50th Anniversary Address
December 8th, 2006- Beirut
The Dar Al-Handasah Culture: Our Approach to Leadership and Management
I welcome you as we celebrate Dar Al-Handasah (Shair and Partners) Golden Jubilee.
This month marks Dar Al-Handasah’s 50th anniversary, the company I had founded and have had the privilege to lead ever since. As a student in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, I resolved that I would dedicate myself to establishing a world-class architecture and engineering consultancy in the Middle East, on equal footing with European and American firms dominating our region of the world.
Following my doctoral studies, I returned from Yale convinced that Beirut was the right place to realize my mission and that AUB would play a major role in supplying the necessary human potential.
I was fortunate to be appointed assistant professor at the School of Engineering and Architecture in 1956. It was during that summer that I invited four colleagues for coffee on campus. During that fateful meeting between friends, we shared a common feeling about the Middle East. The region was ready for an Arab multi-disciplinary consultancy to compete against the dominant western firms. We were lucky to be working in an academic institution and the university wholeheartedly embraced our endeavour and allowed us to embark on an entrepreneurial challenge in the real world.
We each contributed to our venture’s initial capital- a sum amounting to around $10,000 as I recall. Half was subscribed to meet start-up costs over the first six months, the other half kept as future collateral. Turns out we would never touch the collateral we set aside, early revenues were quick and consistent.
Dar-Al Handasah was in business.
Fifty years on, the firm is among the leading international multi-disciplinary architecture and engineering consultants. Not only have we met the challenge of competing with leading western firms in the Middle East, but we succeeded in building Dar Group, a global international alliance of specialist consultants and a leading participant in American and European markets.
Our corporate roots in Lebanon have undoubtedly provided the firm with a platform that has served it exceptionally well as it evolved into a global presence. Lebanon has endowed the firm with a number of advantages sparking advancement and progress. Among the many advantages, I would like to mention the renowned Lebanese entrepreneurial spirit, high work ethics, excellent education, multi-lingual versatility all of which have established a deeply rooted tradition of highly skilled and creative professionals working throughout the Arab world, African continent, and beyond.
We have indeed benefited from outstanding technical and entrepreneurial individuals who have led and managed the firm so far. But individuals with leadership potential require an institutional environment where they can emerge, thrive, and guide others along the way.
I believe a fundamental part of Dar’s success is the highly motivating corporate environment providing leadership potential and the mechanism necessary for the perpetual renewal of the firm’s leadership. By the end of the 1960s,we had 300 employees. As the firm grew, it became necessary to develop a leading and committed cadre. Extending ownership to individuals showing remarkable leadership potential was the answer; I was certain this was the only way to sustain the firm’s advancement. On January 1st, 1970, I effectively gave away 60% of my share –being the sole owner- to ten senior engineers and architects recognized for their contribution. The impact was instantaneous; Dar became a highly energized enterprise as a result.
I believe concentrating ownership among a few key individuals was the best way to keep them motivated and running a successful firm. The rewards of ownership provided the incentive for individuals to assume increased responsibilities. Immediately following our restructuring we opened up onto new market, and delved into new areas of expertise.
By the end of the 1970s, we had grown to around 1,000 employees, we had to increase the number of top managers again and keep our commitment to leadership renewal. Those retiring or leaving the firm automatically passed their shares back to be ‘recycled’ to the next generation of leaders. The firm buys back the shares from departing partners. New partners acquire their shares based on the net asset value per share and start earning profit on them immediately. Only when the initial value of the acquired shares is covered by their earned profits can partners start receiving full dividend payments. I have no doubt that my decisions in 1970 to embrace the leadership cadre as collective owners of the firm and in 1979 to provide for the recycling of ownership have been fundamental in developing a sustainable structure and strong values. I equally have no doubt that the partners’ energy and enthusiasm stem from a clear vision and a corporate dynamism inherent within the firm.
As our enterprise grew larger, I became increasingly aware of the challenge to provide a corporate culture and management structure combining three key ingredients
- Processes to continually harness the creative potential our employees
- Mechanisms to monitor and assure the quality of the deliverables to our clients
- Vision and purpose channelling energy and achieving success
We have introduced periodical assessment processes to identify high-flyers and set them on a fast- track through our corporate structure. This system is bolstered by a structured bonus scheme and flexible remuneration plan. The firm encourages individual advancement and supports staff participation in seminars, conferences, and training programs.
Shepherding the technical quality of our work are our technical directors-half of the firm’s leadership cadre. Technical directors ensure that the departments they head maintain state-of-the-art design standards, the most modern techniques, and international practices. Our corporate culture shuns bureaucracy, but we do engage in world-class quality assurance conforming with international norms.
The other half of our leadership cadre are the dedicated directors of operation primarily responsible for coordination with clients, human and technical resources among projects and timely deliverables according to the program set forth for each project.
Our vision is multi-dimensional
- A commitment to provide a corporate environment conducive to continual leadership renewal. We are committed to identify leadership potential among our young professionals and admit them as shareholders into the leadership cadre when they are ready, irrespective of age. As a result we have substantial representation of younger professionals within our leadership cadre. The firm today has twenty eight partners half in their 30s or 40s. The age structure of the partners is an added guarantee for sustainability and continuity.
- A distinction among our peers in the business: our roots are in a developing country. Our Middle Eastern roots arm us with an intense commitment to play a comprehensive and independent role in all aspects of physical development in our region and beyond.
- A commitment to long-term participation and life-changing endeavours in our client’s communities have led us to dedicate half of our leadership cadre to serve as directors in areas where we operate; they live, along with their family and team, in the markets they serve. They understand their clients’ requirements and deal with all aspects of the project from conceptualisation to completion.
- The establishment of Dar Group, since the mid 1980, has further cemented our commitment to compete with the leading firms in the global marketplace and has led us to establish a structural link with advanced market segments
Dar group now counts
A full service architecture and interior design firm, design excellence in healthcare, education, transportation facilities, education, and tourism facilities.
Specializing in civil & structural engineering, bridges & roadways systems, rail, airport & seaport, high-rise buildings
Specializing in the oil and gas global industry
Interior design firm specializing in the hospitality industry, space planning, furniture and lighting design
Specializing in railway: economic & feasibility studies, operating methods, maintenance and management.
Electricity, gas & water economic strategists
Specializing in aviation and airport consultant and management
The group members are managed as independent businesses responsible for maintaining their leading position in their domestic markets and specialist sectors. Cooperation and cross-application transfers are part of the group professional practices.
Dar’s record over its first half century combines engineering and design excellence, and commitment. Our aim is to fulfil our clients’ aspirations with the highest level of professionalism and quality. We have tailored a corporate culture to facilitate the continual renewal of a dynamic and committed leadership at all levels. I truly believe that Dar provides an instructive model for professional service businesses in other emerging markets as well as in advanced nations.