Comment: Ali Dastmalchian, inspiring leader who offered a global perspective



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We recently lost a fine scholar, inspiring leader, and strong institution builder who helped position Victoria as a global centre of excellence. Dr. Ali Dastmalchian was a founding member of the Faculty of Business at the University of Victoria in 1990, and served as dean from 2002 to 2012. He also served as the dean of the business school at the University of Lethbridge in the late 1990s, and from 2016 was the dean of the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University. Originally from Iran, and educated in the U.K., Ali brought a global perspective to everything he did. He built bridges internationally and positioned the University of Victoria as a key player in the world of business education.

As a researcher, Ali will be best remembered for his leadership of the GLOBE project, the largest and most comprehensive study on culture, trust, gender and leadership ever undertaken. The GLOBE 2020 research program, currently underway, has 390 research collaborators across 164 countries with more than 500 active surveys in 56 languages. It covers 99.55% of world GDP and 97.63% of the world’s population. Ali was a co-founder of the GLOBE research program in the early 1990s and was the CEO and chair of the board of the GLOBE Foundation at the time of his death. The findings from this major project promise to significantly enhance our understanding of leadership and trust across cultures, and inform the practice of international relations in several domains, including business and politics, for the foreseeable future.

As a leader, Ali personified warmth and affection with a generosity of spirit that drew people to him. His authenticity and humility, infused with a sense of adventure, goodwill and humour, made him an anchor and a compass for the wellbeing and growth of those who worked with him. He seemed to possess unlimited energy and was selfless in his kindness and thoughtfulness. Ali had a way of reaching out and connecting to people, students and colleagues, at moments of triumph and hardship in their lives. The wise counsel and gentle support he would offer went a long way in boosting the morale of those going through a rough patch. He lifted all those who walked with him so that they became more than they themselves thought possible.

As an institution-builder, Ali excelled in inspiring others to dream along with him and achieve lofty goals that benefited all. He had a unique ability to motivate and empower people to tap into their undiscovered potential, gain the confidence to step out of their comfort zone, collaborate with others even when they had radically different worldviews, and celebrate the togetherness, and aspire to the next summit. He augmented all this by building the values of the places he worked at. Ali fostered the collaborative, positive and innovative culture that still thrives at the Gustavson School of Business today, and drives its success.

Ali’s numerous accomplishments at the University of Victoria and his contributions to the city’s business landscape speak to the legacy he leaves behind. During his decade as dean at Gustavson, he launched the PhD and master of global business degree programs, initiated partnerships with more than 90 universities in 47 countries, doubled the student enrolment, ensured the earning of the prestigious AACSB and EQUIS accreditations for the school, and sharpened the emphasis on sustainability as a key value.

The naming of the business school as the Gustavson School and the graduate school as the Gill Graduate School topped an extraordinary run of building the institution.

In terms of his contributions to the city, Ali championed a close engagement with the business community in Victoria and brought their needs and interests to bear on the school’s educational foci. The advisory board and the mentorship program that he created allowed community leaders to connect with students and researchers, and he built a broad coalition of advocates for outstanding business education in Victoria that was noted regionally, nationally and internationally.

The Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year (DEYA) award and dinner event that he initiated continues as a pre-eminent event in Victoria and draws over 600 members of the business community annually. The DEYA Award has come to be regarded as a major recognition and celebration of the success and contribution of business leaders across the country. His engagement and dedication earned him enthusiastic support, adoration and commitment of the business community.

Ali’s impact continues to be seen throughout the school, university and community in ways large and small. We are inexpressibly grateful for the genuine servant leadership, ambitious vision, and innovative perspectives Ali brought to Victoria. We mourn his loss and celebrate his leadership and friendship — he will be deeply missed but his legacy will endure.

Professor A.R. (Elango) Elangovan and Dean Saul Klein are with the Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria.

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