Grit.org Podcast - Episode 7: Dr. Saman Soleymani
Colby Harris: Welcome back to the Grit. org podcast. My name is Colby Harris. Alongside me is Brian Harbin and we're here with today's guest Doctor Saman Soleymani. Saman thank you so much for joining us today.
Dr. Saman: Well, thank you.
Doctor Saman Soleymani immigrated to the US from Iran at 12 years old not knowing a single word of English. He flourished here in the States as he graduated high school at just 15 years old. Doctor Soleimani went on to earn his undergraduate degree at the University of North Florida in biology and went on to study medicine at Ross University School of Medicine. After fulfilling his residency at the University of Florida, Shans Jacksonville, he stayed on as an assistant professor for the next three years. In 2005, he went on to open Avecina Medical which is a multi-specialty private practice with three locations in the Jacksonville area. Doctor Soleymani is board certified with the American Board of Internal Medicine and is the CEO of Avecina Medical. He has studied and trained extensively in advanced nutrition, physiology, sports medicine, and anti-aging practices. He emphasizes a meticulous nutrition and exercise program for all his patients and aids him in achieving optimal levels of health and wellness.
Doctor Soleymani has been a speaker for international pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and is currently an active national speaker for Johnson and Johnson and Jansen Pharmaceuticals. He currently resides in Jacksonville with his wife and two kids. While pursuing medical excellence, he also loves exotic cars venturing into new and exciting business opportunities and getting involved in philanthropy events whenever possible. So, without further ado, Doctor Saman Soleymani everyone, we are super excited to have you here today to share your story.
Dr. Saman: Thank you.
Colby Harris: Again, really appreciate you taking the time. I know you've really been in Jacksonville doing everything you can for the community. So, we really appreciate that. So, let's go ahead and start from beginning of your journey. So, can you take us back and tell us a little bit about your family, your background and what led you to immigrating to the States from Iran at just 12 years old.
Dr. Saman: Sure, obviously. I was born in Iran. I was born in Tehran and my father was an electrical engineer. My mother was a midwife. She had a masters in nursing and in charge of a Labor and Delivery hospital in the Capitol. This is when during the Iran and Iraq war that was happening in the greater part of the 1980s. It was very common that parents right before, because in the Middle East just like Europe when you finish high school you immediately have to serve two years in the military. It's mandatory. You cannot go to college; you cannot further your education or really do anything else. You can't even get a job unless you complete your two years of service. Well, it's not war time, it's obviously just character building and I'm a fan. But during that time when there was the Iran Iraq war basically when you were a new person coming on, you just went to the front line and got slaughtered.
So, it was very common for parents to essentially get their kids, their boys out of the country on their 17th birthday right before they were turning 18. So, the Iran government to kind of crack down on passed the ruling that if you were like 13 and over as a male you could no longer leave the country. So, that was put in. So, you had to be really committed if you wanted to get your son out of the country, you had to do it five years before it was time for him to serve. So, at this point the Iran Iraq was already going on for 6 years and when you kind of in the middle of it, it thought it was like never ending. So, when they passed this regulation, I was a few months away from my 13-birthday. So, my parents’ kind of went into a panic mode and tried to liquidate as much as they could and left the country, went from Iran to Turkey to essentially not get stuck in Iran with that regulation.
My father stayed behind to finish doing the rest of the thing. So, me my little brother who's five years younger than me and my mother went to Turkey and from Turkey we ended up going to Vienna Austria and lived there for almost a year before there was an ad in like the Vienna Times from the US Consulate. Advertising that they were looking for immigration to United States, if you had certain qualifications. One of them was if you were a nurse or a midwife. So, my mother took all her documentation to the US Embassy. We had a few interviews and next thing we know we received a letter saying, you're welcome to United States. We actually had our green card before we even left Vienna Austria. And because it was kind of a work placement type of situation, they gave you a choice of like 5 cities you could choose from. They placed you there and got like a job they signed the kids up for school.
I remember this is 1987 I would say when we got the letter and there were five cities as an option. Mind you, there's no Google internet back then and so when you're not from United States especially back then. Most people only knew a handful of the really big cities you know everyone knows New York, Los Angeles Miami, Chicago that's about it. So, none of these cities we recognized. One was Seattle, there was Charlotte North Carolina, it was Jacksonville it was Oakland California and I forgot what the fifth one was. So, we had some friends and family in the states and we called them and we just kind of run through the cities and we're like, what do you think of Seattle. They're like, oh no, it rains all the time. Everybody commits suicide, don't go to Seattle. What about Oakland? Like, oh no, definitely don't go to Ike. So, as we just kept running through, so then we're like what about Jacksonville, and they were like eh you know it's in Florida it's on the water the weather is good. So, literally the rest of my journey and how I've ended up here when you think of like the butterfly effect.
If we would have clicked another option, God knows where my life where our lives would be. Now we sure wouldn't be sitting here. So, that's how the Jacksonville situation was selected. Me and my brother were enrolled in school. We actually flew to Jacksonville August 14th 1987 and August 24th is my birthday. I remember because the flight attendance like brought a cupcake for me as like a birthday. They realized it was my birthday that day and we came to Jacksonville. As you mentioned I spoke Farsi, which is the language spoken in Iran and I spoke German. Nobody in New Jacksonville spoke German. So, everywhere I went like, [German Word 07:26]. Nobody spoke German. So, it was very acclamation to school, was very difficult, but that's kind of how the journey happened to the US.
Colby Harris: Yeah, it's really incredible and I can imagine it's an intimidating process as well especially you came over here knowing a second language but not one necessarily that was going to be applicable to your day to day. So, as mentioned earlier, once you were here, you end up graduating high school at just 15 years old. So, following your arrival to the US at 12, can you tell us more about what ensued in those years following your arrival leading up to graduation and what life was like adjusting to the states, learning a new language, stuff like that.
Dr. Saman: So, education overseas particular in the Middle East and even the time that I spent in Europe going to school there, it is far more advanced than the States. When I left Iran in let's say 4th or 12th grade, we took 12 subjects a year. Like I'd already taken algebra, you go to school 6 days a week not five days a week and kind of almost like a college setup. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, you have 6 set of classes and then Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, you have another set of 6 classes. So, you start taking what the States, they kind of try to patch you on the back by, like you took algebra one, algebra two, advanced algebra. Over there, it's just called algebra and you take it every year until you graduate and they don't give you a number to make you feel special that you were. It just becomes harder and harder and obviously math and algebra even the word algebra is per like math was essentially, we obviously don't Roman numerals. We use what's called the Arabic numbers. So, the concept of zero was never in place until the Middle East happened in the mathematicians.
So, math is very strong over there. So, when I came here, they were learning just to add how to add decimal points. And I was a year more advanced. Like I came here as 6th grade and they were just learning how to add like decimal points and like common denominator fractions. And so, we took some, I think it was like some national like a PSAT test, whatever it was for middle schoolers. I had like a perfect score in the math and science not so much in English. I was getting a little trouble being the Middle Eastern kid that came in middle of the school year. There was bullying going on. And some of the conversations and developmental talks that I give to kids is that I was the bottom of the pool. Like I was bullied by the Asians, the Hispanics, by the African Americans, by the Whites like everything trickled down. So, I had done martial arts since a very young age and being smaller I was kind of underestimated so there were quite a few visited dean where people ended up hurt, needless say.
So, the assistant superintendent met with my parents and they were like, Saman is just wasting his time and he's almost bored with these classes. So, with what happened with the PSAT, we should move him to ninth grade and so that's what happened. So, I jumped kind of three grades So, when I went to like my junior prom, I think I was like 14 years ago or 14 years old and the girl that it took me there was like 17. So, like everyone around me was older. I mean I was always the youngest kid in the crowd going through high school. I remember in Jacksonville in like 1990, 9091, they literally had like teen clubs that were 16 and over where they didn't serve alcohol whatever and I couldn't even get into that because I wasn't even 16 yet so all my friends would go and I would get stuck home. So that's how it happened.
Brian Harbin: Yeah, that's quite the story and you graduated high school then at 15 and then go on to college. Did at that point that you wanted to study to become a doctor and what kind of inspired?
Dr. Saman: My father, for the people that don't know what a cassette tape is. My father has an audio cassette tape of me when I'm four years old and he's asking me in that audio tape like, what do you want to do when you grow up. I said, I wanted to be doctor then and it never changed throughout my entire childhood teenager years. Like kids at that time that want to be astronauts and firefighters and fighter pilots. For me, I just wanted to be a physician and looking back being older, I think it was just imprinted on me because the earliest memories I have is me chasing my mom around the hospitals. My mother was a midwife, she delivered, by the time we left Iran she delivered 25,000 babies in her career. So, she was a very well-respected midwife.
So, as a 3–4-year-old boy and then she ran the entire place chasing around the hospital wards and seeing the admirations that patients showed to her and how essentially demise. She was helping people and kind of made people better and everyone was always so thankful. Like I felt that kind of like that public service in a sense and so, yeah it never for me. I always wanted to be a physician.
Colby Harris: It sounds like she really passed that passion on to you and something we always say is enthusiasm is contagious and it seems like, I mean, 25,000 babies for her to deliver that. I mean, I'm sure she always was sharing stories with you, the good, the bad, the ugly of it. So, I feel like she definitely instilled that in you which it's really awesome too to hear that you stuck to it too. Which I think is huge as you're growing up when you find that passion at young age and 40 years later, here you are now still pursuing it, still enjoying it. So, I'm to imagine it here as mentioned, you graduate high school at 15, which has been just crazy to think about and you go on to earn your undergraduate degree in biology at the University of North Florida. But can you paint the picture for us here and share some insight into what that was like for you at that time? I mean were you still living with your parents or how did that whole process go down as you were only 15 not even able to drive to class?
Dr. Saman: I remember clearly because one of my best friends that we were kind of inseparable, he had applied and he was 18. We both applied to UF and I really wanted to go to UF. That was kind of like the thing that you did and I remember running to the mailbox and got the results and I opened it and I got accepted with accommodations and so on. So, I ran home all excited to tell my mom that I got accepted to UF. I'm like that's great. But you're not going to UF. I'm not letting my 15, 16-year-old son go to Gainesville. I was like you're going to go to UF. There's going to be an end in the middle of those two letters. You're going to UNF, so that was kind of a bummer at the time but in retrospect it was actually a blessing because I realize now I sure as heck would not let my 15-year-old kid go away in college it's not happening right you know you're going to get tied to the floor. So, it allowed me to be in classrooms that were look normal with 30 kids not an auditorium of 400 students that aren't learning.
So, the UNF was kind of a blessing for me and I was able to stay home with my parents. The Middle Eastern family you don't leave until you get married or like myself, I went to medical school. Like you have to be as this concept like 18, I'm just going to go live across town, do my own thing. That does not exist in kind of ethnic cultures.
Colby Harris: Which is something I love too I mean I think the family unit is something that makes it very strong. Even I was just talking to Brian about the other day of it makes things a lot easy. It's the responsibility of everyone and I think it relieves some of that stress and you always have someone there to back you up, someone to rely on which I think is incredible. I definitely pick that up from your story as well as I hear it. So, following your undergrad education, you went on to the Ross University School of Medicine. Did your residency at the University of Florida, Shans Jacksonville? So, kind of kind of made it to UF in a way. Following your completion of your residency, you stuck around as an assistant professor for three years. So, at this time, you're now roughly 15 years into your journey between education, residency, and becoming an assistant professor. You were just constantly learning, constantly educating yourself which is something I'm sure is still evident in your career today.
Dr. Saman: Yeah, I was only when I finished residency and I started on as an assistant professor and as an attendee who had now residents and interns that reported to me, I was only like 25 turning 26. I was like extremely young. I mean, I had medical students and residents that were 5 to 10 years older than me. So, that was kind of, and I remember even doing residency which was I remember being in the emergency room and I really, if you'd seen pictures of me in 99 or 2000. Like I really had a baby face and didn't have my receding hairlines and bald spots. But I remember going and you know taking care of a patient for 10-15 minutes asking history exam and it was okay, when is my doctor going to come see me. I literally like I am your doctor and they would freak out because I looked really young.
Colby Harris: Yeah, having to think about just, I mean that age gap followed you for the rest of your life, for the rest of your education and stuff. I think one thing I really want to know is as someone who's just dedicate so much time to their craft. Can you share some wisdom with our listeners as to how you manage to remain so persistent and keep your eyes on the finish line eventually getting your doctor and being in that place? How did you just stick to the grind day in, day out?
Dr. Saman: It may not be almost popular to say but part of it was almost a little bit of an ignorance in a sense and sometimes like what you don't know is what you don't know. For me, I never looked at my journey like when I was in high school in 1990, I never was telling myself like, oh my God, this is going to take 14 more years. so, I kind of mentally broke things up in very smaller segments and saying okay I know I can complete this step and I worry about the rest. Because sometimes overwhelm ourselves with minutia and the woulda, coulda, shoulda, that may never even happen. So, it was much simpler for me to say like we're going to finish high school now and I'm going to become a National Art Society student. I wasn't thinking what am I going to do in medical school. Then it was okay now I'm in premed, God let me get through my first year of organic chemistry and quantitative analytical, chemistry and anatomy physiology one and two.
So, I always kind of took things in in step wise fashion instead of trying to immediately see myself as a business man owning multiple medical practice for example. Because that probably wasn't even in my head at that point. I wasn't even sure of, because for the longest time I wanted to be an OBGYN, essentially the same field that my mother was. It wasn't until I was in medical school and doing my clinical rotations and I think I did 3 to 6 months of OBGYN where I realized like oh my God, I would never do this, if they promise me the presidency of United States. So, as you grow things change and your wants and desires and what you want to do. But I just knew that if I broke this long journey into much smaller steps, it was less going to be a challenge to me. Because then I could complete those smaller steps much easier.
And part of it was I always looked at someone that was maybe a year to ahead of me, that in my opinion that I knew that I had more skills, talent, and grit than them. And I always like, well, I know if they got through it, I know I can. So, having kind of that self-confidence to state that okay, well, I see this person and I know them. I know what they're about and I think I have stronger values and virtues and if they got there, then, there's no reason why I can and so kind of reaffirming that myself was a huge help as well.
Brian Harbin: Yeah, it's fantastic and that's a good Segway too, because after three years of being an assistant professor 2005 you launch.
Dr. Saman: Avecina.
Brian Harbin: Exactly. And so, tell us about kind of that inception because that's kind of a big commitment to start your own practice. So, tell us.
Colby Harris: Yeah, so while I was speaker for Pfizer, I was actually giving a talk to a group of doctors at a restaurant downtown. So, I after the talk was over the presentation, I had the CEO of at the time was Cellantic which was the urgent care centers in town approach me and said, hey, and I because I was in academics, I had never even heard of what an urgent care center is at the time. She introduced herself and said basically she's the CEO of this urgent care center, at the time they had 7 eight offices and they were looking for someone that was respected in the medical community to come in and could maybe go to different offices and shadow and help with some of their standards and procedures.
At the time I was building my house, I was single, I had a lot of free time and they offered me a ton of monetary incentives to do that. I said, sure why not. So, I went so during my off time from Shans I would go to this urgent care and they would plug me into their different offices and I would go and shadow their doctors, see patients myself and try to institute some improvements. And after doing that for like 6 to 9 months, they weren't doing any of the things that I was telling them or they were paying me for me to tell them what to do and I was voicing that frustration over dinner with a group of friends. And like without hesitation two of my friends were like why are you trying to tell them how to do it why don't you just go do it yourself. That's literally how the light bulb went out to say, wow, like I can do this myself. So, that's how the literally it was that night over dinner with the concept of Avecina came into tuition and living in Saint John’s County in Joelton Creek, I remember I was driving by the corner of San Jose Boulevard and Racetrack Road. And they were just pouring the foundation to a gate gas station and I saw a sign that said Starbucks coming.
So, I went and spoke to the developer and they're like yeah, there's a Starbucks coming here there's all this development happening. So, I'm like and they had like a parcel of land that was available for sale that they would built a suit. So, I’m like, well if Starbucks is going there, they've done the research and that was my selection criteria process. Needless to say, it's much more involved now when we're selecting a site. But for me, it was like, hey, Starbucks must have done their research to figure out it's a good idea. I'll just open right next to them.
Colby Harris: That's fantastic.
Dr. Saman: And so, that's how the first Avecina was it happened and we were seeing patients in mid-2005.
Colby Harris: That's awesome. I think one thing that's really interesting about too is just the way that opportunities present themselves from coming on as kind of an operations manager so to say. Somebody that's overseeing it and trying to find new ways to then that light bulb like you said that came on of just, hey, I could do this on my own. That's exactly what you did and you did though in fact bring in a partner Doctor Dimitri Model who I kind of want to ask you about partnerships is something that are positive and negative. You ask different people everyone has different opinions. So, for you and Doctor Model have there been any keys to having such a successful partnership and how you guys have just done so well over the years.
Dr. Saman: Yes, absolutely. My father always says, if partnerships were great, there would be two Gods. God would have a partner. So, partnerships can have a lot of issues. What makes my relationship with Doctor Model work is first, we have a personal history. So, we met in 1994 at UNF in premed. He was a premed student and we met during a microbiology lab session and we kind of studied together and went to medical school together. And when he finished medical school, he got married and moved to New Jersey and was working as an attending at UMDMJ in New Jersey and I was a University of Flores, Shans, Jacksonville. When the concept of I'm going to open my own medical practice or actually so, about a year and 1/ 2 before this concept of Avecina happened we were looking for an attending at UF Shans. And since he was initially from Jacksonville and his parents and some of his extended families were in Jacksonville, he really wanted to come back. So, of course called him and said, ‘Dimitri, we have a position.’ He said, ‘Yes you're in.’ And he said yes and he down and for about a year he was essentially my counterpart at Shans.
Then so when the I have a senior urgent care opportunity came up, since we kind of did everything together and at the time mind you, we have minimal credit by that standard. We have minimal funding and so having a partner that potentially could sign on the dotted line and spread the risk of starting a new business. That's kind of where how it started. Him and I had developed such a great relationship over the last decade and a half where partnerships usually don't work when you have two alpha people that are constantly butting heads. Because of my prior experience in business. I was a production manager at AT&T while I was in premed during the 4 years I was at UNF. I had 300 employees reporting to me. He respected my business decision making skills where he never questioned any of them.
So, if I said, we're going to go and build an office in the middle of the desert. He'd be like that sounds like a fantastic idea, I'm there. So, he was kind of in retrospect that's my father was like don't get a partner. It's going to be a disaster, but we've obviously talked about it several times since then and he's like it's the best partnership because you guys are not stepping on each other's toes you have different skills. So, everyone kind of does their thing and he respects your decision-making ability that when you say, hey, we're going to do this. He's not there to kind of throw sand in the process. So that's really the reason it's kind of worked out. So even now while I concentrate, I've stopped seeing patients for about a year while I concentrate on the business development and growth of Avecina. He's kind of the vice president and he's kind of the lead clinical person. So, he's the one that goes office to office. Meets with the actual physicians and providers and tries to improve the efficiency on the clinical side. So, we essentially have complete different tasks that don't overstep each other.
Brian Harbin: Yeah, you guys complement each other and that's great. So, fast forward kind of even 17 years from the 2005 to now, 17 years later, you guys have three offices in Jacksonville.
Dr. Saman: Especially 6 now.
Speaker2: 6 offices in Jacksonville now and I know you mentioned you don't spend time in your business but kind of on your business. So, tell us some of the things that you've learned over the last 17 years in growing, expanding franchising, all these employees. Tell us a little bit some of the things that you've learned over that process?
Dr. Saman: Sure. When we started Avecina in retrospect we've talked and I've said this to other people, I've probably made a million-dollar worth of mistakes the first 2 or 3 years. which is almost par for course as a new because the one thing they don't teach you in medical school is how to be a businessman. You're great at diagnosing and treating, but I can tell you anything about finance and numbers and proper marketing and we thought proper marketing was putting an ad in the money pages back in the day. So, the first year or two was actually quite successful and we had our first office in Saint John’s County area and then we had a lot of our patients that were like, hey, I wish you guys could open an office on the other side of the river in Orange Park or Oakleaf area. Because there were some people that were commuting back and forth that live on one side but work on the other. So, at the time, the Oak Leaf Town Center was kind of booming.
So, we went there and signed a lease for our second location. This is late 2007, we start doing the construction and we build the office and that's when the economy took a dump in 2008. So, you had half the homes that got foreclosed on in the Orange Park Oakley, so it was like a ghost town. So, that office for the next 5 years lost money year after year after year. So, the first office which was profitable, all the profits of that went to float the second office. So, for a solid two years and when we open the second office, because we did not have the finances to hire additional physicians. Doctor Model was at one office 7 days a week and I was at the other office 7 days a week. We did that for and mind you, we did that for two and a half years and never took a penny home. We used our credit cards. We didn't have really much reserves. So, at the time you know when my staff would be, wow, I'm making $14 an hour. Let's say my front desk employee and my paycheck is this much, let me show you my paycheck it's zero and I own this place. But we never, we obviously always pay our employees, no bill of it was late, we just took the brunt of it. So, for five years that office was kind of a disaster in numbers and it was simply because of the economy.
To the point that when our 5-year lease was up, we almost did not renew that lease at the Oak Leaf office. But kind of the part of having resilience I said to myself, I'm not going to kind of quit on this. Because I felt it still was too early to give up on that and with leases, you typically have to notify 180 days prior your lease is up to your landlord. So, if they need to find somebody else, you're not telling them two weeks before. So, we have to make that decision 6 months before our lease was up. So, magically as the cliche say, it's almost like light happens right after the darkest part of the night. We signed our lease and two weeks later like the floodgates opened. I mean it was like a joke from above. And what would have happened if I didn't sign and then let's say another practice went in there and then I saw them suddenly spike up. That office is the busiest office we have to this day, from back then.
So, part of being in business and unfortunately the reason most businesses fail is business owners do not plan for the worst. It's very easy to do paper napkin calculations, like, oh if I make this much and I see so much this times that, they suddenly come up with, oh this this is very easy to do. But it's they're not really looking at the overall. Most people overestimate their revenue and profit and significantly underestimate their expenses. Those are usually not two things you want to miscalculate much, because it ends up not working out. But we've been successful in that way and we currently 6 offices and we have office 7 and 8 under construction as we speak. So, we're opening in St. Augustine. We're also opening in Gainesville. It's our first office really outside of the Greater Jacksonville area so that's going to be open June 1st. So, we're very excited.
Colby Harris: Yeah, that's awesome and sorry about that. I had looked up. I could've sworn, I found three online. My mistake on that. So, I think that's really awesome too to hear that you guys didn't give up on it. You didn't give up on it and then I was sitting here thinking as you were telling that story. I was like, something tells me that this is going to be his highest producing location to this day after those 5 years of just sticking it out and roughing it out trying to make it into a profitable business and the 7 days a week is just crazy to think about especially when you're.
Dr. Saman: Yeah, people would say, oh TGIF, my God. That really doesn't mean anything. I just got to be at work next time. Saturday because we're open 7 days a week and so we, and mind you, we're open 7 days a week with extended hours. So, we're open 8 AM to 8 PM, Monday through Friday and 8 to 5 on weekends. So, that's 78 hours a week that him and I work for two and half years and that's kind of what's missed these days. Most people want immediate gratification. They want immediate results in all aspects of life, not just business. Somebody wants to lose weight, they want to lose, they want to be on the cover of Men's Health Magazine in 30 days. If it's business, they want to be on the cover of Forbes Magazine next month. So, people do not understand that things take time. And when you try to rush it, it just ends up being a total failure.
Colby Harris: Yeah, absolutely. I think that been as a younger person still writing my story. This is probably the best thing I've learned from Brian and guys like yourself that we have in the studio is that it takes time. That's one of the biggest things you got to remember. Kind of taking a step back, I know you mentioned that you were an international speaker for Pfizer for a while, national speaker now for Johnson and Johnson. From being someone that couldn't speak any English coming into the states to now being a national speaker, international speaker and made plenty of visits on News for Jax. You come in, you do stuff like this for podcast, all that good of. What kind of sparked that passion for speaking? Was it something that just kind of came about or was it something that over time you just got offered to get in front of the camera a little bit or how did that come about?
Dr. Saman: I think you have to of course be comfortable with public speaking which is a huge step for a lot of people. And when I was much younger, I was not come, when I say younger like in my teen’s early teens. I was not really someone that like to get up in front of a classroom and talk or those kinds of things. So, it's kind of almost backwards that we ended up in a position like this. But it was during my time and actually at AT&T. So, AT%T, this is in 1991 or 1992 I go and apply and at the time I had even though I was 16 years old. I had facial hair. I had a mustache. This is 30 years ago when it wasn't really the security and clearance and 9/11. I just went and filled out an application and I literally lied on my application and I said, I was born in 1969 versus 74. So, they would hire me, because they wouldn't have hired us so they thought I was 21 instead of like 16. And no one really looked at it, I got hired. I was hired as an operator at the international department. And the first 6 months I was there I became employee of the month 6 months out of 6. And there were these AT&T would give huge like rewards on a monthly basis for whoever based on certain criteria would win employee of the month.
So, when I won the first 6 months, the management came and pulled me aside at the 7th month and were like, Simon, you've done amazing. But we just want to let you know that like you're not going to get it next month because no one's even trying. Everyone else's numbers have gone down, because they think like you're automatically a shoe in and I didn't protest. I didn't throw a temper tantrum and because I took it so well. They ended up feeling bad themselves in the process. Like well it's not his fault, other people are not trying. And so then about a week or 10 days later they approached me and said, ‘Listen, we believe that that was a bad decision. You should just come off of being an operator and you're going to become what they call the QC person.’ So, I was the one that was listening to all the calls coming in and grading the operators and basically coaching them how to improve their customer service skills their sales skills the rebuttals and so on.
So, that was kind of like the beginning steps of how it allowed, what allowed me to start talking and coaching people on, they would at the time what's that, Carnegie Hall. so, AT&T had a very close relationship with and they would send me all over to all these Carnegie classes, how to handle difficult customers, how to handle all these things. I was like the certified person in the Jacksonville office and then so they would then take me to the different departments and I would try to kind of improve their skills in whichever I division they were. Then they had me involved in the training process. So, if you became as a new employee and it was a two-week training process, one or two of those days was my responsibility to discuss dealing difficult customers. I keep referring to everyone patients these days dealing with difficult customers. Proper etiquette tone, all those things.
So, after that they me a floor supervisor, then a manager and a production manager. So, over the 5, 6 years that I was at AT&T, I kind of continuously moved up. This entire time they had no idea that I was a premed student and I was taking my classes while not at work. So, when I actually announced that I'm putting my 90-day notice because I'm going to medical school, really the management was kind of shocked and surprised. Like we see you as a business person, we don't see you as a doctor. I'm like, no, I've always wanted to be a physician. So, part of especially the last two years once I became management when we had the executives from AT&T from Hackensack New Jersey because that's where the headquarters was would come down. I would be the person that would give them a tour of the AT&T campus locally. I would be the one that would give them the presentation over PowerPoint.
So, really what happen at AT&T and mind you, at the time I'm 16, 17, 18 they had no idea how old I was. I was suited up I of facial hair and it worked. That's what kind of really allowed me to open up and be able to really speak to a group of 20 executives at a very high level and that kind of translated as life went on.
Colby Harris: Yeah, that's incredible experience especially in those late teen years that you got it and I think it's really important to that it sounds like they're really investing into. And obviously, I think it's awesome to hear that you were producing results and even again so funny just kind of the culture that you were originally used to growing up in Iran to now being here and hearing that your success kind of diminish other people from wanting to work harder. Which is just kind of a perspective change in the sense of you would think it would make them be like, oh, I want to be like more like, I want to win next month that sort of thing but it was more quite the opposite. So, something I want to move on to is obviously through your public speaking through various events you've got involved in. You've built quite a following through the years just from being in school speaking previous job like AT&T and this is really led you to kind of utilize your platform and really try to give back to the community.
One big organization you got involved with was the, sorry was the United States, excuse me. An organization that you got involved this was the Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida. An organization focusing on helping underserved people of America and in 2021, you spent a lot of time raising awareness and funds for that organization as we welcome Afghan refugees into the United States similar your process as you came over. What is it been like for you to come full circle from being on the other end of that utilizing the program and getting the benefits from it to now leading the charge and raising funds for it and helping them further their mission?
Dr. Saman: Sure. Yeah, one thing that I skipped over was that program where we were signed up for school when we came here with me and my little brother and my mother had a job at Baptist Hospital and so on. That was all man by Lutheran Social Services right here in Jacksonville. So, we had one of the representatives that met us at the airport, picked us up, brought us flowers just to make us feel better and drove us to our apartment. What Lutheran Social Services did was they covered like the first 60 days of your apartment rent, you had some groceries in the fridge and so on. Just to kind of get you by and since it was a job placement, my mother like we landed and 7 days later my mother was working and we were already going to school. So, it happened pretty quickly. I always remember that kindness, I always remember that coming to a new place and really not knowing anything how much of a help and it was for this group of people to come and help us out.
So, as you guys are aware when the situation in Afghanistan happened last year where we pulled everybody out and the Taliban’s came in. When I saw those images of parents holding on to landing gear of an airplane and falling to their death and children and people. II was very moved and it brought me, even though we didn't come as a refugee. We came as immigrants and we already had our job placement in Austria. I still felt that they're coming here if there's anything I can do and Lutheran Social Services to this day still helps all aspects of community but also including placement of refugees and helping get jobs and so on. So, I decided to raise money. So, Avecina Medical and myself we donated $10,000 ourselves and I contact all my friends obviously on social media and so on. So, we ended up raising I believe somewhere between $40 to $50,000 that we raised in a very short time and handed that over to Lutheran Social Services and went and met the president and all the staff. They were extremely appreciative, because this is when the state department had said that, out of all those that left Afghanistan about 100 families were coming to Jacksonville. So, they really needed help monetary wise and it was great for us to be able to help a little bit.
And part of my message was, if you were a betting person and you saw the 1987 Saman, the Middle Eastern kid that came in that didn't speak a word of English. I wouldn't have had high odds, like if you could say if you're a betting man you wouldn't have bet a lot of money that I was going to not only succeed but also end up hiring 100 American employees and feeding their families, and the things that we do to contribute to the economy. So, and I said, there is a Saman in those kids and I wanted to be even the tiniest help to help if that one person flourishes and become somebody important, why not? So, that was really kind of the basis behind that.
Brian Harbin: Yeah, that's incredible and definitely can feel your passion for that of just wanting to give what you have to another young person. In 2021, you were recognized as a hometown hero by the city of Jacksonville. So, tell us a little bit about kind of what that meant to you or what that experience was like.
Dr. Saman: Yeah, that was pretty, I would have to say out of all the accolades and awards that really meant a lot to me. One, because I love the city of Jacksonville. I've been here since besides all my traveling and living in other states. I've always come back to Jacksonville. When I was finishing up my residency, I had offers up and down East Coast of United States to go and practice and work at any hospital that I literally chose. But at the end of the day, I figured I was raised in Jacksonville. I owe on my success to being raised here and I wanted to give back to Jacksonville. So, I ended up not moving and which is why I established my practices here and my kids go to school here now. For me, it was very important to be able to recognize there's needs everywhere. And if you're able to kind of cover that in the slightest amount, why not. So, they reached out. So, I got a call from the city council saying, you have been chosen as, I guess they award one person annually once a year as hometown hero of Jacksonville. They wanted to have a formal presentation and an interview with one of the councilman, Councilman Al Ferraro and that happen.
We had a great interview and they presented me with the actual flag that flew over city hall the entire prior year during COVID. So, as someone that as an organization that we were on every emergency use management in Jacksonville when literally every practice every urgent care closed down and were really essentially refusing to see patients if they had respiratory symptoms. I had with my entire staff and said, ‘We can close up if you want. But the way I look at it this is like going to Navy Seals training and when it's time for action saying, I'm going to sit this one out.’ That's literally what. I said, ‘We are medical providers and No virus or COVID is going to stop us from taking care of the people that need us. And this is during the time when they thought there was going to be a run on the hospital. Hospitals weren't seeing you unless you were 65 and over and had an oxygen level below like 80%.’
So, we had this huge rush of people that needed medical care and we were kind of the only medical practice in town that had stayed open and was actively seeing those patients. But that was a small poor of that accommodation, there were part of it was we do a lot for the law enforcement community and first responders. So, from firefighters to 911 dispatchers to law enforcement from all surrounding counties including Duval, Saint John's and Clay. So, every year Avecina, we serve every boot on the ground across all three counties a full Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving. So, despite like I would have loved to spend time with my own family, but I appreciate their service so much and enough that, and last year I think we served 700 meals in a single day. And again, on Thanksgiving Day where essentially everybody's closed including most restaurants. Trying to find a caterer or a restaurant that can make you 700 individualized meals. Because it can't be a buffet style because of COVID and mind you, we're going to all over town of three counties to find someone that can make you 700 individual meals is almost impossible. So, we had to use two three different restaurants from different parts of town to make it happen. But me and Doctor Modell and some of my staff went station by station, county by county started at 10 o'clock in the morning and then finish till 34 PM and serve over 700 meals to and not just the boots on the ground but the 911 dispatchers, police worked in correctional facilities.
So, again, giving back is kind of part of my ethos I would say. That you can have everything you want, but if you don't give back and you don't show thanks to the people that are taking care of you. It's really to me meaningless whatever you've acquired. So, this is again one of our ways, but having received that hometown hero accommodation with the actual flag that flew over City of Jacksonville for the entire year was very special.
Colby Harris: Yeah, I can imagine especially as I even know that you're really leading the charge through COVID, making appearances on News for Jax to share in what was a very crowded space the time of trying to share information about COVID-19 and how to combat it and stuff like that. What I loved about the segments I saw from you is just promoting general health. Making sure you're eating the right foods, exercising, trying to get in the sunlight. Doing stuff like that when everyone else was talking vaccines and how sick you're going to get. It was more so promoting just overall health which I really loved.
Another thing I definitely want to mention too is even outside of Jacksonville. I remember just recently when the Amelia came through and where I actually got to meet you at the car show. You spent that day before at Fernandina Beach High School which is actually my alma mater.
Dr. Saman: That's awesome.
Colby Harris: Yeah, sharing your cars as well as a lot of other car owners at the show, just sharing that passion and enlightening the kids and showing them your cars. I remember seeing this the stories and the videos of the kids there. I just loved it, because that was something that we didn't necessarily have that at the time I was there. So, it's great to see you there even touching people outside of the Jacksonville community. That kind of leads me to my next point. Obviously, you've accumulated quite a beautiful collection of cars now from your Pagani Guira Tempesta, multiple Lamborghinis, have a Sheeran Pure Sport on the way in 2022, which I'm super excited to see your spec on that one. But as someone who grew up without necessarily having these cars in your garage and some people just seeing it as pieces of metal put together. Has this always been a passion of yours or even something that was a source of motivation even as you were going through medical school and pursuing having your private practice?
Dr. Saman: Sure. I always loved cars and it wasn't really about and I I've loved them as far as I can remember back. But I remember clearly being maybe 7- or 8-years old back in Iran and in my room I had the typical posters that most boys had. I had a picture of a Lamborghini Countach under the San Francisco Bridge. I had every Lamborghini poster there was I had in my room in different cars. And sometimes I would sit there and just stare. My father, I remember clearly, he came to my room one day and said, if you stare at your books as much as you stare at these posters you can own all of them. I think intelligent enough and I remember clearly that day that I had a supportive dad that he was kind of giving me words of encouragement, but at the same time I'm like he is off his rockers. Like what are you talking about? Mind you, at this point I have no intention of coming to the States. I was 8 years old. So, this concept that my father said, I was going to own all these exotic cars that was on my wall. I realized that was just my father giving me words of encouragement, but it was an impossibility at that point.
So, I was polite and courteous to say, okay dad, but inside it's like rolling my eyes like come on like I'm in Tehran I'm never going to own Lamborghinis. Once I became to the States and I started studying and now I'm able to look in magazines and look at these cars and more going to car shows and seeing these cars in person then it became like wow this could really be a possibility, because at least I'm in a land that these things are readily available. So, and mind you, when I was seven years old, I didn't know if that Lamborghini was a dollar or a million dollars. Like money didn't mean anything. I just loved the car, the shape, the sound you would watch anything on TV about him. So, that's really how the passion for cars started and like they say, the old cliché. Like you really don't grow up, the toys just become more expensive and that's literally what's happened. But I loved my cars.
I remember the first car I ever owned. Like the moment I turned 15 years old and I had my learners permit, I had saved my money, I went to, that was the one thing that I would say people always ask, where did you get the drive, what happened. I never wanted anyone's help including my parents. So, when I was my parents were like we want to help you buy a car and at 15 years old, I was very adamant. I was like, no, I want to buy it myself. So, I remember I went to I got a job at Wendy's. I remember clearly because it was 4.25 an hour and I was a minimum wage and that's what they gave me. I saved like 1700, 1800 bucks. The first car that I bought was in 1976 Dotson 280Z4 speed manual and I love that car. That was my car. I babied it. I cleaned it. I took care of it and I had that sense of pride because I bought it with my money and I made it.
So, I never wanted anyone to come back and say, well, you got this because I pay for half of it, and I was always suffering in that way. That's kind of the one thing I would say is a characteristic that I've had and sometimes for good or bad because sometimes listen in retrospect, like sure, I should've got some extra money for my parents to have a nicer car. But for me, it was that kind of grit and hustle that I just wanted to do it myself. And that's kind of my biggest fear these days and I'm like how do I instill that in my kids. Because my kids aren't going through what I went through. My kids think that whatever they have or whatever they see is just normal. It's just everyday life. When my 5-year-old goes to school and tells his friends, oh, my papa has 3 Lamborghini. They think he's lying and he gets upset, because he's other people don't have Lamborghinis like what's the big deal. I'm like, no. so, it's hard to how do, you instill that into a 5-year-old because that's what he's and grown up to.
Brian Harbin: Yeah, I was actually just going to ask you that just how your dad kind of inspired you in that way as a father of a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. Anything specific kind of with what you've been through in your life journey of what you felt like you definitely want to try and instill in them?
Dr. Saman: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think my father and mother were huge in setting me in certain ways and giving me expectations and guidance to allow me succeed. Again, being coming from an ethnic culture particularly the Middle East like a man's word is a huge thing. I mean estates are bought and sold over handshake. A great example and I've told the story a few times in different arenas. But when I was in 4th grade in Iran, this is when all the kids had a BMX bike. Everybody wanted a BMX bike and I wanted a BMX bike of course. I remember I was nagging my father. And so, at the beginning of the school year and he says, alright, you want a BMX bike if and as I mentioned we took 12 classes. This is okay. If you get 12 As at the end of the year not the quarter, I'm talking your average is straight As, you can buy the BMX bike of your choice, no price limit. What you point, I buy it. Deal, I was so excited by that offer. I shook a hand. Deal, deal. All year I bust my butt. No joke, I got 11 As and 1 B and he never bought me the bike.
What made it worse is I had the highest GPA in the county. So, they gave me a parade at the school. They brought me on stage. I'm like I don't want this accommodation. I don't want this flag. I just want my darn BMX bike. I could care less about my uncles. My father is the oldest brother. All his brothers were like buy him the darn bike. He's got the highest grade in the county. Like what do you talk about, I mean I remember I was flopping on the ground crying. Nope, and it a couple of weeks go by and after all the crying stuff that stopped, he sits me down and says, and he was very always good at directing the conversation in a way that. There's only one way to answer it and it benefited him in the process. So, he said, alright let's talk about it. He's like, ‘Does a man keep his word?’ Yes. ‘So, can you tell me what you and I shook on. That if I get 12 As, you buy me a BMX bike. Did you get 12 As? No. So, do you think that as a man, you held your words and do I owe you a bike.’ I'm like, ‘No.’ He's like, ‘So, what do we learn from this lesson?’ ‘I'm like that a man keeps his word.’ He's like, ‘Yeah, but one even more important.’ It's like, ‘You need to negotiate better.’ He's like, ‘I would have agreed to ten As and two Bs. You took the first offer I gave you.’ The crying started all over again. To this day, I never have, and so part of the joke is that all these cars that I buy is to replace the void of that BMX bike and my father. So, every time I feels like, you buy another car. I'm like, yeah, because if you bought me that BMX bike. This is the void I'm trying to fill.
So, I try to give and there's thousands of morsels like stories like that my parents have taught me and I try to instill that in my kids about accountability, responsibility, keeping your word, kindness. Grit, hustle, not giving up, I had my kid at the rock-climbing park over the weekend and he climbed up and halfway he fell down and he gets up and he looks at me. He's like, ‘We are a Soleymani and Soleymani's don't quit.’ And he gets back on the rock one does it again. I'm like, ‘That's what I'm talking about.’ So, I try to instill some of those in them how successful I'll be long term we'll see when they're 30s and 40s and what they've made. It's hard to judge at 5, but we'll see.
Colby Harris: Yeah. No, I think that's awesome. I'm sure you're looking forward to your first agreement if it hasn't already occurred with them maybe it'll be a BMX spike or another trip to the Rockwall something of that nature. But earlier something that we touched on was your patients and even through COVID and kind of your diagnosis as to how people could combat it, how people could stay healthy. As someone who's really focused on general wellness, general health, I know another thing is a lot of your focus has been in physiology. Without knowing or hearing someone's story or their current state of their health, what would be your best advice to someone that really just wants to look better, feel better through their nutrition and through their exercise? What would be kind of your, I know especially in health it's something that's very articulated per person. But what would kind of be your best advice to someone that just in a basic form wants to take their nutrition more seriously take their health more seriously?
Dr. Saman: Yes, so one of the things one of the fallacies that I always hear is and this happens all the time are my patients are like, I've gained 80 pounds, I gained 100pounds. Because I had a back, so I'm not active or my knee hurts, I'm not active and I gained 100 pounds. It's a very difficult thing to try to get that out of people's head that it's just nothing but an excuse, right. And unfortunately, in this world that we live in and literally in the last couple of years, it's almost taboo to discuss that being overweight is bad. Like you're saying you got a horn coming out of your head, right. There were multiple studies have come out that the resounding number one risk factor like you throw everything away. If you had a BMI over 20, if you had a BMI over 30, you had like a 70 times higher chance of dying from COVID. That's it. Like nothing else determined your likelihood, not your age.
Listen, we had thousands of patients in their 70s and 80s that had COVID that did just fine. But we had patients in their 40s that were diabetic, significantly overweight, that didn't make it or had an extremely difficult time. So, when Adele gets chastised for losing weight, that's kind of unfortunately the culture that we're in now that people are even afraid to just like, oh, you're fat shaming. No, I'm overweight shaming because of health reasons. Like if you can point to me a 300-pound person that's lived to be 85 years old then I'll drop the conversation, but that's the reality of it. The same way a great Dane lives to be 67 and a chihuahua lives to be 15 to 17 years old, the exact same thing happens to another mammal. You have a lot more wear and tear. You're asking a lot for the heart. You're asking a lot more for the lungs and you're asking a lot more for the kidneys. Every aspect of your body's being taxed.
So, I'm very straight forward with our patience. I tell them like the adage of like abs not that you say you have to have abs. But when they say abs are made in the kitchen, it's that. Is, your diet determines 90% of your outcome, not whether you can exercise or not. There's been multiple studies done where they've compared, they've broken groups into two or three everyone's similar age population everybody's been let's say 30 pounds overweight and they've done one group where that group comes in and works out every single day like biggest loser style. They get their butt whooped for an hour, hour and a half every day for 7 days, but they're told don't change your lifestyle. Like don't eat more, don't eat less, but whatever you do and keep doing that.
The second group has been sequestered at home, watching Netflix day long, but they have a chef preferred food that's 1100 calories a day. They physically cannot workout or not allowed to. They just play cards and watch TV. Then you have the third group that gets the combination of both. And they've done obviously full dexa scanning before to measure their content of their fat, bone, muscle, all that stuff. Well, what happens to the first group that exercises their butts off every day? They gained an average of 8 pounds of body fat. Why? They had this fallacy like, oh, I worked out really hard today. So, I can go have that pizza. I worked out really hard, so let me go have that Starbucks mocha latte. So, you bust your butt you work out for an hour at best you burn 500 calories, but then your mocha latte is 1,000 calories. And then everything else you consume for the next 23 hours is on the plus side of the equation.
So, I have to literally have this conversation with patients that people that go on hunger strikes and when they really are not getting it my last end of the throw in the towel is listen, there is hundreds and hundreds of case studies of prisoners that go on hunger strikes. Because they always come back with, isn't it, well, if you don't eat your metabolism slows down. No. That's a heresy. Why don't you go, I'm like, have you ever watched Survivor? Have you ever watched Naked and Afraid? Have you ever seen anyone go in the woods for three weeks come back fatter than they were before? No, they all come lose seventy pounds because they're not eating. It's physically impossible. But that's like me saying yeah somehow grab doesn't work if I step off this roof. If you do not eat, you're going to lose weight. I don't care what your metabolism is and I say, there's hundreds of cases of prisoners that go on hunger strikes, right. They drink water but they stop eating.
Like, they will lose weight until their skin and bone until they melt the fat around their heart where you can literally see their heart beat through their rib cage and die. And not once through that entire process that their metabolism ever slow down or they get to a point. Okay sir, you're not saying you longer can lose weight anymore. Just doesn't happen. When patients realize that they have to keep themselves accountable instead of blaming 75 other factors that are really irrelevant then they wake up and do significantly better. So, I'm a huge proponent of having a healthy weight. This whole concept that, oh yeah, I'm 300 pounds but I'm healthy. It's false. You can't be 300 pounds and healthy. It's not never is going to happen.
Colby Harris: Yeah, and I think even the point to dieting is has been huge in my fitness journey and through just working out and feeling better. Your food is your energy. Number one, how are you going to feel after eating a whole pizza or eating you know grilled chicken sweet potatoes and a side salad some broccoli whatever. Something of that nature. Naturally you do feel better and I think same thing you said 90% of a change in your body's physical appearance is be in your diet. I mean, that was again, a huge focus that changed everything for me personally was paying attention to that diet.
So, Saman, it's been a pleasure having you here today from everything diet and nutrition based to giving back to hearing about the cars you have and the purpose behind them. And kind of hearing more about your story from a bird's eye view, not just what everyone sees in their day to day and being able to dive into it more personally with you. So, I just got one more question for you. Something that we ask all of our guests here at the “Grit.org” podcast. What part of the great creed resonates most with you and why?
Dr. Saman: I mean this is, the weight was a great Segway, because accountability, I don't find excuses, you have to find solutions. I don't ever make excuses. Just take accountability and work on the problem and really resilience the keep trying and not giving up. Literally just like what my son said, like we're Soleymani, we don't quit we're going to keep trying. One thing that I always tell everybody from different walks of life as far as trying again. When I say you know an infant or let's say a toddler before they start walking, that is shows that they fall somewhere between 5 to 10,000 times before they learn how to walk. And not one time in those 5,000 times of falling do they ever say, I guess this walking thing isn't for me. Think about that how crazy is that concept that a 10-month-old and 11-month-old never gives a up. They could fall, bust their chin open. Guess what? They're going to be right back up and try to walk again. So, sometimes I'm like, have a 10-month-old mentality in that case. Just keep trying. Not how many times you did it, but just keep trying and eventually, you'll get through.
Colby Harris: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. Try and try and try again. That's our philosophy for sure. So, thank you again. That's a wrap for us today here at The “Grit.org” Podcast. Please check out our other episodes. Leave us a comment. Tell us something you loved about Simon's story. Share it with someone you think would enjoy it or that it would resonate with or impact. As always, we appreciate you tuning in for another episode of The “Grid.org” Podcast.