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Spotlight - Innovative Design Build

image Ahad “Joe” Ghafoor says his design-build business is his passion.

DALLAS/FT WORTH - Ahad “Joe” Ghafoor has moved from his childhood home in Pakistan, studied for several years in two countries (and even broke his back!) to work in the construction industry. Even when things got tough for Ghafoor, he got tougher, and found ways around obstacles to create the life and work he wanted. Now, two decades after starting his own design-build construction firm, Ghafoor still is willing to do whatever it takes to keep living his dream.


Tell me about your upbringing.
    I was born in Karachi, Pakistan. My mother was a homemaker and my father was a civil engineer at British construction company GAMMON from the age of 18 until he retired; he only had one job all his life. I had three brothers and four sisters, and I was the youngest.
    As a child I was always interested in historical buildings, which is still my favorite subject. There are a lot of old buildings in existence from the British era in Pakistan today.

Where did you get your education?
    I attended high school at Cantt Public School Karachi. Then I went to London, England; I did my O Levels and A Levels there. Then I studied at the School of Architecture at Shepherd’s Bush in London, England.
    I left London in 1979 and came to the United States in 1980 for my education. I landed in New York, but I wanted to come to Texas because I liked the weather and I had some friends that came to Fort Worth first. I applied to University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at Arlington and University of Houston. I was admitted to the University of Houston, so I moved from Fort Worth to Houston.
    To support myself while I attended school, I worked the night shift at Travel Lodge from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and that’s where I used to do my homework.  I did it for six years; it was tough. That was the toughest part: Staying up all night and then going to university in the daytime. If I had to do it again, I probably wouldn’t! I finally earned a Bachelor’s in Architecture and moved back to Fort Worth.

What path did your life take post-college?
    I went to work for Everman Corporation, where I designed precast concrete beams for bridges. Then, I had a few contract jobs for other businesses.
    In 1991, I was working for the world’s 11th largest company specializing in rehab of infrastructure. I was assigned to rehab a Phillips 66 refinery in Borger, TX. During the course of my job, I had an accident and broke my back; my L4 Lumbar fractured. I came back to Dallas and after a few months, the company laid me off. After my back surgery, I tried to get back to a similar job, but I was unable to secure employment due to my injury.
    I struggled for a more than a year. During my regular check ups with the doctor who had performed the surgery on my back in Fort Worth, I informed the doctor of my limited back movement disability causing me to secure a reasonable job offer. The doctor offered me a disability note so that I could draw disability, but I declined his well-intended offer because of my personal belief that I should earn my living by the best of my ability. I have limited back movement and the ability to perform heavy-duty work even today as we speak, but some days are very difficult.  

How did you turn your misfortune around?

    Well, I always welcome challenging positions, and when an opportunity was presented by luck or circumstances, I decided to avail the opportunity by going into business for myself in 1997. I built my first 5400sf house in Colleyville, not too far from where I live now.

What was it like for you, having worked for others in various jobs to owning your own business?

    You can study from the books all your life but it’s entirely different when you are actually practically doing it.  It is challenging to find the right kind of trade-experienced subcontractors to do quality work.
    My biggest fear, even today, is that when I demand quality work from my workers, if left without supervision mistakes can be made and sometimes be very costly. I just wanted to make sure everything was done properly. I didn’t want to leave a trail of unhappy customers.
How did your business evolve over the years?
    When I started my business, I did residential 100%. I’ve built tons of houses from the ground up. Everything from concept to completion was my responsibility – from brick selection to paint color coordination, turnkey.
    But, in 2007 through 2009, when the residential market went downhill, I re-invented myself and began looking into commercial remodeling tenant finish-out projects. I invested my time in taking classes and earned five Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) Certifications: Principal Design-Build, Project Delivery, Risk Management, Transportation and Waste Water Management. I also earned registration with Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUB) in Texas and became qualified to do federal and state jobs.
    When the market went down, I didn’t quit; I re-educated myself in a slightly different direction but still stayed in construction. Now I am doing commercial and residential renovations, additions and rehabilitations to existing structures. I am cautiously optimistic that the construction industry and economic market will stay sturdy for some time to come.

Is there a direction you would like to take your business in the future?

    I have always felt like an innovator with global experiences in design-build concepts and I feel like I have a responsibility to share my journey and energy to inspire future generations.
    In recent years, I’ve focused my time and energy on the green building culture, digital transformations of solar power and off-the-grid living lessons. With dramatic increases in energy costs, many of our clients have come to realize that building in an environmentally friendly manner also means making smart decisions that translate into financial savings over time. Clients with health problems are also interested in green construction. Whatever a customer’s concerns or motivations, Innovative Design Build tailors the project to address specific needs and interests.

What are some of your favorite projects that you’ve done in the past 20 years?
    Among my favorite projects is the LBJ Library in Austin’s refurbishing/addition to the existing structure; I enjoyed it because it was a federal job and everything had to be done by federal specifications. A very well established consulting firm, Raba Kistner in San Antonio, monitored my performance progress. They logged in very encouraging comments.
     I did a rehabilitation project of La Mansion, a 300-plus room hotel in San Antonio. That was a good learning project.

Who has inspired you in your life and in your career?
    I have always admired Pakistan founder Quaid-i-Azam, President John “Jack” Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Winston Churchill and President George H. W. Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker for his English, proper accent and pronunciation.
    I also admired a former infantry marine, my former boss, Walter W. Ward, who passed away last year. His Irish ancestry was reflected in his good character and he was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He fought in the Korean War. He was a very good man, and I am still in contact with his family.
    As a matter of fact, I’ve kept a very good rapport with most of my former bosses. I believe it is a very valuable asset I have which very few people can claim. There is nothing in this world that I would not do for them if they asked me.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
    An idle mind is the devil’s workshop so I try to keep myself busy by fixing things around the house.
    I also like to travel, but by car, not by air. I have been to the Grand Canyon, which was beautiful and inspired me. I saw the Hoover Dam, which I have seen many documentaries about. I have seen the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which amazed me. I have seen the London Bridge – open and shut, which doesn’t happen very often. I saw Big Ben in London. I also saw the Empire State Building and also the World Trade Center Towers before they fell. I’ve been to New Mexico and Colorado and Niagra Falls, just name the few.

Have you always been interested in seeing the world?

    When I was in fourth grade, I collected stamps. I had three or four albums full of stamps from around the world, don’t know what happened to them!

Tell me about your family.
    My wife has a masters degree in English from Pakistan. In recent years she graduated from Tarrant County Community College (TCCC) in paralegal studies. She would like to pursue her career in law; she has worked at the Tarrant County Attorney General`s office in the child support and bankruptcy departments.
    My daughter is now finishing Colleyville Middle School and going to Grapevine High School. She is a very good student and is receiving a “Best Student Award” in her History class. I’ve been teaching her to drive on Sundays. She’s also taking Taekwondo classes, and is two belts shy of getting her black belt. I am proud of that; it is something she wanted to do. After high school, she wants to study medicine or wants to be an IT engineer developing robots.

Do you think you will continue to live and work in the area or will you move or work in a new industry?
    I like it here in the Metroplex. I’ve been here since 1980 and I know the area and surrounding cities and counties well. I have also come to know some of the city officials and others from the construction industry such as engineers and architects.
    I have volunteered in my community for four years. To the City of Hurst Citizen Police Academy, I was appointed as a vice president for two years when the president was commissioned and he joined the police force; I was then elected for two more years. I have volunteered for GCISD budget steering committee and for the Dallas Election Commission.
    I will stay in this line of work. I have a small but dedicated field crew. I am in search of a reasonable yard where I can store my material and have room to expand and then I can buy my own construction equipment rather than rent equipment. That would be an ideal set-up, and I am working towards that goal.

It sounds like you have really enjoyed your work.

    I love what I do. I’m very fortunate that I chose the field I am in. Maybe I was influenced by my late father to follow in his footsteps and go into architecture, and then circumstances brought me to this field.
    I would not trade my profession for any other profession in the world. This is my passion and I love what I do. It all starts on a piece of paper with a few scribbles and lines, talking to the client, listening and grasping what their desire is, then a few sketches, and finally on to the computer (drafting board). I do all of those steps and try to turn other people’s dreams into reality.
    Located in Colleyville, Innovative Design Build offers custom design and turnkey construction services. –mjm

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Melissa Jones-Meyer dfweditor@constructionnews.net