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Chatting with the Chairman

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Chatting with the Chairman

In July 2021, King’s Academy announced the appointment of Ali Kolaghassi as the new chairman of the Board of Trustees. Kolaghassi succeeded HE Bassem Al-Salem. A member of the Board of Trustees since 2015, Kolaghassi is father to two children who attended the Middle School and the Upper School at King’s.

Kolaghassi has had an illustrious career with over 29 years of leadership and management experience in corporate business development with a focus on construction, real estate development, asset management, investments, banking and telecommunication at an international level. He is the founder, president and chairman of Kolaghassi Capital Ltd., a private equity management firm operating in the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) with offices in Dubai and Washington, D.C.

The recipient of many awards and accolades over the years, Kolaghassi was named multiple times by Dubai-based Arabian Business Magazine as one of the “100 most influential Arabs.”

Beyond King’s Editor Vera Azar spoke with Kolaghassi about the role of the board and the future of King’s.

VA: You’ve served on the Board of Trustees since 2015. How has the board evolved over these years?
AK: I’ve never chaired something academic, and it’s a real privilege to be appointed to this position. Over the past year, we’ve had new members join  the board, bringing with them more talent and diversity, and we’ve added more specialized committees the aim of which is to facilitate the mission of King’s. We now have committees on finance and facilities, audit and risk assessment, admissions and financial aid, advancement and capital campaign, compensation, and governance and nomination. And we have an endowment subcommittee and a crisis task force. On another note, we have also established an honorary board, which gives recognition to people who have really served King’s over the years and who can serve as mentors to the rest of us.

This summer we say goodbye to our longest serving board member, Peter Weinberg. Peter believed in the school when it was still pure vision, and he has been one of its staunchest supporters. I can’t begin to thank him enough for his support both on a personal level and as one of the school’s most generous and committed donors.

VA: What board size and type of individuals are necessary for a board to be effective?
AK: Board size is important — around 18 is a good size for a school board so that all the gaps can be filled by the various committees. Gender balance and mixed expertise are also important to cover all committee tasks and requirements. We’ve gotten to a point where we have it all covered. I want people to recognize that we have an engaged board, consisting of volunteers, of people who are passionate about the mission of King’s and who believe in creating opportunities for the younger generation to receive a better education.

VA: As the father of an alumnus and as a board member you’ve had the chance to see King’s from different perspectives. Tell us about that.
AK: As a proud father of a King’s alumnus, who was a boarder, I saw the positive impact of King’s on my son. I saw how he matured, how his academic performance improved, how he was engaged, how well prepared he was to go to college. I also hear about the impact from other proud parents, and I think the confirmation comes when you look at our graduating classes and where they get accepted at university.

Of course, we need to keep improving. We need to be the employer of choice, and to keep recruiting top notch teachers, because having such teachers means we can continue to provide the best academic program. We also need to continue focusing on improving the campus and facilities. We have to upgrade the infrastructure, the labs, the dorms. We need to improve our sports program, and to re-engage sports-wise with other schools in the country and the region. We also want our students to be more engaged with social initiatives in the country.

VA: Why is a robust endowment necessary for King’s?
AK: The purpose of an endowment fund is for it to grow and to establish a base for the longevity of the school, as income that’s generated from the endowment fund will create a constant stream to offer financial aid. For example, a US $100 million fund with an average income of 5% will generate a secured 5 million in annual income to be offered in financial aid. Our fundraising mission is of the utmost importance, because it allows us to create more opportunities for students via financial aid. That’s why we’re focusing a lot on our endowment campaign, to raise money on a local, regional and international level. Programs have been created to cater to all donor requests, in the sense that donors can specify the criteria they want for the recipient of their financial aid. It can all be customized to meet the donor’s requirements.

VA: You yourself have established a merit and need-based student scholarship for a King’s student who matriculates at George Washington University, your own alma mater. You’ve said “we would consider it a crime for someone to have the opportunity to graduate from King’s and not be able to continue to the next phase of education.” Can you elaborate on that?
AK: With the help of the University Counseling Office, some students secure funds for university study, but there isn’t enough funding for everyone, so I believe that part of our mission should be to ensure that those who don’t receive aid are also given a chance to continue their education. It’s unfair for them to work their way through King’s and because of lack of financial means to not be able to pursue their higher education. That’s why I encourage the community to take that into consideration. We’re not fundraising to send people to universities. But one way to address this situation is for donors who sponsor a student at King’s to consider continuing to support that student after they have graduated from King’s and have matriculated at university.

VA: King’s has embarked on a strategic planning process. What is the aim of this process?
AK: The strategic plan will be the blueprint for the school moving forward. In the early days, the focus was on the name, the brand, the association with His Majesty King Abdullah II. The next phase continued to meet the mission, but the specific focus was on teaching and learning. Today, we are a highly recognized school academically, with graduates at top tier universities, and with students coming in from all over the globe. We have to perfect that system so that we can meet the expectations of parents and students. When you reach this level of maturity, the challenges become bigger, because people expect more and more, and you have to make sure that you are delivering. Are we where we want to be? No, not yet. We have achieved a lot and are proud of our achievements, but there’s a lot more to do. The challenges will always continue. Just like we had the COVID-19 challenge these past couple of years, we’ll have others. As a committed board, we’ll look at each situation as it comes up and we will always keep the students as our number one priority. It is they who make King’s what it is.

VA: In one of our strategic planning working groups, we are looking at the school’s identity. How do you see the identity of King’s?
AK: King’s is a unique concept in education. We’re not an American school that’s in Jordan, and we’re not a boarding school operating in Jordan. We’ve created a completely different formula, taking the best of all systems and putting it here. We are the first not-for-profit, private boarding school in Jordan and in the region. We wanted to blend our local culture with international cultures, so we have a balanced educational staff, both local Jordanians and Americans with expertise in boarding. We brought in a board that is balanced, with members who are Jordanian, regional, American and Asian. This gave us the opportunity to send out the message that even though the school is in Jordan we’re receiving paying students globally and we’re offering financial aid on a global level as well. Our donors are also both local and international. We put all these elements together and created a new identity. And we’re sending out the message that this small kingdom is bringing in students from all over, respecting their differences. In the end, that’s what Jordan is all about.