If you’ve ever wondered about the power of hard work and dreaming big, one of the best examples around today showing the value of both attributes is Niranjan Shah.
Today, he’s a successful CEO of an engineering consulting firm based in Chicago that has more than 200 employees. He and his team at Globetrotter Engineering are responsible for several major public works projects over the years, including an expansion of Interstate 355 along with an addition to O’Hare International Airport.
Beyond consulting in structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering needs for all types of clients, the company now offers architectural design services.
Over the past 40 years, the engineer and business executive has spent time with all of the American presidents in that period and has been personally asked by them and other leaders to serve on a number of committees and task forces, some focused on the State of Illinois, and some that sought representatives from members of the business community throughout the entire country. These have touched on everything from improving education to finance to overall economic development.
Even though he puts a good deal of time and effort into developing his career, he always makes sure to put time and effort into spending time with his family.
As his professional life and personal life continue to do well, Niranjan Shah has had the opportunity to focus more on philanthropy. He’s helped several non-profits and charities along with people affected by natural disasters, both the U.S. and his native India. He also enjoys being a mentor to others and a consultant for the engineering industry.
Niranjan Shah’s early days
What makes all of Niranjan Shah’s accomplishments so interesting is that he started with next to nothing. But his strong determination and belief in himself – not to mention support from those around – helped get him moving in the right direction.
He was born in an impoverished village in India in the Gujarat area in 1944. In past interviews, he said his home lacked luxuries like modern plumbing, electricity and running water.
Yet he said everyone was always friendly, looked out for each other, and worked hard. Members of the village also helped him and his family when they felt it was time to go to school. He enrolled at Sardar Patel University and studied civil engineering at the school’s Birda Engineering College, graduating in 1967. He hoped this knowledge would let him help make improvements to his village and other villages with a similar lack of infrastructure.
His education wasn’t done yet. He decided to study in the United States and received a full scholarship from the University of Mississippi. He earned a master’s degree in civil engineering in 1971.
Next came further education at Harvard Business School, where he attended the school’s executive management program.
Following the completion of these educational programs, it was time for Niranjan Shah to go out into the workforce.
He worked at a few engineering firms for a few years, but was disappointed that he didn’t have much of an opportunity to use many of the skills that interested him and he trained for.
He didn’t get chosen for the projects he was interested in, and the projects he was assigned weren’t that interesting or didn’t benefit from his diverse background.
So, in 1974, he took a bold step for a newer graduate: he opened his own engineering consulting company. His “dream job” became real and he was able to choose the type of projects to work on. His company, Globetrotters Engineering Corporation, grew over the years, and he hired a variety of engineers and others with diverse skills, which meant even more expertise was available to clients.
Part of its strength was bidding on municipal projects and getting results if the company was chosen.
Some of the projects over the years Globetrotters Engineering has been involved in included the Deep Tunnel Project in Chicago, which helped improve water quality and reduce flooding danger; working with Chicago O’Hare Airport to add International Terminal 5; reconstruction of I-80, I-355 South, and U.S. 6. It also focused on building other infrastructure, including Chicago’s 911 Emergency Communications Center, the Embassy Security program, and extending fiberoptic service to the whole State of Illinois.
As the number of projects increased, the company’s reputation in the community and the industry. It also has received a variety of awards, including an Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award for the Deep Tunnel, and a Consultant Exceptional Service Award for its U.S. 6 efforts.
Infrastructure and consulting also take place in other countries, including Central and South America, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Africa.
Niranjan Shah has made the effort to let U.S. and world leaders know about everything he’s doing and how engineering can benefit lives.
He’s met every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan the early 1980s. President Bill Clinton even invited him and his wife to spend the night in the White house, the first Indian-American couple to do so. They also had many lunches and dinners there, and President Clinton sought his advice on many projects. President Clinton also appointed him to the Goldwater Foundation for Excellence in Education.
Niranjan Shah was also part of the Democratic Finance Committee during the Clinton Administration and the National Steering Committee in 1996.
Niranjan Shah today
Niranjan Shah likes to talk about identifying your passion or passions and then taking steps to find opportunities to pursue them professionally.
It’s not always easy to translate what brings you joy into a career, especially since so much of our American culture makes clear divisions between “what you do for fun” and “what you do for work.”
The fun things are supposed to be for hobbies and done when you’re not working (but hopefully not at the expense of family time.) The work things are not supposed to be fun but opportunities to make money and help your family and community.
Niranjan Shah is an advocate of finding ways to have fun with your job, which can make the experience more meaningful and worth putting the effort in.
You can still have your “non-work” opportunities like hobbies that you pursue, but you also can find ways to incorporate your passion and interests into something that pays the bills.
He also continues to try to stay humble and not forget his roots. He’s been involved in efforts to increase trade and economic prosperity for India. He worked with the U.S. Committee for Foreign Relations to improve communications and relations between both countries and was able to build a medical clinic and high school in his home village.
When an earthquake hit that region in 2001, he also made sure more resources headed that way, including organizing the delivery of more than 200,000 pounds of medical supplies, food, and clothes. He later provided even more funds for disaster relief and reconstruction. This selfless commitment earned him the Glory of Gujarat Award in 2005.
Along with a need to give back, Niranjan Shah hopes his efforts can inspire others to find ways to work hard and succeed, no matter their initial circumstances.
One piece of advice he likes to share is to do your best to keep an open mind and avoid saying things like, “this will never work.” Instead, look for creative ways to make an opportunity come together, especially if your passions could be involved.