Whole LOTA Love

Haider Istanbouli

In hindsight, my story is about legacy. In the midst of living it, my story is about survival. I come from a place where I had to channel my loss, pain, and emptiness into strength, endurance, and GRIT. I bought an OTA Franchise with my brother Nizar when I was only 25 years old; he was 30. At these tender ages, we still had so much life to live and lessons to learn in pursuit of establishing ourselves. We always imagined that this transition in our lives would be ordinary, however life had a different plan for us.

The acquisition of OTA Chicago came only 6 months after our beloved father passed away at the early age of 57 from cancer. It was devastating for my entire family, as he was the rock and glue that held everyone together. He was our support system, and a mentor. I wasn’t ready to lose my safety net, yet I found myself in a situation with painful loss and an overwhelming obligation to carry on the legacy and responsibilities of my now deceased father. “To me, I was forced into a situation where I had to grow up fast. I had to be responsible even though I was inexperienced. I had to be experienced, even though I was inexperienced.”

My father’s story is profound and similar to many immigrants who journeyed to the United States for a chance at a better life. He was 17 years old; a refugee from a war-ridden country escaping unbearable living conditions of trauma and poverty. With $50 in his pocket, two pairs of shoes, pants and two shirts, the odds were against him. It’s amazing what he achieved in 57 years. He managed to build himself up to running the leading school in the U.S. for Profusion through Loyola University for fifteen years. Profusion is a medical field primarily involved with keeping people’s hearts alive during open heart surgery. It was high stakes, and he was good at it. He was always working, and that sacrifice made him happy knowing he could pay for our educations and first homes. He provided for us in ways he was never provided for.

Like my father, my brother and I are trying to continue our family’s legacy through Online Trading Academy. The story of my immigrant father’s success--coming from nothing, raising two boys, and bringing wealth into our family is a generational phenomenon. I would like to say we’ve made our father proud, but it’s taken time and dedication to get there. In the beginning of business ownership, our lack of experience brought us problems. I wasn't able to manage and train my employees efficiently, and at 25 years old, you can imagine how hard it was to earn respect from my more tenured staff members. We failed to function as a harmonious team, and endured hardships because of it. We started 2012 as one of the top five centers in the company. By 2015, we were one of the bottom five. When you picture what success looks like, for us it was jumping into the deep-end without knowing how to swim. “I put all of my eggs in one basket, everything was on the line for me, and I had to succeed no matter what.” We had to start over many times to get it right. However, we worked hard and never gave up despite the nay-sayers and today we're back on top as one of the top 10 centers in the network.

You may notice my journey to becoming a good leader and business owner didn’t come with a manual and certainly wasn’t easy. There has been very little recognition and validation of my role which left me questioning my decisions. Many times, I had to trust my instincts, when all I wanted was run to my deceased father for advice and encouragement. Through perseverance and diligence, I’ve earned many blessings and accolades in just over 9 years of successful business ownership. What I learned is that there is always a lesson in adversity, and when things are going wrong, to go back to my roots. Cultivate an environment for my employees and students similar to the one I grew up in. That means a strong sense of safety, trust, guidance, and a positive culture. My experience has instilled in me the ability to communicate and manage this assertion effectively. These are my key elements to success.

Through this journey, I’ve completed my MBA, won a “Top 30 Under 30” Gammon award from the City of Wheaton, IL, trained and mentored many successful employees, contributed to training for Presenters throughout the OTA network, and have donated thousands of dollars to charity organizations including Children’s Mercy Hospital of Chicago, and Loaves and Fishes of Naperville. I am so proud that our success allows us to take care of many people and families. It's our form of philanthropy and honoring our Father’s memory.

Which brings me full circle; humble beginnings create long-lasting legacies. In creating my own legacy, I want to provide for my family what my dad provided to me. My daughter Petra is my world, and any future children my wife and I have will stand as my driving force to be better and do better.