By Carlos Chicas Berti. Photo: Award winners Sam Mod, left, and Damineh Akhavan. UVic Photo Services. 

With the passing of Dr. Ali Dastmalchian, the University of Victoria lost an inspiring, dedicated and beloved former leader. Now an award in his honour is celebrating alumni who exemplify the many qualities that made Ali an integral part of the school for two decades.

“The Spirit of Ali award was created to recognize alumni who exemplify the many qualities we hold in our memories of Ali,” says Gustavson Professor A.R. (Elango) ElangovanThe award will be given annually to alumni who have dug deep into their potential, dared to step out of their comfort zone, inspired others to collaborate and overcome significant challenges to achieve their success. “This award is a fitting salute to and a heart-felt celebration of Ali – an outstanding leader, a much loved colleague, and a tireless advocate for our school,” adds Elangovan.

Dr. Ali Dastmalchian helped transform the business school in his time as dean. But his time at UVic began in 1991, when he joined the school as the faculty director of the MBA program and helped design and launch it. In 1996, he left UVic to take on a new role as dean of the faculty of management at the University of Lethbridge, but he returned to the UVic campus in 2002 as the new dean of the business school. During his ten years as dean, Dastmalchian helped turn the school into a pioneering centre for business education and research. His achievements include doubling the school’s enrolment, launching the PhD and Master of Global Business (MGB) programs, truly internationalizing the school, embedding sustainability and social responsibility in the school’s pillars, achieving EQUIS and AACSB accreditations and facilitating the naming of the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business and the Sardul S. Gill Graduate School.

It was with those achievements in mind that this year’s inaugural Spirit of Ali award was presented to alumni Damineh Akhavan, MBA ’11, and Sam Mod, MBA ’15, during Gustavson’s fall convocation.

At the graduation celebrations for the class of 2021, Mod, CEO and co-founder of FreshWorks Studio, a custom software development company, spoke to students about his own experience as a student and recent immigrant to Canada. “I came to the University of Victoria as an immigrant to pursue my MBA with a decent student loan and an ambition to land a good job. With the exposure that the MBA program gave me to business leaders, mentors and entrepreneurs, my mindset and approach shifted from ‘job-seeker’ to the slightly more adventurous ‘entrepreneur’” he says.  Mod remembers Ali’s impact from his time at the school: “Ali had an ability to inspire others to dream and encouraged me in my time at UVic. Winning the Spirit of Ali award was extra special for me as Ali’s family was present in the audience and I truly got a chance to absorb the warmth, love and passion that he lived his life with,” says Mod.

For award winner Akhavan, a senior engineer at Viking Air, the award gave her the chance to reflect on her journey and the personal impact Ali had on her career. “I first met Ali in mid 2007. I was a lost 27-year-old who had recently experienced two life-changing, career-path-altering health events sitting in front of the dean and trying to figure out if the MBA program was the right fit for me,” she says. “I expected a generic response or a pat on the shoulder; instead, Ali looked at me with a grin and asked: ‘What is your true calling?’ At the end of that 45-minute discussion, we agreed that the MBA program was the right fit for me.”

The Spirit of Ali Award was made possible by the generous support of community donors throughout the business school, “Ali had an impact on everyone he met at the business school, and this award helps cement his legacy as a pioneering leader. The support we received will allow this award to continue for many years to come,” says Elangovan.

For both the recipients winning the inaugural Spirit of Ali award was a bittersweet moment, “It is an honour for me to have my name mentioned in the same sentence as Ali’s,” says Akhavan, “But I wish the circumstances were different and Ali could be here to know that on the day I was notified of this award, I had signed incorporation papers for a new business that is in line with our discussions and my calling. I’m determined to follow his lead in kindness, dignity, generosity, integrity, and selflessness.”