Between March 16-20, WIN Magazine will be in Detroit, Mich., for the...
GIVING BACK: Tavakolians excel in corporate world, lead charge with charitable work
By Craig Sesker
They are corporate executives by day.
And superheroes by night.
For Hooman and Lorelei Tavakolian, that is the life they lead.
They start their days before sunrise in suburban New York City, work 12-hour days in midtown Manhattan and then commute home together to raise their three young children.
They leave and return home when it’s dark. Their schedule is wild, crazy and hectic, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Tavakolians, both 43 years old, are C level employees for New York City-based hedge funds in one of the world’s financial meccas in Manhattan.
“We are very dedicated to our careers and we make a significant time commitment to what we do,” Lorelei said. “We work long hours keeping our firms in line with compliance requirements. It can be stressful and hectic times, but we are partners in everything we do and it works well for us.”
The Tavakolians come from vastly different backgrounds.
Hooman Tavakolian grew up in Iran, a country with a rich and storied history in the sport of wrestling. He and his wife have become known globally for their immense contributions to the sport.
Hooman and Lorelei manage and operate Hoomanities, the nonprofit they founded to provide assistance to underprivileged youths around the world through wrestling.
“There is a lot of poverty and neglect around the world,” Lorelei said. “It’s sad to see families who are struggling to make it and that’s why it’s so important for us to help people who are less fortunate. I am totally supportive of Hooman’s vision and what we’re doing to help young people. It’s so gratifying to see a smile on a kid’s face after we are able to help them – it makes it all worth it. It’s amazing to be able to give back.”
Hooman Tavakolian came to the U.S. at age 9 after his family left Iran in 1986.
He went through some hardships as he and his family adjusted to a new culture when first coming to America.
“We lived in poverty when I was growing up,” he said. “I never lived in an air-conditioned room until I was 22. I grew up poor and that’s definitely one of the reasons why I am so committed to helping the people who are less fortunate. I can relate to what they are going through.
“Wrestling helped me become successful in life and I want it to provide the same opportunities for young people who are less fortunate. My goal is to give young people a way out of poverty by chasing their dreams in wrestling.”
Hooman excelled as a high school wrestler before going on to compete at the NCAA Division I level for Hofstra University. He went on to become successful in the business and financial world in New York City.
In 2017, he was inducted into the New York chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Hooman is heavily involved in wrestling with the New York Athletic Club. He also has worked as a liaison between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran during the Senior and Junior World Championships for wrestling.
He has handled sports diplomacy between Iran, the U.S. and other countries from around the world. He also was in attendance at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Hooman became more heavily involved with wrestling during 2013 when the International Olympic Committee Executive Board recommended wrestling be removed from the Olympic Games program.
Hooman has traveled frequently to Iran, including numerous times as a team leader when U.S. teams have competed there. He made two trips to Iran in 2019.
When a tragedy struck in an Afghanistan wrestling room in 2018, and more than 20 people were killed by a suicide bomber, the Tavakolians led the charge to rebuild the facility.
They helped raise funds to provide wrestling mats, equipment and gear for the club. They also raised the spirits of the surviving wrestlers by giving them an even greater gift.
“After the bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, we wanted to provide assistance, and we jumped on it quickly,” he said. “We fixed the whole wrestling gym. We rebuilt it, and made it even better and safer. And then we refurbished two additional gyms in Kabul. We helped a few hundred young wrestlers and got some kids off the streets. It was the Americans that helped them rebuild. We put politics and everything aside to provide help for the people in Afghanistan. A majority of the money came from people involved with wrestling in the U.S. We raised $25,000 to fix the three gyms. We are really appreciative that so many people jumped in to help and contribute to this.”
Hooman, widely known by his nickname of “Mo” in wrestling circles, travels frequently around the world while his wife manages everything from home in New York.
“We are extremely busy with everything we do,” Lorelei said. “But we make sure it doesn’t interfere with our day jobs. It takes razor sharp time management to successfully be able to do everything. All of the charitable work we do is in the evenings and on the weekends.”
Hooman offers high praise for everything his wife has done to make their partnership thrive and excel.
“Lorelei has done really well in her career and I’m very proud of her – she is amazing,” Hooman said. “She is a corporate executive who raises three kids and runs our household. Quite frankly, I don’t know how she does it all. And on top of all that, she helps manage our charitable endeavors.
“My wife is a saint. When I’m traveling around the world, she is home with the kids. I usually only get about three or four hours of sleep at night, and I’m so tired sometimes she has to tell me what socks to wear and make sure I don’t forget anything.”
Their lengthy work commute, more than an hour each way, is what Hooman calls “quality time” with his wife.
“It’s basically the only time we have during the day where we are alone together,” he said with a laugh. “We talk about a lot of the projects and ideas we have for helping people. I’m always bouncing ideas off her to see what she thinks. I greatly value her opinion and her input. It’s a crazy life, but we love it. My wife is my best friend and she keeps all of us organized.”
No matter how busy they are, nothing is more important to the Tavakolians than raising their young family. They have two sons – Navid, 9, and Nima 6 – and one daughter – Nikki, 4.
All three children have taken an interest in wrestling. The boys also play baseball and basketball while their daughter is involved in ballet. The children excel in school and have other interests like music and the arts. They also enjoy playing video games.
“We’ve been blessed to have amazing and happy kids,” Hooman said. “They are active and involved and have a lot of energy. They mean everything to us. We cherish whatever time we have with them. Our family is very close.”
Earlier this year, Hooman took his older son Navid with him on a trip to Iran.
“I think Navid thought we were going to a beach resort at first, but he quickly realized we weren’t,” Hooman said. “It was an eye-opening experience for him. He saw kids in Iran who were much less fortunate than he was who were selling socks on the street. They were wearing old clothes and ripped up shoes. We were in Tehran and we went back there for a family wedding. I wanted to show my son where I lived when I was his age. It was a tremendous experience for him. He has a better understanding now of Iran and his heritage.”
Hooman met Lorelei in 2000.
“She was my boss – I used to work for her,” he said with a laugh. “She hired me for a financial position. And the rest is history. I am so fortunate and blessed she came into my life. She’s the best.”
Lorelei grew up in the New York City borough of Queens before living about an hour drive north of the city when she was in high school. She attended Fordham University.
Hooman said his wife has many of the qualities a successful athlete possesses.
“Lorelei is tenacious – she never gives up,” he said. “She sets her goals and goes after them, no matter how long it takes. And she’s very intelligent. She is great at time management. She is my life planner. She is a very motivated, driven and determined person who makes everyone around her better.”
The Tavakolians also co-founded a scholarship fund. They award a student-athlete in New York City $2,500 annually.
“I do a lot of the work behind the scenes,” Lorelei said. “I manage everything and I keep Hooman organized. I book his travel and help him with his schedule. And we are always talking and brainstorming when we’re in the car going to and from work. We are very reliant on each other. All of the charitable work we do is a huge time commitment for us, and we somehow fit it in during the time when we’re not working. But it’s all worth it.”
Hooman said he is fortunate that the company he works for in New York City is “very supportive” of the humanitarian work that he does with his wife.
“Our purpose in life is to help people,” he said. “The world is portrayed as dark and evil in a lot of respects, and that’s very sad to see. I see the good in people and I want to help them. We are all born with kindness – we just need some sort of stimuli to get it out. I love putting a smile on a young person’s face. And making their lives better. It’s gratifying to be able to help them. We are all humans and we should all be here to help each other.
“We hope our children continue our legacy long after we are gone and, through acts of kindness, continue to instill hope in humanity.”
As you can imagine, Hooman and Lorelei have other projects they are planning to pursue.
“We’re always trying to raise money to help people – that’s what we do,” he said. “I’m hosting some tournaments to raise money. We’ve talked about helping kids in Cambodia and Vietnam. I’ve been to Qatar to help there. We’ve helped kids in Brazil and Cuba and many other places. Companies such as Nike, Asics, Cliff Keen and Adidas have been extremely generous – they have helped out by contributing shoes, gear and equipment to help kids who can’t afford it. We’ve provided shoes for kids all over the world.”
For the Tavakolians, they aren’t looking to make a profit. Instead, they’re making a difference in the lives of countless young people.
“A lot of the money I use to travel is out of my own pocket,” he said. “It’s something we want to do to give back to the sport of wrestling. We are able to help out, and we will continue to donate shoes and gear in 2020 to wrestlers. My mission is to give back and help these people.”
Hooman is preparing for another trip back to his native land. He’s been back to Iran every year since 2007 and now goes back there twice a year.
Many of the trips are for wrestling events and to help people in that country.
“I’m doing a charity tournament in Iran in December,” he said. “We are bringing in kids from low-income areas from Iran to compete. They will receive wrestling shoes and gear to compete. We want to show them wrestling can help them with the path of their life. Some of these kids have a dream to make a national team in wrestling so they can fly on a plane and travel outside the country. We want to show them that it is possible with wrestling.”
Their busy lives constantly keep Hooman and Lorelei on the go. And that’s precisely how they like it.
“We are kind of like Batman and Robin with all of the different roles we play. We focus on our corporate positions during the 12-hour days we work. And then we try to save the world through wrestling at night while raising our kids at the same time,” Hooman said. “We are a great team. There is no possible way I could do this without my wife’s amazing support. It can be stressful and exhausting at times, but it’s all worth it. It’s a great life and I found the perfect person to take this journey with.”
Lorelei said she is “100 percent on board” with what the couple is doing to make a difference.
“Hooman wants to save everybody,” she said. “He’s an amazing, caring man with a huge heart. He’s inspired me to want to help people who need it. So many people reach out to him for help and I’m very proud of what he’s done. He can’t possibly save everyone in the world, but he’s trying to. One shoe at a time.”