GEICO Chairman Dr. Ali Reza Arabnia Gives Presidential Lecture

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“Ali Reza Arabnia embodies the mission of John Cabot University: to form leaders and entrepreneurs with the courage to innovate, the strength to lead, but also the commitment to share growth with their team and society at large”.

It was with these words that President Franco Pavoncello introduced JCU graduate in Business Administration and Trustee Dr. Ali Reza Arabnia, CEO and Chairman of GEICO S.p.A., for a Presidential Lecture titled “Building a world-class company”, held on Wednesday March 7th.

In a packed Aula Magna Regina, Dr. Arabnia captivated the audience of students, faculty and staff with the remarkable account of how, in the space of just a few years, he took a struggling automotive paint engineering family company and turned it into a global market leader and innovator in its field. Re-purchasing the company that had previously been in his family in 2005, Dr. Arabnia put people and innovation at the forefront, investing in changing corporate and educating employees about what the company did and stood for.

Taking note of the fact that GEICO was a small company and lacked a global presence to compete with the market leaders, and looking at what customers were most concerned about, he decided to focus on reducing the energy costs and ecological impact of the business, going as far as setting a goal of becoming Energy Independent by 2020. Thanks to a smart management buyout of a struggling group which however had strong worldwide presence, he was able to create an international network without any fixed costs, thus enabling GEICO to compete with anyone on a global scale.

Just when it looked like the ship had been steadied, the automobile world collapsed in the summer of 2008, as GM and Chrysler went bankrupt. Seeing how its competitors had reacted to the crisis by reducing personnel and investment, Dr. Arabnia instead focused on technology and training, opening a new Research & Development center in 2009. It was a risky strategy, but one that ultimately paid off handsomely, as GEICO was able to win major contracts thanks to its cutting-edge technological know-how, rather than price.

In 2011, GEICO signed an alliance agreement with Japanese giant Taikisha, further cementing the company’s position as global market leader, and completing an incredible turnaround which has seen GEICO’s market share go from around 4% to over 40% in the space of just a few years. It is for his business acumen and vision, but also his human and personal qualities, that Dr. Joseph Hagan, Chair of the JCU Board of Trustees, who was present at the lecture, described Dr. Arabnia as “our most distinguished Alumnus, and a warm, giving, generous man”.

The Presidential Lecture was presented by the newly-created JCU Institute for Entrepreneurship, of which Dr. Arabnia has been a prime supporter. The Institute will work towards helping entrepreneurs in the JCU community bring down the barriers to success, through education, training, and networking.