Learning from a life in transit

Laura Alemzadeh was raised in Iran during the height of the Iran-Iraq war. Now the general counsel of Natural Markets Food Group, she outlines her story and the lessons she picked up along the way

When Laura Alemzadeh was thirteen years old, the Iran-Iraq war spread past the front lines, spilling into residential areas. Her family relocated to the United States to escape the conflict; they returned to Iran after the war ended. In her own words, Alemzadeh describes the mantras she picked up from a difficult, atypical path through the education system and into law.

Never take “no” for an answer. I was due to start tenth grade when my family moved back to Iran, but given the rigorous educational standards in Iran (the educational system in Iran is much more demanding than in the United States), I was told I needed to repeat ninth grade. Never being one to go backward, my parents and I appealed this decision to the Ministry of Education, and I was told I could enter tenth grade provided I successfully passed five out of the twelve core courses required in ninth grade. In less than two months and with the help of home tutors, I passed all five exams. This hard-fought victory taught me a lifelong lesson early on: never accept a “no” unless you’ve exhausted all your options.

Understand what “cultural differences” means. Once I finished high school, I moved back to the United States and received a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from the University of Central Florida. I then pursued my legal studies and graduated from the Osgoode Hall Law School of York University in Toronto. Canada—and Toronto, in particular—is home to a large population of immigrant communities.

By studying and working in Canada, I learned a great deal about multiculturalism and its interplay in everyday life. I witnessed the greatest effect of this during my work as a legal aid clinic worker helping underprivileged immigrants facing eviction. Culture is not only about geographical boundaries; culture is about backgrounds and the way people approach life and business in general.

Find passion in your mission. As the general counsel at Natural Markets Food Group, I feel fortunate to have found a company that affects people’s lives in a positive and meaningful way every day. Our chain of organic grocery stores caters to people who are passionate about organic, clean, and natural foods.

However, our mission goes beyond food, as we believe we are providing our customers with lifestyle choices. We take pride in knowing our customers have entrusted us with the task of providing the newest trends and best products to fill their dietary and nutritional needs.

On a personal level, my passion for organic and natural products is what drives me every day to work harder. I’m proud to say that Natural Markets Food Group gives people the resources they need to live clean, good, and healthy lives.

See twenty routes where others see three. To succeed in today’s fast-changing business environment, you need to think outside the box, identify opportunities where others see risks, and offer innovative solutions to paralyzing challenges. Being exposed to different cultures and people and working in diverse business sectors—from managing financial compliance at a hedge fund to my current role as vice president and general counsel for a growing organic retailer—have taught me to do that.

“Culture is not only about geographical boundaries; culture is about backgrounds and the way people approach life and business in general.”

More importantly, my multicultural experiences have served as a great catalyst throughout my life and legal career. I can’t think of things in one way only. As a lawyer, I argue both sides of an issue, while as a business executive, I draw from my different cultural lenses to provide innovative and far-reaching solutions that maximize the effectiveness of my undertakings.

This perspective was particularly instrumental in allowing me to bridge the cultural gaps in a business environment when I worked for a Japanese company. Being familiar with and understanding the nuances of the Eastern culture allowed me to be an effective facilitator in managing commercial dealings rooted in Western business principles.