To be a visionary in business requires a clear understanding of day-to-day operations combined with clarity for future goals, the necessary steps that will get you there and a willingness to embrace challenges and step outside the box. These are qualities that Naseem Bashir, president and CEO of Williams Engineering Canada (WEC) and chairman of the board for the Williams Group of Companies and his team at WEC have in spades. “I’m a strategic guy, and I spend a lot of time thinking about what is happening in the future rather than what happened in the past,” says Bashir. “In our industry, we need to remain agile; we need to have a long-term strategy and to hammer away at it to make sure we are prepared for what’s coming down the pipeline.” Chatting with Bashir is truly inspiring. His passion for engineering services, whether that’s building science, civil, electrical, structural or mechanical (all of which are offered by WEC in addition to project management), is undeniable. “My wife says I married the company first, and then I married her,” laughs Bashir.
The trickle-down effect of this positive leadership has resulted in an engaged and highly-skilled team that spans over ten regional offices, all of whom Bashir commends for getting WEC where it is today. You just need to visit the WEC website to realize that this isn’t hot air either. Click on the “our team” tab, and you could be a little overwhelmed by the number of team members featured. “To talk about specific key members is tough as the value of the company is down to the entire team. When we employ people, we look for diversity. That means we end up with very different people at the table, from HR and finance to building envelope and structural engineers. For us, it’s about connecting our people to our projects. These are the folks that make it happen,” says Bashir.
In terms of size and offerings, WEC has come a long way since it began almost 40 years ago. When Allen Williams started his mechanical and forensic engineering firm in Edmonton, Alberta, under the name A. D. Williams Engineering, Ltd., he understood that the future of the industry required a multi-disciplinary approach. He assembled a team of highly skilled, successful individuals who had strong ethics and integrity and gave them ownership of their roles. It would be fair to say that Williams was well ahead of his time. He was a firm believer in both employee ownership and a healthy work-life balance – core values that remain at the very heart of the company today. Over the next 20 years, WEC expanded in its services to include civil, structural, building science, electrical and project management services in geographical locations. WEC’s second office opened in Yellowknife, a location that has played a large role in the company’s evolution. “I grew up in Calgary and Edmonton, but my first job was in Yellowknife, where I spent seven years. When you live in the Arctic, where winters can be defined as being dry and extremely cold, if you don’t approach things sustainably, you won’t be able to survive long-term, and your experience may be less than pleasant. You have to push the envelope of design. It makes you view things differently, and those practices have helped us in business,” says Bashir.
From there, the company saw a number of opportunities in Manitoba, central Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C, where it opened up offices in Abbotsford, then Kelowna, Victoria, and, three months ago, in Vancouver. “You could say we had a north-south phase during the 80s and 90s,” says Bashir. Admittedly not every decision has gone smoothly, but, well, that’s business. “As you grow as a company, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. What’s important is that you learn from those mistakes. In the early stages, we lost a couple of times, but again, it really depends on having the right people in the organization, and we were able to eventually open offices in most of those locations again.”
WEC has also invested a great deal of time and energy in understanding advancements being made in technology that are having huge impacts on the sector. Bashir compares the consulting industry to Moore’s Law, saying that the evolution of technology is resulting in an unprecedented rate of advancement. “The velocity of change is massive and changing daily; it has everything to do with innovation and technology. It is driving the foundation of our business today.”
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Article written by Natalie Bruckner-Menchelli