Becoming an NYU trustee: a conversation with David Ko

David Ko plans to advocate for entrepreneurship opportunities and student success as one of the newest members of NYU’s Board of Trustees.

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Raleigh Swick

Tech entrepreneur David Ko was recently introduced as a member of the NYU board of trustees. WSN sat down with Ko to talk about his plans for the university. (Photo by Raleigh Swick)

By Abby Wilson, Staff Writer

Tech entrepreneur David Ko, one of NYU’s three newest trustees, recently spoke with WSN from his home in San Francisco about his involvement with NYU since graduating in 1993. He expressed gratitude for the university’s help in launching the Stern Venture Fellows program and fondly recalled his time as an undergraduate at NYU.

Ko was announced as a member of NYU’s board of trustees earlier this semester, along with Terri Burns and Traci Lerner.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: What brought you back to NYU after you graduated? You’ve worked closely with administrators at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business and elsewhere at the university — what led you to remain so involved?

David Ko: My involvement with NYU mostly stemmed from the fact that I came from my undergraduate experience there. I graduated in ’93. I really felt that university life helped shape the rest of my life. And so I learned a lot of key lessons that I’ve kept and that has stayed with me for many years after. So giving back to the university was just very natural.

Along with being co-founder and CEO of Ripple Health Group, a health tech startup, Ko has remained heavily involved with NYU since his initial departure. In 2016, he founded the Stern Venture Fellows program, a 10-week immersive entrepreneurship program that began hosting MBA students in the summer of 2017. He also serves as a member of the Stern Tech MBA Advisory Board and the Stern Executive Board.

WSN: What is one major change that you’ve seen at NYU since you graduated? 

Ko: I loved that I was able to do a program where we went to different parts of the world with different schools and learned about different businesses. And now, the fact that the university has schools, not only in Beijing, but in Abu Dhabi, in London, in Los Angeles — it’s just amazing to see how global it’s become.

While at NYU, Ko took part in a monthlong study away program in Japan. NYU now has 15 study away locations, and NYU Sydney recently announced a new partnership with the University of Sydney that allows students to take courses at either institution.

WSN: Now that you have a voice on the board of trustees, what are your top priorities going to be?

Ko: My goal in the beginning was to come in and listen and get to know the various individuals on the board of trustees. I’ve spent a lot of time with many NYU students, but mostly on the tech side of the house. And that’s the perspective I’ll bring. That’s the lane I’ll swim in. I think that’s where I can add the most value.

Ko credits the mentorship he received throughout his career as a major factor that led to the success of his career.

WSN: Do you have any advice for current NYU students?

Ko: Just because somebody’s the CEO of a company doesn’t mean you can’t reach out to them and ask them for advice or ask them for a referral. I’ve been very proud of the fact that I’ve been able to touch many students who have wanted to get into entrepreneurship and give them advice along the way.

Ko did not directly address questions about the specific process of his appointment, but told WSN that the opportunity gradually became available to him after many years of involvement — he began donating small amounts of money to NYU and increased his donations over time. He said this opened discourse with members of the administration and other trustees.

NYU’s trustee selection process is not public. Students and faculty are not represented on the board despite multiple calls for increased representation and transparency; in 2018, the board of trustees rejected proposals from the student government and two faculty councils that would have placed students and faculty on the board.

WSN: What is the process of becoming a trustee like? 

Ko: I only know what I went through, which was super professional — very thorough, in my opinion. The board wanted to make sure that it worked for all parties, which was great. You have to be committed and you want to show that commitment. And if you can show that commitment through your time and are willing to participate, eventually it may work for both of you.

WSN: Do you think the process of appointing new trustees is transparent and fair from a student’s perspective?

Ko: I know the members of the board take it very seriously because they have a responsibility to the broader university. You know, it’s really hard sometimes to make sure it’s discussed with everybody. You have to trust that they’re making the right decisions for you as a university as a whole.

WSN: Is there anything else you want to tell the NYU community?

Ko: I’m very grateful and honored to continue to give back to the university in any form. They don’t ask for it. When you’ve had some of the success that I’ve been able to have, the reality is that it doesn’t happen overnight, and it has to start with a foundation. And that foundation, for me, happened at NYU.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, e-print edition. Contact Abby Wilson at [email protected]