Aram Mirkazemi, from Refugee to CEO

A true bootstraps tale.

Michael Rand

Aram Mirkazemi is the CEO of Altium Limited, an Australia-based software company that provides electronics design software to circuit-board engineers. Today, he is worth AU$300 million (US$210 million) , but when he arrived in Australia as a refugee from Iran in the 1980s, Mirkazemi didn’t have many opportunities. He didn’t know a word of English, either.

“Due to the dysfunctionality of all systems in Iran following the revolution in the late 1970s, I did not receive a decent education during my high school years, and that, as well as my lack of English, made the challenge that much greater, which motivated me even more,” he told the Australian Financial Review.

What he did have was a fascination with mathematics. After he was accepted to the University of Tamania on a provisional basis, he did his best to follow along with lectures. He found math easier than subjects like philosophy or the arts, especially given the language barrier. He even gained a newfound interest in computers and artificial intelligence.

“The idea of computers behaving like human beings was so out of this world for me that I easily fell in love with the concept,” he said in the interview.

Mirkazemi met the founder of Altium, Nick Martin, through his social circles at university. In the late 1980s, Martin recruited Mirkazemi to join Altium, then known as Protel.

Mirkazemi has served as CEO of Altium Limited since 2014. He previously served as Altium’s CTO, as senior executive VP of engineering, and in other leadership roles at the company. Clearly he's another example of the vast refugee talent pool that many in business and industry are only beginning to recognize. —Michael Rand