DDG’s Chairman, CEO and President, Ahsin Rasheed, was recently featured on the cover and in a full-page story in the Baltimore Business Journal.
In addition to discussing his vision for DDG, the company’s many projects, and his expectations for DDG’s staff, Ahsin recounted how he moved to the U.S. from Pakistan (“Coming to the U.S. was an amazing thing”) and how he came to join DDG (“DDG was one of the firms interviewing on campus. I had no clue where Baltimore was”).
Ahsin also told the BBJ how DDG has built a significant book of business in China, Indonesia, and Turkey. In addition, he admitted that he sometimes feels “sleep is a waste of time.” He would rather work, noting, “I’m one of the very fortunate people in the world who love what they do.”
The following is the complete interview:
How I… Achieved the American Dream by Joanna Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief- Baltimore Business Journal
Ahsin Rasheed didn’t let a complete shutdown of the U.S. commercial real estate market kill his Baltimore architecture and design firm. He had already started building international business for DDG well before the recession hit. He turned to China, Indonesia and Turkey in search of new clients — and that international business keeps driving the firm’s growth. The Pakistani native, 51, joined the firm 27 years ago and worked his way up to CEO three years ago. He admits to being happiest building and designing new projects in faraway lands.
What is your background?
I’m originally from Pakistan — Lahore. I have family there, my whole family. I was the only one who just wanted to leave. The more they told me not to do it, the more I was persistent I had to do it. I moved by myself. That was a big step in my life. I’m a U.S. citizen now. I had to be really good at what I do to have the privilege to be a U.S. citizen. A lot of my friends were trying to come to the USA. Some made it, some didn’t. I feel very fortunate I was able to.
What was it like coming to a new land?
Coming to the U.S. was an amazing thing. It was a challenge. I like untreaded, unchartered territories. I enjoy every moment of it. Life is full of challenges. You have to take them. That’s what I like about DDG — we keep on exploring new places. That keeps me feeling alive. You wake up and you have a new challenge to do and I feel accomplished when the day is finished.
What was it like being a new immigrant in America’s heartland?
It was an interesting transition. I enjoyed coming to the Midwest as a student in Oklahoma and in Minnesota, But the first thing I knew I needed to do was get out of Minnesota so I could stay alive. Minnesota was crazy. As they say in Minnesota, there is June, July and winter. And I said yes, that’s true. When you walk into a campus and it’s minus-40 degrees, you want to staple your eyes shut. It’s not made for people like me who don’t like to ice fish. It’s not for people who don’t like winter sports. Minnesota was a very interesting experience.
How did you end up in Baltimore?
DDG was one of the firms interviewing on campus in 1987. I signed up for an interview and I got a job offer. I had no clue where Baltimore was. I knew Washington, D.C. I thought that would be fun so I said “OK, let’s go.”
What was your vision for the company?
I started to look at a new vision for the company. We used to wait for the phone to ring for new business. Since 2008, the world has changed, not only in the U.S. The business has changed. It took us a while to understand that. My predecessor was ready to retire. His focus was on his retirement. I got a company in 2011 that was set up on a business model that was a decade or two old.
How did you survive the recession?
We always kept a majority of the business in the U.S. When 2008 came in, and the business started to shut down everyone was without any work. I had a light bulb come on. I said let’s go to China. We basically picked up a lot of business in a two-week trip. There were months in which we were doing 100 percent of our billing out of China. China kept us alive in 2009, 2010 for two whole years, until the U.S. started to wake up its economy.
What are your expectations of your staff?
When you do a great project, I say, “Have a toast, appreciate yourself, your team. But tomorrow is another day.” We’ve got to do tomorrow better than what we did yesterday. It’s a fine balance. Some people say, “You’re not happy with us.” I say, “No, that’s a great project. It’s an amazing project. The next day, we’ve got to do a project that is superior, better than what we did today.”
What does your passport look like?
I just sent my passport two days ago to get a Ghana visa. My passport ran out of pages. I’ve gone through three additional books. It expires in 2016. I think I’m going to be adding some more books.
How do you live on three or four hours of sleep a night?
I feel sometimes sleep is a waste of time. Why can’t I go and be more productive? I enjoy doing what I do and I love doing what I do. I’m one of the very fortunate people in the world who love what they do.