Columbia College mourns the loss of alumnus, leader and friend Alex Navab CC’87, a University Trustee and former chair of the Columbia College Board of Visitors who passed away on July 7.
Navab had an exceptional history of service to Columbia that began during his undergraduate years, when he served as president of his sophomore class and then as president of the Columbia College Student Council in his senior year. An outstanding student who graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Navab was also the captain of the varsity lightweight crew team, with which he maintained close ties as a benefactor and as the recipient of this past year’s King’s Crown Rowing Association honor.
As a member and former chair of the Board of Visitors, Navab led the effort to develop a strategic plan for the College; this became the foundation of the Core to Commencement campaign, the first campaign dedicated uniquely to Columbia College students and faculty. In close partnership with Dean James J. Valentini, Navab helped to shape a plan that would focus on strengthening the student experience, enhancing the Core Curriculum and supporting faculty committed to teaching undergraduates as priorities for the College’s future success. Navab later became co-chair of the Core to Commencement campaign, inspiring and unifying fellow alumni, parents and others in support of the campaign’s key tenets.
“Alex always moved our thinking forward, and he contributed to the betterment of Columbia in profound ways," said Jonathan Lavine CC’88, co-chair of the Columbia University Board of Trustees.
“His determination, drive and ambition during college, and ever since, was something to behold,” said Lisa Carnoy CC’89, co-chair of the Columbia University Board of Trustees. “Alex's love for Columbia ran very, very deep.” In 2011, Columbia College honored Navab’s service with the John Jay Award, in recognition of his professional achievements and his deep devotion to the College.
Dedicated to enriching the lives of College students, Navab and his wife, Mary Kathryn, founded the College’s Navab Fellows Program in 2018. The program supports students through access to high-quality internship placements, regardless of financial circumstances or background.
“Our goal with this fellowship program is to provide supplemental means for students who are interested in pursuing internships that truly interest them and help them make a real impact on society,” Navab said at the time.
Zain Athar CC’21, a Navab Fellows Program participant, expressed gratitude for the opportunity.
“As a recipient of the inaugural Navab fellowship through Columbia University, I have heard much about Alex’s support for the Columbia community, and am a direct beneficiary of his alumni contributions,” said Athar. “The fellowship program has allowed me to pursue a finance internship at Birch Grove Capital in my sophomore year, and get to know fellow like-minded peers who are also interning this summer.”
After graduating from the College, Navab earned an M.B.A., with high distinction as a Baker Scholar, from Harvard Business School. He spent nearly 25 years with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) before founding Navab Capital Partners earlier this year. Along with his work on the University Board of Trustees, he also served on many philanthropic boards, including as a trustee of New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Born in Iran, Navab proudly spoke about his immigrant experience and the ways in which he believed that America’s dynamism and prosperity depend upon the nation’s continued openness and diversity. In 2016, he was awarded the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor for his professional achievements and public service.
Victor Mendelson CC’89, who served with Navab on the Columbia University Board of Trustees, said, “Alex adhered to his principles, regardless of the cost. We are all better off for having known him.”
Navab’s intellect, mentorship and integrity had a profound impact on so many who worked with him at Columbia.
Alisa Wood CC’01, a member of the Board of Visitors and Navab’s colleague at KKR, said, “It was never his accomplishments or his business acumen that made him stand apart for me. It was who he was as a friend, as a mentor and as a partner.”
Dean Valentini shared his admiration and gratitude for Navab, saying, “For the past eight years, Alex was not only a great partner and advisor to me as dean of the College, but also a true and faithful friend. I will miss him dearly.”
Columbia College expresses our deepest condolences to Mary Kathryn, their three children, his extended family and colleagues.