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How I did it! Meeting with Engr. Khalid Bashir President of Society of Mechanical Engineers of Pakistan

How I did it!
Meeting with Engr. Khalid Bashir
“Love for what you do is the true force behind a successful business”

Engr. Khalid Bashir (KB) is an eminent engineer. He is a solid professional, has a well versed amiable personality of many facets. In addition to launching a very successful engineering construction company he was also the first President of Society of Mechanical Engineers of Pakistan (SMEP). Presently he is serving as the chairman of Zirva (Pvt) Limited, a well reputed company which offers a spate of services ranging from HVAC, Construction, and Mechanical Works etc. Engineering CAP (EC) takes pride and pleasure in introducing him to our readers.

Mr. Khalid Bashir belongs to the class of 1973 -UET Lahore from where he graduated with a bachelor in Mechanical Engineering. After graduation he worked on a number of projects which include Hub Dam, construction of Sheraton Hotel in Karachi etc. He got an opportunity for Post Graduate training with Mitsubishi Japan in Mechanical Engineering related areas. He also acquired fluency in Japanese there and was also offered to become a trainer by Mitsubishi. However, he had other plans in mind and decided to return back to Pakistan. After his return he started Zirva Pvt Ltd in 1985.. His firm has successfully completed projects both in Pakistan and also in Saudi Arabia. Engineering CAP met him in his office on October 18, 2017, in Islamabad.

EC(Engineering Cap): How did you get started in the business? Was there any precedents or family involved in business?

KB(Khalid Bashir): No, there was no family participation in the business. I always had a dream to get into business and be a master of my own destiny. Even while being a student the very thought never left me.

EC: What were the motivating factors which pushed you towards the business? What does the name Zirva mean?
KB: Actually having worked professionally, I always thought that if I was to put the same kind of effort in my own business, it would lead me to success. The name Zirva has its origin in Turkish language, in which it means “peak” or the highest position

EC: Did you start as a contractor / constructor?
KB: No, not really. I started by providing Engineering Design services. But as I observed the Pakistani environment does not value intellectual service that much, hence doesn’t pay much. People like to take you for granted and do not consider intellectual service of that much value. This is also visible how patents are generally treated.

EC: Which area did you get started in?
KB: I started in the area of HVAC. Now my company has grown to offer a full range of Mechanical, Electrical and Civil engineering projects & services. We have undertaken large size projects, providing all services successfully.

EC: Do you have other family members working with you also?
KB: Yes my two sons and a daughter have also joined my business. They are also engineers. Both sons chose Civil Engineering and later on did Masters in Construction Management from USA, and daughter is an architect.

EC: How do you see the role of engineers in the society?
KB: The role of engineers for growth in the country is very important. A critical review of all nations that ever managed to grow and progress would reveal that was and is the engineering profession that led the countries to the path of progress.

Who may be the first engineer? Even as think of stone age, the first person who picked up a stone and carved out a knife out of it for protection as well as for food was the engineer of that time. Without his contribution, his family, his tribe, and thus the humanity would not have survived the hardships of nature. Thus from the first tool ever shaped out of a rock to the latest missiles that can cross the globe, from the first shack or cave modified to live in, to the latest & biggest mansion, all progress owes its self to the efforts of engineers, who could visualize a problem and execute a solution. Without the engineers growth and progress is an impossible dream.

EC: Would that mean that if there are more engineers there would be more progress in Pakistan? Are there not a surplus of engineers in the country?
KB: Having a surplus of engineers in any country is an absurd idea. How can there be a surplus. If a country has to progress it has to utilize its engineers. As long as the country is on the road to progress there can never be enough!
At present there are roughly 200,000 to 250,000 engineers including all disciplines in the country. Compare that with USA, which requires about the same number every year to keep moving on and maintaining their economy. Where do our engineers go? They also get sucked by the advanced economies of the world. Over there they are working and building up their economies, and their countries, whereas the same could be done here at home.
EC: How do you see the role of Universities offering Engineering education?
KB: Our leading universities here take pride by saying that so many of their graduates are working in USA or other advanced economies or for multinational giants in Pakistan. What are they doing? They are just providing help to the economies and industries of the advanced countries. These engineers are not contributing to the economy or the betterment of Pakistan.
Secondly the universities here are removed or divorced from the local industry. They do research or write papers which have no or little practical value for the local environment. Universities are evolving into money making institutions, without a desired focus. Hence, universities which were ______________???

EC: But it may be due to the non-desirable conditions here in Pakistan, say salary structure, job environment?
KB: Yes, problems do exist. We need to look at the source of problems. We need to develop our engineering capabilities. Today, the engineers in Pakistan are employed for keeping the machines made in other countries running. It should be other way around, i.e. Engineers in other countries keeping the machines made in Pakistan running. Today we are dependent on others for our progress.

EC: How do you think the Engineering Profession can grow? What do you perceive as impediments?
KB: For growth of Engineering Profession in Pakistan, the engineering industry needs to find its own footing and grow. Many people think that if the lot of the Engineering Professionals improves that would lead to the improvement in the Engineering profession and standards here in the country.

However, in my view that is not the case. We need a thriving engineering industry here in the country that would lead to the betterment of engineers in Pakistan. What are the impediments? They are many. To start with there is a lack of standardization. This leads to many problems. Consider a manufacturing company which is trying to produce some product. It may have sourced machinery from all over the world. One machine may be from Germany and other may be from Japan. One may be from UK and the other from USA. Hence, in order to keep the factory going there would be a need to build a redundancy in the system. This redundancy would have obvious costs which would impact the price of products or services. This is just one of the problems.

At some point in time, various engineering industrial setups were started in Pakistan, for example, HMC, HEC, Pakistan Steel Karachi etc. However, due to lack of adequate engineering skills and development, bureaucracy intervention, faulty and fickle government policies, apathetic attitude of the powers that be, all of them are closed or hardly in operation. This is a loss to the country.

EC: What other factors there might be?
KB: One of the things which becomes visible is that the countries which have moved forward have used their own language for learning engineering. In our country the English language itself becomes an impediment when students have to learn the science and technology in a language other than their own. Similarly there are other issues.

Secondly, another most important ingredient for success, which sadly is missing from Pakistan is the continuity of the policies. Here there is a high degree of unpredictability of policies. Governments change overnight and along with the change in governments the policies also undergo a change. This results in a total misdirection. Projects which are feasible under one regime are rendered totally unfeasible in the succeeding one. Without the continuity of policies progress cannot be achieved. We have seen countries which were far behind us in productivity and economy surpass us. Now it would be difficult if we ever catch them. Look at the case of far eastern countries which were far behind us, and now they are considered advanced countries. China is also a prime example where the continuity of policies has given solid results. Even Bangladesh today, a country which we used to think is living off the resources of Pakistan has surpassed us. Progress requires stability, security and continuity of policies which sadly is lacking here.

Imagine a relay race where a runner passes on the baton to the next runner who is waiting at a certain distance. If you have ever seen such a race, you would notice that the runner who is waiting gets into motion and acquires a certain speed even before the baton is passed on to him. It is all a teamwork and the players run in unison. Now applying the same metaphor at Pakistani scene, the runner who is waiting refuses to receive the baton and runs back to the original starting line, gets a new baton as if the one being passed on to him is broken, and then starts running again. Doing so basically nullifies all what the previous runner has achieved. Such a team can never hope to win. Same situation exists in Pakistan today, where instability and anarchy reign. Each successive political party, each successive government tries to nullify what was achieved in the previous regime and try to forge a new direction.

Another problem which exists in Pakistan is that everyone is trying to do somebody else’s job ignoring whatever in his own plate. Let’s say one orders a cup of tea at a tea stall. The person making tea, the chaiwala, would be an expert on cricket, television, politics, fashion i.e. just about everything except making a good cup of tea.

For a country to compete and progress in the world effectively a country has to utilize its resources in a better manner. No country can progress without having a strong indigenous Engineering Industry. The institutions which were made should be doing what they are supposed to be doing. You come across Engineering Development Board (EDB) doing everything but developing Engineering Industry. Look at the people who are working there. You will find everyone including medical doctors but engineers working in EDB. They see they are trying to improve the exports, a function for which a separate institution does exist.

Similarly, we have PEC which is a regulatory body and is supposed to be independent of the government function is just playing a second fiddle to whichever government is in power. They are more focused on trying to make money than developing policies which would lead to development of engineering profession in the country. Instead of developing a professional job structure they have taken an easy way out by forcing the contractors to hire or pay the inexperienced engineers who do not even show up for work. Contractors just pay these people so that they are on their payroll and these engineers are not contributing anything at all. Why should the PEC be focused on making money, it’s not their job.
EC: Coming to another area, you are the founding member of SMEP and also the past President. What led you to do so?
KB: Yes, a group of mechanical engineers took the initiative towards founding Society of Mechanical Engineers of Pakistan and I was part of the group. The reason it was founded was again a desire to contribute towards the development of Pakistan. If one studies the countries like USA, Germany, Japan, each of them have a professional societies which are working on the development of professional skills and developing policies, for example, ASME or American Society of Mechanical Engineers which was formed in 1881 by a handful of engineers with the aim of developing standards, helping research, improving professional practices, working with other allied engineering bodies and lobbying for developing policies which would nurture the profession.

I believe that such societies have a very positive role to play in the country. It is only by the existence of professional societies which provide a platform to discuss ideas, share problems and invent solutions. This is the only way through which the solutions to problems can be developed and not through legislation.

We were able to hold some seminars, professional conferences, a technology based exhibition, but, I don’t believe we were fully able to achieve what we set out to do. Support from industry is vital, but as in Pakistan we are basically focused on importing and trading, the society which focused on indigenous research could not win their attention. Here is an area where PEC’s help would be invaluable. It should participate or work with the professional societies so that better professional standards are developed which in turn can help improvement of the technology here in the country.

EC: How do you define success? What are the rules for success in your estimation?
KB: I believe success basically is loving what you do and consistently striving for a better performance level all the time. I loved what I did and I still love what I do. I have no regrets in my life. I love my chosen field of business and don’t dwell on what if I had done this or that.

In our construction industry and projects we need to introduce the latest management tools like Building Information Modeling (BIM). This is a very useful and effective technique through which a project is completed virtually before it is actually built. Use of this technique allows all problem areas to be highlighted and one can take steps to minimize errors. This is the latest and current practice in US and it has been adopted by all of the advanced countries. Even in Dubai BIM is being used and they do not allow construction of any building before running it through BIM. This method allows for substantial reduction in variation say from 20% to 2%, savings of time and improving of quality as problems are highlighted before rather than during or after the construction process. We at Zirva (Pvt) Limited are providing BIM to clients and consultants.

EC: Considering the current situation in Pakistan, what would be the way forward?
KB: Well, we have to continue working on to improve the standard of Engineering practices, introduce new technologies and develop indigenous solutions. Times are changing. This is the first time we have an engineer at the PM House. Similarly there are other engineers who are coming up in the leadership cadre. We now even have ministers and MNAs who are engineers. I hope we take the opportunity to move forward. But the governments cannot do it alone. It has to be through the engineering bodies themselves to come forward and contribute.

EC: It has been a really nice discussion and it was really nice talking to you. We thank you for taking time out from your busy schedule.
KB: You indeed are very welcome.

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