Ash was born in the West Bank (Palestine). Due to the constant conflicts & oppression many Palestinians faced during the 1970s, Ash's father moved his family including Ash, Ash's sister and mother to Fitchburg, MA when he was just 5-years-old. He remembers his father working a variety of custodial jobs and other minimum wage jobs just to be able to afford rent & food.
As Ash began to grow older, he began realizing his curiosity for how things worked, mechanically. He became fascinated with the sun and how the sun could provide heat & energy. After high school, he went on to get his degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts.
During college, Ash would work a variety of jobs including a McDonald's cook, stocking retail stores, and receptionist at the University's Dean's office.
After college, he worked a job in Aerospace, but quickly realized his true passion was in developing solutions for green energy and solving the climate change crisis. He went on a quick stint at the University of Washington to get his Masters degree with a focus in Energy Efficiency.
Since then, Ash has never looked back.
Today, he is a partner & CMO at McKinstry - a national leader in designing, constructing, operating and maintaining high-performing buildings.
McKinstry has about 1,600 employees nationwide, and is a leader in the development of net-zero energy buildings.
00:00:04 Ash Faraj: Hey guys, welcome back to another episode of ExecuTalks. It’s the show where you train your brain to think like today’s top executives. I’m your host Ash. In this episode, you will get to hear a story about how someone went from growing up in the projects to becoming a top leader, not only in the company, but in an entire industry. Now this person also happens to coincidentally have the same name as me, Ash. The name is Ash Awad, current partner and Chief Market Officer of McKinstry, a national leader in designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining high-performing buildings. They now have about 1600 employees nationwide and are at the forefront of making net zero energy buildings ubiquitous.
00:00:57 Ash Faraj: Hey guys, really quick. Season 3 is coming up soon. Before we get into the show, I wanted to let you in on a little secret. If you’re subscribed to our newsletter on our website you have the opportunity to actually join our interviews as an audience member. If one of our upcoming guests is someone you want to connect with, ask career advice from, or just have been dying to get in touch with, now you can. Some of our guests for Season 3 include: Redfin CTO, Bridget Frey; Fortive CEO, Jim Lico; Systima Technologies, CFO Taylor Banks, and many other well-known executives. If you have any questions feel free to send me a personal email at Ash@ExecuTalks.com. Otherwise, please subscribe to our newsletter so that you can participate.
00:01:49 Ash Faraj: So, Ash was born in the West Bank which is part of Palestine. And he moved to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, when he was just five years old along with his family because of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the oppression that Ashe’s father faced among the many other Palestinians. Ashe’s father worked a variety of custodial jobs, and other minimum-wage jobs, just to be able to afford rent and food for his family. As Ash began to grow older, he began realizing his curiosity for how things worked mechanically. He became fascinated with solar energy. And after high school he went on to get his degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Massachusetts. He actually paid his own way through college. During college, Ash would work a variety of jobs including McDonalds cook, stocking retail stores, and being a receptionist at the University’s Dean’s Office. After college, he worked in aerospace, but quickly realized that his true passion was in developing solutions for green energy and solving the climate change crisis. He went on a quick stint at the University of Washington to get his master’s degree with a focus in Energy Efficiency. And after getting his master’s degree, he landed a job with a small company in energy efficiency as their first energy engineer. After several years, he joined McKinstry. Today, McKinstry is one of the largest mechanical contractors in the nation. It has about 1600 employees nationwide, and is a leader in the development of net zero energy buildings.
00:03:32 Ash Faraj: This is the first time I’ll ever say this. Ash, welcome to the show!
00:03:36 Ash Awad: Yeah!
00:03:36 Ash Faraj: Welcome for joining us. We’re going to start off with a quick icebreaker. What is your favorite book?
00:03:43 Ash Awad: I am a big fan, and this is a book that Kenneth Follett wrote, it’s called Pillars of the Earth. It’s a very long and thick book.
00:03:54 Ash Faraj: Favorite movie?
00:03:54 Ash Awad: Boy, now you’re going to show my other side. I was trying to be so enlightened here. I got to tell you my favorite movie, [laughter] I want to be really direct here, I like Goodfellas. [laughter] I just like Goodfellas.
00:04:10 Ash Faraj: Aww, so that’s the real Ash, huh? [laughter]
00:04:13 Ash Awad: Well, I just… You know, I don’t know, I uh… it’s interesting. But by the way, my second favorite movie is the Princess Bride. [laughter] I don’t know, but that’s the truth! I like Goodfellas and I like the Princess Bride. Those are my number one and number two movies.
00:04:33 Ash Faraj: Who’s a public figure that you look up to?
00:04:35 Ash Awad: That’s a very good question. I guess when I think of public figures, I think of well-known public figures. I like, for instance, you know -- he was in the White House. But prior to being in the White House, Van Jones really led a pretty significant movement around pathways from poverty. He’s been focused on green initiatives, and then he’s been a CNN commentator. Recently actually, I really appreciated his particular perspectives that he had after the murder of George Floyd when he said that it really was -- and I’m paraphrasing -- super important for all of us to act locally. To act personally to -- yes of course, look at big policy changes that you can help affect, but make sure that you’re actually doing the things in your local communities that matter. That make a difference. I’ve always liked Van, but I really liked that message.
00:05:35 Ash Faraj: What’s your favorite vacation spot?
00:05:38 Ash Awad: I was born in Palestine. I came over in 1974. I was actually just about to turn five years old when we came over. And every time I head back to the West Bank, even though there aren’t beaches, and it’s constrained, and it’s oppressed because of all the challenging issues that are happening there. There’s a lot of human rights issues. I must tell you that, even though I left there when I was very, very young, every time I go back it is my most favorite vacation spot. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love beaches and I love mountains like everybody else, but if you’re asking me what my favorite vacation spot is, it would be al-Bireh Ramallah right in the West Bank of Palestine.
00:06:33 Ash Faraj: I love that. Favorite dessert?
00:06:35 Ash Awad: I love Knafeh [crosstalk]. That’s my favorite dessert. I’m not a big dessert guy, but if someone offered me a slice of Knafeh which as you know is just a little bit of pastry with some cheese in it and a bit of sweet on it, I would take that every time.
00:06:58 Ash Faraj: So, now we’re getting into the story. I know you had very humble beginnings. Can you kind of paint us a picture of Ash’s life as a child?
00:07:07 Ash Awad: Well, yeah. I mentioned this. I was born in the West Bank. We actually, uh… My dad left -- you know my mom, and my dad, and my sister was born at that point; she is a year younger than I am. We left mostly as my dad tells the story because it had gotten to the point, in around that time period and around that city, the village that we lived in where every time something happened that was political, or something happened that was standing up for the occupation that was happening, they would round up the men that were my dad’s age. They would take them away for days and depending on how they were trying to get information about what happened, there was quite a bit of beatings that would happen though. It is a pretty sad story. It’s a very long story. But suffice it to say that I think it got the place where, after that happened many times -- my dad was very happy living there. I don’t think he was not one that ever thought he would leave Palestine. He was a postman by the way, which, just as a side note, is a very well-paying, a very well-respected job. So, it’s not like he was seeking opportunity where some people kind of have don’t have jobs. He had a well-paying job. He was very well-known, very well-respected. But it just got to the point that he and my mom just could not handle the idea that he would disappear for three days at a time, come back all roughed up, and then next time -- even if you had nothing to do with it. They would just collect all the men and that’s what they would do.
00:08:44 Ash Faraj: And the Palestinians would do this?
00:08:46 Ash Awad: No, the Israelis would do this. The Israeli soldiers would do this. I have no issues with Israeli citizens, but Israeli soldiers would do this. That would happen often. My dad wasn’t the only one. But when we got to the United States, Massachusetts, obviously my dad needed to find work. Over my young childhood, I remember my dad having a multitude of different jobs that ranged from being a security guard at Foster Grant glasses to working at Burger King, actually as a custodian, all the way to having a hot dog canteen truck and many, many other jobs in the middle. We did grow up in the projects in Meadowbrook Village in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, which we never really thought of as the projects. But then after we moved out, we realized, oh my God, we lived in the projects. So, in terms of the work ethic that my parents taught us was very important. Never seemed important at the moment. We were always chasing after the idea of work harder, do more, study hard. But I think they understood that to actually really get the opportunity set up, they needed us to work harder than we may have ever wanted to work. They were working very hard, both my mom and dad. In short, that created probably something that has lived with me for a very long time, and started when I was very, very young, which is a really strong work ethic. And I think those, you call them humble beginnings, but those early days wasn’t easy. I think that it wasn’t easy being not white growing up. Particularly in the late seventies. There was a lot of issues: Palestinian terrorism, the Olympics, and then the hostage crisis that happened in Iran. That really put a lot of pressure on us. My dad as a matter of fact changed, didn’t change his name, but started to go by Chico. He actually told us the most important thing is to not tell people you’re Arab or else he would worry that we would be discriminated against. I’m not sure how else to put it, but particularly those young days we persevered through a lot of, what I in hindsight look back at, and find to be pretty challenging times.
00:11:23 Ash Faraj: Yeah, yeah. You know this. But as human beings we tend to base our memory off of our emotions. I’d be curious to hear throughout your childhood, even throughout high school into becoming an adult, what emotion do you remember most frequently when you look back?
00:11:45 Ash Awad: Feeling that I couldn’t let my family down. You know it was just -- to even to this day by the way -- Just this core feeling that I couldn’t let… I mean I thought it was always this way. And over my life as I matured it started to formulate better in my brain. But my grandparents did what they could to allow my dad to be successful. And my dad sacrificed actually; left the country he loved, doing a thing he loved, because of the oppression he felt. Came to the United States. In everything he did, and my mom did, they gave us their back to stand on. They gave us their back to stand on. Therefore, if you witness that, if you see the people around you that care about you doing so much for you. So much that they have set up and sacrificed to make sure they gave you the opportunity. You just don’t want to let them down, and I feel the same way about my own kids now. I kind of feel like there’s a responsibility I have for them. I don’t want to let them down or my wife. I don’t want to let anybody down. I don’t think of that as too much pressure. But I think of that as something that, ever since I was a kid, that always seemed to be somewhere in my brain, rattling around in there.
00:13:12 Ash Faraj: I love that. That makes a lot of sense.
00:13:19 Ash Faraj: Hey guys, hope you’re enjoying the show so far. Just a quick reminder that every rating and review helps us help more people. So if you have just five seconds, and I know you have five seconds, please, please, please, leave us a quick rating review on Apple Podcasts so that we can grow organically in order to reach more people and help more people. Now back to the show.
00:13:40 Ash Faraj: There’s a story that you mentioned when you first sort of got the spark or passion you had for engineering and how things work. Whereas when you were visiting your grandparents’ house. I know that story, but can you share that for the audience?
00:13:57 Ash Awad: Yeah, first of all, I took everything apart and never knew how to put it back together. I think when that happens to any kid, immediately you should brand them a geek or an engineer. Because once they start to take things apart, [laughter] and aren’t sure how to put them together, they’re at least curious enough to want to know how things work. But yeah, for me when I was eleven or twelve years old, we visited my grandparents. It was the first time we ever visited my grandparents. We went back and we saw them. And on the roof of their house was a solar system, but the solar system was just fascinating to me. I was just super curious as a kid back then. When we grew up, fuel oil or things that actually burned in your boiler that smelled in your closet, they didn’t have any of that stuff. It was just -- all the heat they ever got was actually from these solar panels. As I grew up and we would go back and visit more often, I started to understand more of how that system worked, in particular in high school. It was just curiosity for me. It was interesting. I didn’t really understand climate change. It was just fascinating that the sun could do that much work for the creation of hot water and heat. Everything.
00:15:24 Ash Faraj: How do you remember college? What was the college experience like for you?
00:15:28 Ash Awad: I remember my intelligence wasn’t as great as everybody else’s intelligence that seemed to be around me. I don’t know [laughter] what the hell I missed along the way in high school. But I would sit in classes and people would understand certain things much quicker than me. Everybody else seemed to be going play Ultimate Frisbee or something. I seemed to be… I had to go haul up somewhere to study. I also paid for college on my own, just because of the burden that my family had in. If I wasn’t studying, I really had to work. I mean, I had no choice. For the most part, I was working 20, 30, 40 hours a week at the same time that I was actually studying. The combination of not being as smart as everybody else and having to work to kind of pay tuition, just -- I just loved every part of it.
00:16:20 Ash Faraj: Just curious. What were you doing for work? Was it like…?
00:16:24 Ash Awad: Yeah, this is interesting. I did two things. I got very lucky. I found it on… This is a great story. I ended up working at the Dean’s office, and here’s what I did. In the Administration Building there was this little countertop area that people would call into. And they would say, hey, I need to know a little bit more about this program, or this class, or the hours of this gym. And here’s what we would do. If we knew the answer right away, we would answer. If we knew that the answer was longer, we literally had cassette tapes. [laughter] Yeah, I swear to you. Not 8-track by the way. I was a little younger than that. We literally had cassette tapes. The benefit was, that because I worked in the Dean’s Office -- and the dean in particular, not of the College of Engineering, this is the Dean of the Chancellor or the university education side -- I got a key to the Dean’s Office. And the Dean’s Office had the best computers. They actually had the first generation of Macintosh!
00:17:33 Ash Faraj: That’s post Commodore VIC-20, right?
00:17:36 Ash Awad: Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course. Come ‘on man. We’re way advanced man. [laughter] Those are the days of the 8086. If you’re talking computers. This is -- they’re pre-Pentium. So, now I want you to imagine that every time I had a project to go do, here I was hauled up in the Dean’s Office. I finished my job. Everybody would go home. I’d have the key to lock up mostly, because I… and I would sit behind this little corner computer that they had set up that no-one else seemed to be using. And I would just use this thing. I would sit there until 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning rocking out, getting my projects done. I mean, how lucky was I, right? [laughter] But then I also worked for retail. And actually, when I first started college, I actually worked for McDonalds. I actually worked for McDonalds from when I was 15 and 16 years on until I was in college. As a matter of fact, I got a little scholarship from them to go to school. So, yeah, those are the different types of jobs that I had. But the Dean’s Office was the big one and retail. I was a box boy at a retail place. I was behind the [indiscernible] stocking.
00:18:51 Ash Faraj: What did you do after college?
00:18:53 Ash Awad: I was interested in energy. I was interested, interesting enough, in propulsion systems. Jet engines in particular because there’s a lot of heat transfer and thermal dynamics. So, I thought that I was pretty certain that I was interested in energy. But I felt that I was going to end up working in propulsion systems in particular. Because I didn’t really understand energy efficiency. Not a lot of people talked about solar panels in Massachusetts back then. It seemed like my experience was guiding me -- at least academic experience and the interviews that I was getting was guiding me to work in aerospace. But I had a couple of interviews. I got a couple of jobs. And then I realized very quickly that it wasn’t really of interest to me. That I was going to become very bored very quickly. So, what I did, I started looking for universities to go get my master’s program, and that actually would have a little bit more of an energy concentration. I ended up at the University of Washington. Ended up getting my master’s in a very short time at the University of Washington, Seattle. Right after I was done that, I actually ended up being very lucky to land an energy engineering role at a company that eventually became Siemens Building Technologies, but back 27-28 years ago was called Landis & Gyr Powers. And I was the first energy engineer they’d ever hired. The good news is they didn’t know what they were supposed to do with me, and the better news was, I wasn’t sure what the hell to do with myself. [laughter] So it was a match made in heaven. Week one, day one, it was just interesting to me. Right out of the get-go, for some reason, didn’t know what my career would hold, but I just knew that this topic, this area, was something that I was very excited about and interested in.
00:20:49 Ash Faraj: Landis & Gyr slash Siemens. How long were you doing that for?
00:20:53 Ash Awad: Seven or eight years.
00:20:55 Ash Faraj: What are some of the initial rough patches of -- because this is your first time in the field. You wanted to be energy engineering. What are a few maybe rough patches that you faced early on, and what lessons did you feel you learned?
00:21:12 Ash Awad: The first thing I learned is that coming out of college, at least out of the academic pathway that I took, did not -- I don’t mean that as a slight to the University of Massachusetts or the University of Washington -- but it did not prepare me at all. At all. I was not prepared at all to work in the field that I went into. I’ll give you a very simple example. The first meeting I went to the client asked us to install a particular, very simple, system on a heating and ventilation unit. Very simple in hindsight. Like, today, it was embarrassing that coming out of that meeting, even though I know it in my head, coming out of that meeting, I literally -- because there was actually no internet back then. I literally spent from… It was a Friday. And I remember spending from Friday afternoon until Sunday digging through magazines and different books until I finally figured out what it is that this client wanted. The rough patches were like that. It was like… The idea that everything was so new to both Landis & Gyr. It was a brand-new thing they had never done before. I was a brand-new, just graduated college. Not sure exactly what to do, and so a lot of these early rough patches were just the typical educational rough patches. But -- and I did have a lot of really great people that were mentors and supporters. But they didn’t understand what we were supposed to do in this space of energy efficiency and energy conservation. That was just not a normal thing. They could give me a lot of general, professional advice. But they could never say to me, here is what you… Here is how to run this caliper, here is how to do this assessment, or here is how to do this thing in the field. That was just a very new thing. So that was quite a rough patch. That was the first thing. I think the second thing is that we had to learn how to compete. We just never did this stuff to actually get work. And you had to go out there and learn how to compete. Even though this idea of energy sufficiency was new to Landis & Gyr back then, it was not new to the marketplace. And so, what was happening is, others at Landis & Gyr got into it because their major competitors, Honeywell and Johnson Controls, and others were already in it and they were behind. It meant that we were up against some pretty fierce competition. A lot of rough patches came from us trying to get work. And then being denied, and denied, and denied, and denied. And the number of failures of pursuit was just depressing. I had gotten married within about a year of starting. Less than a year. A beautiful woman. And it was awesome, and we’re still married to this day. She’s fantastic. And yet, I would go home, and she could see it in me. I was just feeling like a big failure. Like, oh my God, I can’t even get a project to work on in the first 12 to 18-24 months. And then somewhere along the way, they asked me to keep doing the engineering but see if I could move into the business acquisition side. And I hated the idea. Because all I ever wanted to be, my old story, I just wanted to be a geek. I just wanted to be an engineer. I just wanted to take things apart and put it back together. I wanted to find problems. I wanted to provide solutions you know. That’s all I ever wanted to do. Still to this day, I still wanted to do [indiscernible].
00:24:49 Ash Faraj: Quick side note. How important was the emotional support coming from your wife in the success of your career?
00:24:58 Ash Awad: It was very important. Because at the same time that I was having all these kinds of experiences, she was always by my side. Always. Always telling me, “You’ll be fine. You’re going to do great. Be positive. Have faith.” If it wasn’t for her partnership. If it wasn’t for her encouragement. To be blunt, it’s not that I would have given up, but I felt like I had a lot responsibility to take care of them. And we ended up early in our marriage -- she’s pregnant, and all this stuff. All of sudden, all this pressure, and just could not fail. Not that you can’t fail; not that anybody really wanted to fail anyways, but I just definitely didn’t want to fail with a growing family. But thanks for asking that question. I would say that when I moved over to the business acquisitions side, I was nervous. I really wanted to be on the engineering side. All of a sudden it was kind of like a light switch. Like the moment that I took advice from one of my best mentors to move into that space of business acquisition, all of a sudden, everything that… I think he saw in me that I didn’t want for myself, or see in myself, because I just wanted to be an engineer doing calculations. He saw something in me and that really ignited my real career trajectory.
00:26:23 Ash Faraj: Wow, that’s powerful. And you were on a great path; Landis & Gyr and Siemens. And then you did something that was a little risky, I guess. What went into the process of you leaving and joining McKinstry? What was that process like, and why did you end up making that decision?
00:26:46 Ash Awad: Well, that was a super hard decision. The reason it was so hard is because I got a loyalty, and in particular not so much to just an organization, although Siemens was very, very good to me. They taught me, they trained me, they took a risk on me. To this day, I owe them a debt of gratitude as both an organization. But in particular, I owed the people that were willing to mentor me, and guide me, and support me. I owe them the most gratitude. I would say that first and foremost, departing to a different opportunity, which I will describe in a second, that was the McKinstry opportunity. It was really quite nerve-racking for two very specific reasons. The first is, that I had over that seven or eight years built a team. And the team that I built I made commitments to them in terms of how we would work together, and what we would do. And we had project commitments. I had all these commitments, this responsibility, that I felt deeply involved in. Leaving that behind was very hard. The culture at Siemens had changed. Landis & Gyr was very people-focused; was really all about taking care of their people and their customers. For some reason, and I’m not picking on Siemens too much because cultures change, but during that time period their culture at a corporate level had changed. Even the people that I felt responsible for weren’t feeling very well supported. I began to understand that the best thing for them eventually would be that they would have to just leave the job. That they could not stay to actually fulfill their own careers within the organization that Siemens had become for a little while. I’m not picking on them because I owe them a debt of gratitude, but that was the thing that got me over this commitment to people. The second -- but that was hard. That was very hard. As a matter of fact, it took a year and a half of back and forth in my own mind to make a decision. Simply because of the commitments to people -- The second was the leap at that point. We really were being successful. Things were working really well. We were getting deals. We may not have felt very supported by corporate or by management at a broader level, but we felt success. We were getting the kind of recognition that, I told you, that you start a business and you’re clawing your way to get a deal. Then all of a sudden, you’re getting deals and you’re actually either best-known or one of the best-known companies doing this work. We went from nothing to something and that was important. The idea of leaving all that behind and starting again was pretty nerve-racking with my family growing at that point. That was not an easy set of decisions to make as you might expect. That was a very hard set of decisions to make. I will say that the first day, on June 2nd, 2000, when I started at McKinstry I showed up at 7:30. And about 9:00 or 9:30, I was in my car driving to a meeting on behalf of Siemens. Because, even though I worked hard to have a nice transition there was still some things that needed to be handled for the clients and for our people, and that first month was me back and forth working on projects with no pay. I mean pay from McKinstry, and McKinstry was willing to do that, but working on behalf of Siemens to help make sure that they could get their deals done, and that their people that were still there felt like they were supported. Which is very abnormal to think that you start at a different company and you’re hopping in your car to go represent the company that you just left. But that was the right thing to do. I’m very thankful for both Siemens allowing that to happen and McKinstry for allowing that to happen. That made me feel good about the [indiscernible].
00:31:02 Ash Faraj: By the way, I really appreciate you, just kind of not having a filter. Not being afraid to share your mistakes and everything because that is what people really relates to and likes. I appreciate that.
00:31:13 Ash Awad: Plenty of mistakes.
00:31:14 Ash Faraj: Can you talk to us about your first week at McKinstry. First real -- maybe one moment where you felt you were overwhelmed, or one moment where you just had this failure that you felt you couldn’t come back from?
00:31:27 Ash Awad: Oh, my God. Yeah.
00:31:30 Ash Faraj: You’re like, should I share this? [laughter]
00:31:33 Ash Awad: Should I tell you about what happened yesterday? [laughter] I never felt a lack of support. But clearly there was a lot of moments in time where the vision I had, or the idea that I had for something, ran afoul relative to how McKinstry did something. The one great thing that I would -- you know sorry to be too much of an advertisement for McKinstry -- that we continued to do this day, and I was just so thankful to experience it and witness it, to see it, was that whenever we start something we have a lot of patience. We give the leader a lot of opportunity to lead with their thinking and their thoughts, and the way they would want to position something. We don’t become too heavy-handed. What happens in that case is that then the most senior leaders defer to the experts; defer to the person that is actually responsible for building a business unit or building a business. That’s actually what happened to me. I got lots of support, and a lot of deferral. Even when I could see the “bubble” above. Some long-standing McKinstry person’s bubble above their head was like, “Good luck. That will never work in a million years because of my…” You know, the bubble above their heads, that won’t work. I could see it. But I always got deference. I always had the ability to go out and grow and do things that McKinstry normally would not have done. I feel very fortunate for that. I could just not explain how many times I’ve seen people like me try to go companies like McKinstry, or to start up energy efficiency renewable sustainability businesses. In my career, I’ve watched this happen 25 times. I’ve seen the failure of the person and the business primarily because the organization never really gave that group the patience and the opportunity to grow, and I just feel very fortunate. Again, another reason why I feel blessed.
00:33:40 Ash Faraj: Thanks for sharing that. I really appreciate that. So, I guess to kind of wrap up the story section if you could put it concisely. You’ve obviously been very successful with working your way up, if you will, or doing things that allowed you to propel your career. If you could put it concisely, what enabled you to do that?
00:34:09 Ash Awad: Well, work ethic is one. I don’t want to lose that. Every step of the way I never worried about carrying a ladder. Whether that was real or figurative. When I graduated, I had a master’s degree, but yet the number one thing I did when I first started was walk around with a technician, Fairing was his name, carrying his ladder, and then myself going up and looking at different pieces of equipment. That was incredibly important, was to really understand the business, and that was awesome. Finding people that you could care about; that you were willing -- no matter how hard their feedback was to you, no matter how direct it was. I could go through example after example of how sometimes the feedback that I got made me want to crawl up in a ball. But yet, I knew that those people that I cared about cared about me. They wanted to provide me the best thinking that they had. I -- for me -- was very open always, until this day. Open to have anyone offer whatever perspective they would have, because especially if I believed that the person was coming with their best intent, that was very powerful for me. I think a lot of times we second guess whether people are really doing things to help us, but I was very fortunate. That’s another thing. Then the only last piece here that I want -- maybe two last little pieces -- the second-to-last piece I would say, is that caring about the people that are around you, and having that lead you, having that guide you. Having that idea that when you’re trying to get something done, always imagining how can I help my teammates out. How can I be of ever better partner. How can I help. Not the client as a monolith, but how can I help this individual that I’m working with. On the client’s side, how can I help them be successful. Always imagining and remembering that this is just all about how we people come together to be the best that we can; to collaborate, to solve problems. I mean every day in every way that has guided me in so many examples. I think when people say, well, it’s good to be people first, and it’s good to serve your people and lead. I don’t know, I have seen a lot of examples where people will mouth those words, and then they’ll act on their own or act in their self-interest. I’ve just been fortunate because people have always acted to support me and have taught me the power of acting to support others. And the only last piece here that I would just say is, you got to find your passion. Whatever excites you. Whatever gets you up in the morning. Whatever that phraseology that people “fricking” use, it’s just never to be underestimated. And I will say that -- I say this quite often. I’ve been in this industry for 27-28 years and I feel like I’ve just begun. I feel like this is like my first day again. I feel like there’s new things that are going on. Interesting things. Things that I wish I had more time in the day to connect with people about. I just am so excited about all the things that are happening. The things that we could do to take on the climate crisis. The things that we could do to take on the affordability crisis. I mean we can make monumental changes. Make monumental changes. I just -- for me, that type of passion and excitement from the first day I started, independent of all the rough patches and all the -- to the time that I worked at McKinstry independent of all the rough patches. I just, every day and today, I feel like I’m just starting. I feel like it’s just beginning, even though I’ve been doing this for a long time. I don’t know if that’s helpful, but that’s how I feel. I wish this feeling for others because I think this is what kind of keeps us energized and excited about whatever it is that we do.
00:38:25 Ash Faraj: I love that. I appreciate that. We have a few reflective questions. Ash, if you -- God, it sounds so weird to say Ash [laughter]
00:38:36 Ash Awad: By the way, did you know that Asha -- did you know that you and I, our name, do you know what it means?
00:38:42 Ash Faraj: Of course, I know what it means.
00:38:44 Ash Awad: What does it mean?
00:38:45 Ash Faraj: The most honorable.
00:38:47 Ash Awad: Honorable! Yeah, noble, honorable! Did you know that in Iran aunties and grandmothers are named Ashwa? [laughter] That is true!
00:39:01 Ash Faraj: I think my friend once told me, I was reading a book and I saw princess and then my name. [laughter] That’s funny man. Oh boy.
00:39:11 Ash Faraj: If you were to meet the 24-year old Ash, what advice would you give him?
00:39:16 Ash Awad: Aw, that’s a good question, gosh, darn. That’s a tough one. I’d probably tell him to take more vacation time.
00:39:23 Ash Faraj: Really? Okay.
00:39:26 Ash Awad: Yeah, I’d probably say take longer vacations with your family. Spend more time with them. I mean, I think that there’s so many times that I convinced myself that somehow the work that I was doing was so important and I had to be available, and you know, whatever the excuse was. Yeah. I would probably shake myself at 24 and go: “Listen! Be careful! Take those longer vacations! Spend more time with the family. It’ll all be here.” And it’s just so hard. Because when you’re young, you just don’t -- somehow you just think you’re going to miss something. And trust me, you’re never going to miss anything. You’re not going to miss anything. Work hard, but as soon as you’re done working hard, take that time off and spend it with those that you love.
00:40:11 Ash Faraj: I love it. And then what in your life has given you the greatest fulfillment?
00:40:18 Ash Awad: Again, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be so sappy about this, but I have to tell you my kids. And I just -- I know how that sounds. My number one thing: my kids and my wife. Always.
00:40:35 Ash Faraj: If you could be remembered for just one thing, what would you want that to be?
00:40:38 Ash Awad: The legacy I leave behind allows my kids to be more than I was able to be. That’s the thing I really wish for, to be blunt. I wish and pray for that very simple thing. That whatever I’ve accomplished, they can do more. But, you know, I think if it wasn’t for that, I do think that there are a lot of challenges that exist in many parts of the United States. Particularly as it relates to those that are the most disadvantaged. Now those of us that are the brownest, sometimes have lots of opportunity. That we have -- I’ve been very fortunate in my life and gotten through, and have actually created lots of little, great opportunities over time. But there are so many people that need so much of our help, our support. I guess I hope that the next generation, particularly those that might be disadvantaged, might actually say out loud, if I might be so bold and hopefully not so egotistical, that they might say out loud, one time, wow, that conversation, that help I got from that guy Ash, really helped me. That mentoring, that support, that one thing he did really help set me in some right trajectory. If I could have a blessing like that, that would be quite an amazing blessing.
00:42:06 Ash Faraj: In your opinion what is the most important life skill?
00:42:10 Ash Awad: I just want to go back to a very simple thing that I started off with, is work ethic. The willingness to really work hard, and work -- and this is what one little thing, work as if -- we have this saying, work as if your dad owns the store. Work as if your family owns the place. I remember being at McDonalds, and people would say, gosh, you’re clocked out. Why are you continuing to work? And I’d say, I got to get this done, and got to get that done. And I know I’m clocked out. But in my mind, I always thought about the small businesses my dad ran. I always felt this responsibility. I always thought that it wasn’t just about the paycheck. It was really about the work ethic. Is the job done or is the job not done? If the job’s not done, then you can’t leave. If the job’s done, then I guess that’s good. That means you did what you were supposed to do that day. But I think sometimes it’s underestimated. It’s underestimated that really strong work ethic, and all that comes with it is probably one of the most important things that I learned at a very early age. And that allowed me to get through a lot of very challenging times. I mentioned this, I was serious, I would sit in calculus class -- that was in Massachusetts -- man, oh, man, I don’t know what school these people went through, but they were much smarter, much faster than I was, and understood much more of the calculus than I did. The only way that I could ever get through this just to work harder. Never give up. Just work harder.
00:43:41 Ash Faraj: And then the last one is what is the best advice that somebody has ever given you?
00:43:46 Ash Awad: Shut up. You talk too much.
00:43:50 Ash Faraj: Like actually?
00:43:51 Ash Awad: Yeah. Male chromosomes coupled with being a geek engineer and wanting to solve everything. I think the best advice I’ve ever gotten was listen more. Actually, literally I think it was, “Shut up and listen more.” I think I’ve been told that by different people along the way. Even by professionals, like executive coaches have said similar things to me.
00:44:19 Ash Faraj: Just curious, if you’re stranded on an island and you had access to one meal, what would that meal be?
00:44:24 Ash Awad: Oh my God, Mansaf.
00:44:28 Ash Faraj: Really?
00:44:29 Ash Awad: Yeah. [laughter] Mansaf is an Arabic meal. It’s lamb cooked up in a yoghurt sauce with garlic. It’s very savory. All of that is poured over a bed of rice and bread, and eaten with your hand, and hot peppers. And if you had access to one meal that would be the meal [laughter, music overlapping]
00:44:55 Ash Faraj: Thank you so, so much for listening. Now before you go, I want to invite you to get on a zoom call with me. We can talk about guests that we can have on the show. We can talk about career advice you might be looking for. You can meet the ExecuTalks Team. We can just talk about life. Whatever it is, I want to get to know you. So please, please, please shoot me an email at Ash@ExecuTalks.com. I can’t wait to connect with you, and until next week, take care, and be safe.