanity. For Farzam Kamalabadi, this is his ultimate victory.