In December 2016, after six years in the role, Leonidas Los MBA’75 completed his term as Chair of the INSEAD Alumni Fund (IAF). He was succeeded by Emma Goltz MBA’98J. During his tenure as IAF Chair, Leonidas was an inspirational leader who advocated regular support of INSEAD amongst the alumni community, as well as being a generous donor himself. A native of Canada, Leonidas was born to first generation Greek parents from the island of Chios. We caught up with Leonidas to learn about the highlights of his time as Chair, the lessons learnt, and his hopes for the future of INSEAD.
On an early October morning in 2010, Leonidas Los awoke in his Athens home to an email from then outgoing IAF Chair Rolf Abdon, MBA’70, proposing that he take over the role. The request came as a surprise, and his initial reaction was to refuse.
“My experience in fundraising was very limited,” he explains.
However, after further consultation with Rolf and then Dean Frank Brown, Leonidas was motivated by the challenge to combine his Greek passion for fulfilling a mission with the adaptability required to respect the customs and culture of the countries he would visit. He changed his mind and the following January took over the reins as Chair.
This was not Leonidas’ first foray into volunteering for the school. Indeed, he had been engaged with INSEAD since graduation. He comes from the Class of ‘75, which as a group has been extremely active in fundraising and rallying support for INSEAD over the years. He admits that initially it was difficult to find the time to dedicate to the school. This after all was the mid-1970s, when technology was not as advanced as we are used to nowadays, making it difficult for a busy shipbroker to pull himself away from his duties without the assistance of smartphones or Skype. However, the year at INSEAD had made a mark on Leonidas’ life, and with the advent of the IAF in 1976 he saw the opportunity to give back.
“The school was still young and needed support to keep going and to fund projects,” he says.
Shortly after starting his new role in January 2011, when he also became a Member of the INSEAD Board of Directors, Leonidas quickly learned that although the school’s operational finances were well managed there was little left over for investment elsewhere. Despite this, the school had achieved great things. He realised that there was a misperception amongst alumni about the very real need that INSEAD had for donor support. However, he was working with a group of dedicated people at the school and wonderfully committed volunteers on the IAF Board, and felt confident that this could be improved.
One of his first actions was to travel to different countries to speak to alumni and hear their views. The fruitful discussions revealed that while alumni were not against supporting INSEAD, the general consensus at the time was that fundraising served to fill gaps in the school’s budget. This view was something Leonidas sought to change through collaboration with all stakeholders including the Board, the Dean, Faculty, Alumni, the International Alumni Association (IAA), National Alumni Associations (NAA) and staff at the school. With the support of the team of IAF volunteers, Leonidas made it his mission to communicate to alumni at every opportunity that fundraising was in fact an investment in the future of the school which also served to benefit the alumni themselves.
Leonidas was also a staunch advocate of regular giving, regardless of amount, and felt the most important thing was for alumni to stay engaged with the school by giving within their means. In line with this, the school widened the scope of recognition with the introduction of Salamander pins to show that all gifts were highly valued.
During Leonidas’ tenure, the school also began to host cocktail events where donors could learn more about the impact of their investments, with the added benefit of networking with faculty and fellow alumni. These events are now a staple at the school.
Leonidas also championed the message that he was spreading by giving regularly and generously to different parts of the school.
“When asking for funds, one also needs to lead from the front,” he says.
During Leonidas’ time as Chair, the school witnessed many fundraising successes. Most importantly, fundraising is now part of the conversation amongst alumni. However, Leonidas is quick to stress that this was not down to him, and is thanks to the collaboration and dedication of all parties involved.
“Any achievement would not have been possible without the selfless endeavour of our volunteers and the wonderful spirit of collaboration with the team at the school,” he says in characteristically humble fashion. “This is not my achievement – this is our achievement.”
Leonidas also credits his family, which he describes as a tower of strength. Of his wife Eirini, who accompanied him on many of his IAF trips, he speaks of an endearing and patient woman (“She’s been married to me for 40 years,” he jokes) who provided unwavering support.
The fundraising landscape of the school completely transformed during Leonidas’ time. This was set in motion by the appointment of Joanne Shoveller as Associate Dean of Advancement and Alumni Affairs in August 2012 and the appointment of Ilian Mihov as Dean in October 2013. Dean Mihov made fundraising a priority by stating, in particular, that it was critical for the future well-being of INSEAD as a world leading business school.
In 2010/11 the school raised €4.7 million, and by 2015/16 the figure had swelled five-fold. In the same year, Leonidas experienced one of his proudest moments when all members of the NAA Greece ExCo made a gift or pledge to the school. This participation rate of 100% from an NAA ExCo is a template for other Associations to follow.
Leonidas appreciates greatly the many opportunities he had to meet and work with talented and intelligent people who selflessly offered so much to the school. He thoroughly enjoyed the many opportunities he had to meet with the various NAAs.
He will also remember fondly the collaboration he had with the IAA and particularly its President Sadia Khan. Indeed, the Salamander Challenge and INSEAD Giving Day, which is currently in progress, is a poignant example of what this teamwork can achieve
Going forward, Leonidas will stay connected with the school by remaining a member of the Board for the next three years. He is also looking forward to spending more time with his family. He is confident that the school will continue to be successful, and that for as long as INSEAD continues to follow the path being laid out by Dean Mihov and the school’s leadership under its Chairman Andreas Jacobs, the future will be bright.
“It is important that we keep our feet firmly on the ground, work as a team and be supportive of each other. Mutual respect and support without personal agenda can go a long way to ensuring the school goes from strength to strength,” he says.
Of the IAF, Leonidas is sure it is in safe hands, especially considering his successor Emma Goltz brings with her years of fundraising experience.
“By making good use of the team and making the most of the collaborative spirit that I have enjoyed over the past six years, I believe Emma will not only enjoy the privilege, I have felt, of serving the school in this role but also will move fundraising at INSEAD to even greater heights,” he says.
Every time I read anything about the IAF, I think to myself that I would never have become involved if it had not been for Leonidas’ personal initiative to call a random and very small donor in Singapore and empower me to make a change…
(rather than just complaining about the status quo…)
Thank you Leonidas and Eirini for leading by example!