Person

Francis Najafi

Nationality:

Iranian-American

Occupation:

Real estate & financial investing

Born:

Circa. 1995

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Francis Najafi is a billionaire Iranian immigrant who owns an asset management firm as well as part of the Phoenix Suns basketball team. He is a Phoenix-area philanthropist as well as a donor to left-of-center foreign affairs groups, Republican and Democratic candidates for office, and at least one pro-Iranian advocacy organization. 1 2 He is on the board of numerous academic and research organizations. 3

In 2024, The Washington Free Beacon featured Najafi due to his multiple large donations to Jewish groups critical of Israel and to the pro-Iranian lobbying group National Iranian-American Council, as well as for his presence on the board of directors of the foreign policy noninterventionist Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. 4

Immigration, Education, and Early Career

Francis Najafi immigrated from Iran to the United States in 1972 for undergraduate and graduate degrees. He said the reason he stayed in the U.S. was that the 1979 Iranian Revolution meant “going back is not an option.” He received four-year and master’s degrees at Thunderbird School of Global Management and a Ph.D. in political economy at the University of Southern California. 5

While pursuing his Ph.D., Najafi started day-trading stocks and working as a teaching assistant. He described early investing success which quickly made him a millionaire, all of which quickly lost through risky investing. He was involved in various real estate financial efforts in the 1980s, and started his company Pivotal Group (named “RTC” at the time) with his brother in the early 1990s. 6

Pivotal Group

As of 2024, Francis Najafi’s business is known as Pivotal Group. 7 The company diversified after the dot-com boom of the early 2000s, adding technology investments to its overall portfolio. It also built a residential complex called Promontory Park City which nearly went bankrupt with the real estate and financial crash of 2007. As of 2021, Promontory had 700 homes with plans to build over 150 more, and earned $350 million annually. 8 9   

In 2023, Pivotal Group purchased part of another company and announced the launch of a webcast company that it is one of America’s largest companies of its kind. 10 The new company’s website says it is used by five of America’s top 10 largest banks. 11

Throughout its life cycle, Pivotal Group has managed billions of dollars in assets. 12

Philanthropic and Political Donations

Francis Najafi has become a major donor in the Arizona metro region. In 2021, he and his wife made a five-year, $500,000 donation to Ballet Arizona. 13

Najafi is also chair of Pivotal Foundation, which had over $32 million in revenue in 2022 and over $59 million in assets. Many of the Foundation’s biggest 2022 donations went to Arizona and global affairs organizations, with donations such as $20,000 to American Ideas Institute, the parent company of media outlet The American Conservative; $100,000 to the Atlantic Council of the United States; $131,000 to the Arizona-based Barrow Neurological Foundation; $100,000 to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; $100,000 to the J Street Education Fund; $100,000 to the Iranian culture group Farhang Foundation; and $125,000 to the ULI Foundation, which endorses left-of-center diversity and environmental initiatives in the housing industry. 14 15

Thunderbird Donation

In 2022, Francis Najafi and his wife Dionne donated $25 million to Najafi’s alma mater, the Thunderbird School of Global Management. The donation launched the Francis and Dionne Najafi 100 million Learners Global Initiative to educate 100 million people by 2030 in entrepreneurship and related areas. 16 All courses will be free, offered in 40 languages, and are projected to have about 70% of students to be female. 17

In early 2024, Najafi said the program has 37,000 students. He anticipated the program raising $75 million in additional money to achieve its overall goals. 18

Political Giving

Francis Najafi has been criticized by both sides of the political aisle for his donations. In 2024, the conservative Washington Free Beacon profiled his donations to Jewish groups critical of Israel, the National Iranian-American Council, and other left-of-center organizations and candidates for office. Najafi defended donating to J Street Education Fund by noting that his donations total over $5 million annually, and that even the substantial $125,000 reported by J Street was a small amount compared to overall giving. 19

An article published by left-of-center HuffPost about so-called “dark money” reported that Najafi and groups potentially tied to him gave at least $100,000 to 2016 Republican presidential candidates Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Jeb Bush. 20

In 2019, Open Secrets reported that Najafi and his wife had given almost $600,000 to Republican-aligned groups and candidates and $100,000 to Democratic-aligned groups and candidates. 21 Najafi has given political donations using different entities since at least the 1990s to candidates in both parties. 22

Institutional Affiliations

Francis Najafi is on many academic and research boards, especially those focused on international and foreign affairs. In 2011, he sat on the board of the EastWest Institute, was a trustee of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and was governor of the ULI Foundation. 23

One of his most controversial board appointments was with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, which has been criticized for its views on Israel and Iran. 24

Najafi has also been on the board of the PARS Equality Center, a group focused on helping Iranian-Americans integrate into American culture. He is also on the boards of several international business groups. 25

Political Views

There is little public information about Francis Najafi’s personal political views. He was among many celebrities and other high-profile Iranian-Americans who signed a letter supporting the Obama administration’s financial and military deal with the Iranian government. 26

Open Secrets’ 2019 article noted that Najafi’s donations were far more likely to go to Republican-leaning groups and candidates than those of his brother Jahm Najafi, who started his own investing firm and is also a partial owner of the Phoenix Suns. 27 28 Jahm Najafi is the Suns’ second-largest investor, and in 2023 publicly endorsed “social justice” as part of the organization’s culture. He was also seen with racial-issues activist and former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick. 29

References

  1. Evers-Hilstrom, Karl and Zychal, Kietryn. “Dark Money: Coming from a shell company near you.” Open Secrets. January 29, 2019. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2019/01/dark-money-coming-from-a-shell-company-near-you/
  2. Goodman, Alana. “Meet the Iranian Donor Bankrolling Anti-Israel Jewish Groups.” Washington Free Beacon. May 20, 2024. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://freebeacon.com/israel/meet-the-iranian-donor-bankrolling-anti-israel-jewish-groups/
  3. Francis Najafi. Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://quincyinst.org/author/francis-najafi/
  4. Goodman, Alana. “Meet the Iranian Donor Bankrolling Anti-Israel Jewish Groups.” Washington Free Beacon. May 20, 2024. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://freebeacon.com/israel/meet-the-iranian-donor-bankrolling-anti-israel-jewish-groups/
  5. Francis Najafi. ZRG Partners. May, 10, 2024. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.zrgpartners.com/insights/francis-najafi/
  6. Francis Najafi. ZRG Partners. May, 10, 2024. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.zrgpartners.com/insights/francis-najafi/
  7. Pivotal Group Accessed June 10, 2024. https://pivotalgroup.com/
  8. Lasseter, Ben. “Promontory Development Growing, Gaining More Full-Time Residents.” KPCW. July 1, 2021. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.kpcw.org/local-news/2021-07-01/promontory-development-growing-gaining-more-full-time-residents
  9. Francis Najafi. ZRG Partners. May, 10, 2024. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.zrgpartners.com/insights/francis-najafi/
  10. “Innovative Investor, Pivotal Group Acquires Assets to Launch One of Country’s Largest Webcast Companies – GlobalMeet.” PR Newswire. April 12, 2024. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/innovative-investor-pivotal-group-acquires-assets-to-launch-one-of-countrys-largest-webcast-companies–globalmeet-301795970.html
  11. Global Meet. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.globalmeet.com/
  12. Francis Najafi. ZRG Partners. May, 10, 2024. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.zrgpartners.com/insights/francis-najafi/
  13. “Ballet Arizona gets $500,000 grant from Pivotal Group.” AZ Big Media. November 10, 2021. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://azbigmedia.com/business/ballet-arizona-gets-500000-grant-from-pivotal-group/
  14. About the ULI Foundation. ULI Foundation. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://foundation.uli.org/about-us/
  15. Pivotal Foundation. Return of Private Foundation (Form 990-PF). 2022. Pro Publica. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/203959093/202333189349106248/full
  16. Silvestri, Christina. “Francis and Dionne Najafi Donate $25 Million to ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management.” Arizona Foothills Magazine. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.arizonafoothillsmagazine.com/features/az-giving/11300-francis-and-dionne-najafi-donate-25-million-to-asus-thunderbird-school-of-global-management.html
  17. Najafi 100 Million Learners Global Initiative. Arizona State University. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://thunderbird.asu.edu/lifelong-learning/100-million-learners
  18.    Francis Najafi. ZRG Partners. May, 10, 2024. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.zrgpartners.com/insights/francis-najafi/
  19. Goodman, Alana. “Meet the Iranian Donor Bankrolling Anti-Israel Jewish Groups.” Washington Free Beacon. May 20, 2024. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://freebeacon.com/israel/meet-the-iranian-donor-bankrolling-anti-israel-jewish-groups/
  20. Blumenthal, Paul. “We’re Still In The Dark About Some Super PAC Donors.” HuffPost. April 19, 2015. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/disclosed-super-pac-donations_n_55d38968e4b07addcb445bb7
  21. Evers-Hilstrom, Karl and Zychal, Kietryn. “Dark Money: Coming from a shell company near you.” Open Secrets. January 29, 2019. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2019/01/dark-money-coming-from-a-shell-company-near-you/
  22. Donor Lookup. Open Secrets. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=francis+najafi
  23. “Pivotal Group CEO, F. Francis Najafi, Awarded Ellis Island Medal of Honor.” Business Wire. May 11, 2011. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110511005357/en/Pivotal-Group-CEO-F.-Francis-Najafi-Awarded-Ellis-Island-Medal-of-Honor
  24. Rosen, Armin. “Washington’s Weirdest Think Tank.” Tablet Magazine. April 27, 2021. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/quincy-trita-parsi-soros-koch-armin-rosen
  25. Francis Najafi. PARS Equality Center. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://parsequalitycenter.org/who-we-are/board/francis-najafi/?doing_wp_cron=1717941144.7483689785003662109375
  26. Support Diplomacy with Iran. Cyruskrane. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://cyruskrane.wixsite.com/support-peace
  27. Evers-Hilstrom, Karl and Zychal, Kietryn. “Dark Money: Coming from a shell company near you.” Open Secrets. January 29, 2019. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2019/01/dark-money-coming-from-a-shell-company-near-you/
  28. Resnik, Brahm. “Najafi keeping investment in Phoenix Suns.” 12news.com. February 7, 2023. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.12news.com/article/sports/nba/suns/nba-najafi-keeping-investment-phoenix-suns/75-2bdc572c-8af0-4d50-a57c-e82e5e99b1bb
  29. Resnik, Brahm. “Najafi keeping investment in Phoenix Suns.” 12news.com. February 7, 2023. Accessed June 10, 2024. https://www.12news.com/article/sports/nba/suns/nba-najafi-keeping-investment-phoenix-suns/75-2bdc572c-8af0-4d50-a57c-e82e5e99b1bb
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