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Phoenix Forward magazine

MBA graduate’s unusual rags-to-riches tale

Atour Eyvazian

For University of Phoenix alumnus Atour Eyvazian to go from Iranian refugee to the largest Jack in the Box® franchise owner in the United States, he literally had to climb mountains. And that was just the beginning of his journey.

Growing up in Tehran, Eyvazian’s life was pretty routine until the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when the country became an Islamic theocracy. “After the revolution, things got tough for minorities in Iran,” Eyvazian says. “Based on my name, you could tell I was Armenian Christian.”

In 1980, war broke out between Iran and Iraq. Eyvazian describes Iranian officials combing the streets for boys ages 11 and up. “They were using these young minority kids to sweep the mine fields,” Eyvazian says. “I was 17 or 18 and had just finished high school studies.”

Eyvazian and his family decided it was best for him to leave the country. His parents hired smugglers to take him to the U.S. Embassy in Turkey. Eyvazian and the smugglers set out on foot, with no food, in Iran’s mountainous terrain and arrived at the Turkish border in about a week. There, his smugglers left him and, he says, “in about 30 or 40 minutes, I was captured by the Turkish Army.”

Money comes and goes, but education is something that stays with us. Learning cannot be taken away.

After 40 days in jail, Eyvazian says, he bribed a guard using money his mother had sewn into his pants. He managed to get to the U.S. Embassy in Istanbul and apply for a visa. “For the next six to seven months, I lived like a ghost until I got a call from the embassy,” he says, noting that he avoided people and public places as much as possible. In 1984, he left for Los Angeles to live with an uncle.

Eyvazian couldn’t speak English and needed work, so his uncle helped him find a job as a part-time janitor at a Jack in the Box restaurant, and Eyvazian went to night school to learn English. “I became a reliable employee,” he says, “and a year from the day I was hired, I became assistant manager.”

He accepted a position at the company’s corporate offices in 1989 and took advantage of his regular work schedule to go to a local college at night and earn a bachelor’s degree in business. In 2001, he got his MBA from University of Phoenix.

“A lot of people don’t realize they can go back to school and hold a job,” Eyvazian says. “Jack in the Box … encourages their employees to get an education.”

His MBA courses, Eyvazian says, helped him develop organizational and leadership skills, and apply what he learned to the real world, because “every instructor was a businessperson.”

Eyvazian saved his money and completed a few successful real estate deals. He then sold most of his properties and, with a partner, bought 10 Jack in the Box restaurants near Sacramento.

A few years later, he moved with his wife and kids to the Houston area, and now owns and operates 109 restaurants in Texas, as well as the 10 he started with in Northern California.

Even though he has gone from poverty to affluence, Eyvazian says he values education above everything. “Money comes and goes, but education is something that stays with us,” he notes. “Learning cannot be taken away.”

 

Jack in the Box is a registered trademark of Jack in the Box Corp.

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