La Trobe alumnus' life of diplomacy

Malaysian diplomat and business leader Tan Sri Ghazzali Sheikh Abdul Khalid credits his time as a student at La Trobe University for awakening his curiosity of the world.

Tan Sri Ghazzali remembers arriving at La Trobe’s Bundoora Campus like it was yesterday. “I have very happy memories of that time, we felt part of a big family in a small village,” he said.

Ghazzali was among the first cohort of students to attend La Trobe in 1967, which meant he was also among the first international students to come to La Trobe.

Ghazzali travelled from Malaysia to study politics and economics as part of The Colombo Plan, a regional initiative that saw Australia provide education to students from Asia. Between 1952 and 1985, more than 20,000 students had participated in the scheme. Today, the New Colombo Plan offers Australian students the opportunity to study in the Indo-Pacific region.

For Ghazzali, becoming a Colombo scholar was transformative.

“The Colombo Plan was very significant to me, in fact I’d say it changed my life,” Ghazzali said. “I had the opportunity to be sent to study abroad, and the good fortune to be sent to La Trobe, and I learnt so many of the values and principles that stay with me today. Like the importance of intellectual integrity, keeping to your principles, and giving the very best that you can.”

Ghazzali has shaped an impressive career as a leading diplomat, political adviser and business leader in Malaysia. He has served as an advisor to two Prime Ministers and has held a number of prominent diplomatic roles, including Ambassador of Malaysia to the United States, Deputy Secretary General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, High Commissioner to Zimbabwe and Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the United Nations in New York.

“I must credit the posting to Washington DC as the most challenging of all my postings,” Ghazzali said. “Understandably the United States is a major power, and our relations with the US involve a broad spectrum of issues ranging from economics and education to diplomacy and defence. It’s a very vital relationship so it demands all of your intellectual prowess and your energy,” he said.

After his retirement from the diplomatic world in 2010, Ghazzali moved into business as Chairman of the Axiata Foundation, where he is committed to nurturing the next generation of leaders.

“I believe it is very important to mentor, and that is something that every senior official, whether in the public or private sector, must take seriously,” he said.

“I’m so grateful for the generosity of the many mentors I have had, including faculty members at La Trobe.”

In 2017, La Trobe University awarded Ghazzali with a Distinguished Alumni Award, in recognition of his significant professional achievements.

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