Carl Rafiepour

Carl Rafiepour proves that you don’t have to be an expert in heart disease or stroke to help save lives. The finance executive got involved with the American Heart Association more than 20 years ago.

“For volunteering to be a joyful, long-term commitment, what you get out of it has to be more valuable than what you put into it,” said Rafiepour, senior vice president of investments at UBS Financial Services in Pasadena, California.

Rafiepour was recently honored with the American Heart Association’s first Morgan Stark Memorial award. Stark, who died last year, was a well-known and highly respected investor, financier and philanthropist who used his expertise to help the AHA maximize its impact with efficient operations supporting its mission.

Rafiepour has served on various finance and investment committees for the AHA’s Western States Affiliate for years. He’s also been on the National Investment Policy Committee since 2010, serving as its chairman since 2013.

Rafiepour, 65, grew up and started his education in Iran. He traveled to the U.S. in 1975 to pursue a graduate degree and a career in computer engineering. After he earned his MBA, he switched careers to investing and finance, his field for the last 30 years.

He began his financial donations in 1992 because he was impressed by the AHA’s mission and achievements, he said. Participation in fundraising events like Heart Walk and Heart Ball followed, then came deeper volunteer activities using his financial expertise.

Rafiepour was recognized by the association for his diligence in seeking the best for the AHA’s investment portfolio, which totals about $660 million. He has long been admired by volunteers and staff for his work to maximize gains and maintain relative stability of funds, which support scientific research and other critical activities.

The AHA funds more research into heart disease and stroke – the world’s two leading causes of death – than any organization outside the federal government. But fighting those diseases became a challenge during the severe economic downturn that started in 2007, Rafiepour recalled.

“I hadn’t seen anything like it in my lifetime,” he said. “From the Investment Committee’s point of view, we wanted to protect our assets and we had to make sure the AHA’s losses were minimized. Yet we were positioned for growth opportunities, so we had to get back to normal business as quickly as possible.”

For Rafiepour, these goals mean taking his AHA responsibilities very seriously. Much like Stark, he’s committed, passionate and opinionated about the decisions made on the organization’s behalf.

“From day one, I’ve taken it extremely seriously. This is really my own money,” he said. “I need to be vocal.”

Keeping donor dollars safe, available and flowing is vital, he said.

“If we lost our funds, we would just be a word-of-mouth organization as opposed to making a lot of lifesaving activities available and possible,” he said. “It’s extremely important for our funds to be stable and accountable.”