Fred Nazem: Leading a group That led to the Creation of MRI
With the goal of harnessing the untapped potential of Iranian-Americans, and to build the capacity of the Iranian diaspora in effecting positive change in the U.S. and around the world, the Iranian Americans’ Contributions Project (IACP) has launched a series of interviews that explore the personal and professional backgrounds of prominent Iranian-Americans who have made seminal contributions to their fields of endeavour. We examine lives and journeys that have led to significant achievements in the worlds of science, technology, finance, medicine, law, the arts and numerous other endeavors. Our latest interviewee is Fred Nazem.
Fred Nazem is an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, one of the earliest venture capitalists, and a corporate architect who has founded, operated, or financed several multi-billion dollar corporations. He has been building highly disruptive, industry-leading healthcare and technology companies since the early 1970s when he established several private venture capital partnerships, including Nazem & Company. As the Founder and Managing Partner of Nazem & Company, Mr. Nazem either started, financed, or guided over two hundred companies in the information technology, telecommunications, healthcare, and digital media sectors. Many of these companies have become leaders in their industries, some 60 of them went public, and more than two-dozen have grown into multibillion dollar enterprises. Mr. Nazem’s career has been marked by a strong affinity for the digitization of healthcare services. Among his many contributions to the healthcare field, he is credited for having co-led a group of 12 investor-entrepreneurs who enabled the formation and commercialization of MRI technology. He founded Cirrus Logic (OTC:CRUS), a leading semiconductor company; Blue Bird Bio (OTC:BLUE), a gene therapy company; and Genesis Health Ventures, (NYSE:GHV), a leading eldercare company. He also backed companies like Universal Health System (NYSE:UHS), a leading for profit hospital system, and Oxford Health Plans, (OTC: OXHP), a company he initially financed as a VC. Later, he stepped in as Chairman, leading a successful turnaround when Oxford experienced operational and financial difficulties in the late 1990s. For the past decade, Mr. Nazem has been a passionate advocate for the digital delivery of highly personalized regenerative medicine in a consumer-centric environment. He is currently the CEO of Rejuvenan Global Health, an early stage epigenetics company focused on commercializing the revolutionary findings of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Telomere biology. Mr. Nazem currently serves on a number of boards, including Columbia Presbyterian Hospital’s Science and Technology Advisory Board, the Chinese American Medical Association, and the GenapSys Corporation, a cutting-edge gene sequencing enterprise. A scientist turned financier, Mr. Nazem holds a B.S. degree in biochemistry from Ohio State University, an M.S. degree in physical chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, an M.B.A in finance from Columbia University, and has done doctoral work in quantum physics at Washington University. Among many honors, he is the recipient of the Fulbright One to World award and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for his contributions to the American economy.
Tell our readers where you grew up and walk us through your background. How did your family and surroundings influence you in your formative years?
My Iranian upbringing has been the foundational influence in my life. My love of poetry must be genetic, going back to my grandfather who was a poet. My father and mother were both very literate despite having only a high school education. I grew up reading books, articles and papers of all sorts kept by my father in what became over the years a sizable library. I inherited from him thousands of literary works including the famous literary monthly series named Sokhan and Yaghma. As a young boy, I couldn’t wait for the latter to arrive each month, or having the discussions that followed with my mother and father. My family was particularly proud of its old Persian roots. Relatedly, my parents named me and my siblings after the old Persian heroes of the Book of Kings — the Shahnameh.
What has been your personal key to success? What were the biggest inspirations for your career?
Grit and constantly trying to lead a purposeful life. Humility, and yet being a proud person without harboring an arrogance of infallibility.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Loving people, family in particular, and giving to the world two remarkable children. Also, going for the cutting-edge science, art, and markets by building truly disruptive enterprises. Being inspired and a believer in Rumi’s wisdom that the world inside of each of us is far more powerful than everything that exists outside.
“Seek inside whatever you desire,
For the universe is in you line-by-line”
“بیرون ز تو نیست هر چه در عالم هست/ در خود بنگر هر ا آنچه خواهی که تویی”
You have been building highly disruptive, industry-leading healthcare and technology companies since the late 1970s. Could you tell us about your companies?
Among the half dozen companies that I started as a founder I can name a few including Cirrus Logic (Nasdaq=CRUS), which I co-founded with my friend Kamran Elahian and a brilliant Indian scientist, Dr. Suhas Patil; Genesis Health Ventures (NYSE:GVH) a leading high-end eldercare company; and Bluebird Bio (Nasdaq: BLUE) one of the earliest gene therapy companies that is saving the lives of otherwise lost thalassemic children. I also financed as a venture capitalist several hundred companies, mostly start-ups, some of which have luckily become iconic since their founding.
A number of your ventures have grown to become billion-dollar enterprises and more than a dozen of them have achieved multi-hundred-million-dollar revenue status. Could you highlight your works?
Luckily, there were a few others beyond those mentioned above, including Oxford Health Plans (OXHP), now a division of United Health, and Horizon Health, iVillage, Medical 21 and Tegal Corporation.
You’re obviously a successful entrepreneur. How did that career come about?
It all came about by the powerful combination of being curious, educated as a scientist, believing in the utility of knowledge as a creative person, the entrepreneurial spirit that defines America as the ultimate start-up nation, and above all being constantly awed by the mystery of life and the universe.
I was lucky to develop a love for chemistry, mathematics, and physics in high school in Tehran. Upon arriving in America, I began to develop a craving for learning about the cellular wonders biochemistry was discovering during my undergraduate years. The graduate work for my master’s and ultimately the doctoral work in quantum physics helped me to feel scientifically secure, which I think has been fundamental to my approach to building technology and healthcare companies.
I also seem to have inherited a business sense from my father and developed an appreciation and tolerance for the inevitable vicissitudes that begets most new businesses. The Columbia MBA and several years of being a Wall Street security analyst helped a lot, but none were as fundamental as the on the job learning I picked up while building my early companies.
Do you have any books to recommend that are life or mindset-changing?
There are so many. Start with the most important classics, Friedrich August von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, to appreciate America’s free enterprise system and her entrepreneurial spirit. Follow with Graham and Dodd’s Intelligent Investor to learn the basics of investing, as well as America’s Founding Fathers books, particularly Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and the book on the life of John Adams by David McCullough.
Above all, read Saadi’s Golestan for his unparalleled wisdom, Hafez for his love of life, and Rumi for the ultimate understanding of the universe.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path? How did you overcome this?
Occasional self-doubt. The solution: GRIT. In the words of Sr. Winston Churchill, “if you feel you are in hell, keep going.”
You are an expert in most high tech (digital) and healthcare fields. What specific research and projects are you the proudest of?
Investing in and leading a small group that led to the creation of MRI, which has since become a fundamental tool in medicine. I am also proud of my work at Cirrus Logic, Blubirdbio, and the turnaround I led at Oxford Health Plan.
How can our readers stay current on what you’re doing now? What are you exploring for the next few years?
Follow Rejuvenan Global Health, Inc. Rejuvenan offers an all-digital, 24x7, data- and science-driven platform to engage, excite, and educate, and to enhance health and wellness and quality of life. Our core mission is to utilize these digital interventions to deliver clinically proven behavioral modifications to prevent, treat and reverse lifestyle-induced chronic diseases.
Rejuvenan puts precise and personalized behavioral advice in the user’s hands using ten biomarkers. These biomarkers were chosen for their predictive power in assessing disease risk. Improvements in each biomarker have been shown to enhance cellular health by supporting telomere length — the most predictive biomarker of aging and chronic disease ever discovered. Curated content and recommendations cover the “Four Pillars” of Rejuvenan: Nutrition, Stress Reduction, Exercise, and Social Support.
Rejuvenan is scalable and secure, with the ability to handle over one million user interactions per second and data security that extends beyond HIPAA guidelines. Employee onboarding is simple and straightforward, and all personal information remains confidential and can only be viewed by the employee.
We have developed two proprietary sets of algorithms that incorporate the 2009 Nobel Prize-winning science of telomere biology: a Risk Detection Engine and a Treatment Recommendation Engine.
These algorithms provide curated, personalized coaching and other interactive tools to drive behavioral change through the adoption of healthy lifestyle, which is shown to reduce or reverse future disease risk and alter gene expression patterns for the better.
Rejuvenan’s health platform collects data from users’ smart devices, blood tests, and direct input. Our platform then utilizes a 10-biomarker health assessment to deliver personalized coaching to improve each user’s nutrition, exercise, stress management, and social support behaviors that are proven to lengthen telomeres — the ultimate measure of health. We have created an individualized roadmap to optimal health.
Can you share your thoughts on your Iranian-American identity? What does being an Iranian-American mean to you?
I love my old culture; its wisdom, its beauty, and the humility that has made it survive for millennia. I also admire and appreciate the America of Lincoln, Jefferson, Steve Jobs, and the numerous immigrants like Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google who have made America what it is. So, as an Iranian American, I feel lucky to have the best of both worlds on my side.