During my career as a Researcher; once in a blue moon I’d have the opportunity to rub shoulders with certain members of the Elite class. These guys were considered untouchable, unreachable, and often unpredictable.
I was making the rounds to meet Construction Company Engineers to conduct a research of the equipment they used during site surveys and the problems they faced.
During this endeavour; my task was to take note of what was lacking and what could be improved.
I came up with a few suggestions I thought could help streamline the process.
Such as Using Photogrammetry instead of LiDar, Using 360 Cameras instead of DSLRs, and Using IR sensors for infrared imaging.
I wrote my two cents in a rough draft and mailed it to my supervisor.
In a bold move; I decided to send the draft to all the people I’d had encounters with — as a way of showing gratitude.
A few days later I received a strange email; it was from a representative of a Muti-Billion dollar construction company inviting me to their Head-Office.
Naturally I accepted; out of curiosity, and see what this was about.
When I arrived; I was informed that the CEO was waiting for me. It took a few seconds for that news to settle in, so I asked the Receptionist, “I think you might be mistaken, I don’t think I’m here to meet the Chief Executive Officer.”
She dialled an extension number, and asked the person on the other end of the line; “There’s a Nabeel Tahir here, I was informed he is to meet Mr. X. Could you please confirm this with him.”
She put the phone down, looked up at me and said — we’ll have someone show you to his office.
I couldn’t gather my thoughts as to why this apparently busy, executive would have any interest in meeting me.
I was escorted to a beautiful floor; in the centre of it was a Bar service, gourmet style coffee. And behind it was a beautiful view of the harbour.
I was amazed, baffled, and euphoric.
The gentlemen showed me to a sliding glass door and said, “He’s in there..His secretary should be able to help you out.” and left.
I went through and the secretary, I assumed, got up and out from behind her glass-enclosed office and requested I follow her.
A few steps later I was facing a Wooden Door that read,
“Chief Executive Officer”.
And so I went in.
Upon my entrance, He got up from his seat and said; “So you’re it. The guy who’s trying to put us out of business..haha”.
I replied with an awkward smile.
He sat me down, asked me if I’d like anything to drink. I said no; out of fear that I may vomit out of anxiety.
He then went on to discuss how he’d come across my research.
It was about Twenty minutes into the conversation that he asked me, “So why do you think I’m the CEO?”
I wasn’t quite sure how to answer the question so I chose the most obvious one I could come with, “You must be very experienced with the Construction Business.”
He laughed and said, “No..I’m an accountant by profession. See son, the thing is; my job isn’t to run the business. It’s to run the people. And make sure the people stay in line. I don’t have to know anything about the business to do my job. Which is why we have some very smart people working for us. And my job is that I can trust their opinion.”
To which I didn’t really know how to respond, but silence.
He went on to explain certain things to me about how the construction business works and then said, “So here’s what I was hoping. If you’ll allow me; I would like to take you to a few of our construction sites. And I would like you to write down everything you see that you’d do differently — write down any and every mistake you notice.”
It sounded like a challenge, so I accepted.
And so we proceeded to the car-park. First time I’d ever sat in a Mercedes Maybach. I was in awe, but tried to contain my excitement.
I felt like a celebrity.
We made our rounds and I quietly jotted down things I noticed. To cut the long story short; we visited about 6 construction sites, two of which were just simply plain sites and construction had not commenced yet.
We got back to the office and he asked me what I thought.
I started with the technicals, told him there was a lack of communication, safety issues, productivity management gaps; etc.
And then I threw down what he wasn’t expecting; I said “I noticed fear.”
With his eyes wide open and he learned forward and questioned, “What fear? Fear of falling off, Fear of Dying?”
I said “No Sir, I meant Fear of your presence. I noticed workers started doing things differently when you showed up. That was out of fear.”
He looked down at his hands, looked back at me and said, “That it, you’re right.”
“My presence is all it takes for the issues you raised to disappear.”
I called it arrogance but he was content it was necessary.
He explained to me why he didn’t like my research.
“Your Research missed an important point; the Human factor.”
I realised he was right, I was analysing data. And so humans became a number.
I didn’t take into account emotional or physiological factors; but I explained to him how that wasn’t the point of my research to begin with.
He finally proclaimed, “Son, I don’t care what the point was. You can change people, You can’t change human nature.”
He offered me a position within the firm shortly after; an offer to join the Innovation and Strategy team and function as a point-man to oversee projects for him. He said I’d be his man and do things hand-on.
I explained to him how this wasn’t my goal. My goal was to minimise risk and automate the industry.
He insisted the industry runs as it is; I thought of him as a dinosaur failing to admit to the inevitable extinction.
He offered me $250,000/ year to give up on my dream.
I did the math and realised Cost / Benefit ratio wasn’t to my benefit and turned down the offer.
We still remain acquainted to this day and write to each other.
Despite our differences in opinion; we’ve both learnt a great deal from one another.