When Shahram Hashemi-Nejad, ’04, changed tracks from private equity to education, it was to honor his father’s legacy—and to lay “foundations for something bigger than myself.”
His father, Khosrow Hashemi-Nejad, founder of a celebrated architecture firm, was teaching in the award-winning Department of Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley when Shahram was born, and would continue to teach at the University of Tehran many decades later. He often set aside his salary to support students in need, covering their expenses and ensuring their success on campus.
“He went out of his way to teach outside of the city in order to help communities in need, as he felt that everyone deserves access to education,” says Hashemi, who is currently managing partner at the London-based Aldenham Education Group.
Hashemi’s experience in private equity had convinced him of the potential of the education sector, which he describes as having “high cash flow, sticky recurring revenues, high margins, high exit valuations, and negative working capital.” He knew that once a school is established in the market, it is usually smooth sailing for decades, making for high returns and lower risk.
Hashemi was also aware of the sector’s most pressing challenges. While most UK-based schools expand overseas through franchising, AEG adopted an owner-operator model when it looked to expand globally. This makes AEG “100 percent fully committed, with no conflict of interests, in delivering high-quality education,” he says. It isn’t ceding any control to other managers overseas but controlling the schools itself, ensuring the quality remains constant.
Being owner and operator means managing every aspect of running an international chain of schools—from macroeconomic analysis on regional, country, and city levels to the structuring and closing of deals, from real-estate analysis and the design of school buildings to corporate and academic governance, and from the school’s commercial operations to investor relations and capital raising.
This makes for a 24-7 workweek, but Hashemi says the journey has been fulfilling: “My private equity experience helps me bring that financial and high-quality performance mindset to the sector. As well as shareholders and investors, there are the students and their parents to think about. The risks are evident if we fail to deliver results, both in terms of financial success and academic excellence.”
Having made a foray into Saudi Arabia with Aldenham Prep Riyadh in 2022, the group aims to open and operate more schools there. Hashemi says he has been involved “since the inception—handpicking a remarkable team, crafting an innovative curriculum, creating meticulous policies and procedures, and even envisioning the architectural masterpiece that houses our aspirations.”
Hashemi credits his time at Booth, and the mentorship of the “warm and charismatic” Marvin Zonis, the late professor emeritus of business administration, with shaping his career and worldview. “At Booth, we were advised to study businesses and challenges from different angles and perspectives,” he recalls. “This prepared me to see the innate value in businesses, perceiving them differently than my competitors.”
Twenty years on, Hashemi is generous in giving back. He has been co-head of the Alumni Club in the UAE, readily shares his knowledge with Booth alumni, and helps raise funds for the school. “My learning experience at Booth watered the seed that my father planted,” he says, “which has now bloomed into an all-encompassing passion for education.”
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