They say a bend is not the end of a road…unless you fail to make the turn. But some bends are more challenging than others. Infra Tech Engineering, LLC, CEO Mashal Ali, PE, experienced one of the most challenging obstacles one can face—the loss of a parent and mentor. But in truth, the challenge was even greater than that.
Today, Infra Tech Engineering, LLC, a certified M/ WBE disadvantaged business, provides governments, communities and private industries with exceptional traffic and transportation engineering services through analysis, planning, engineering, construction and contract management. Headquartered in New York City, Ali’s father, S. David Ali, launched the firm in 1983. Though never overtly posed, the question loomed of who would take over the firm eventually. All eyes turned to Mashal Ali.
The oldest of three daughters, Ali grew up in a traditional family with traditional expectations. Yet, her parents exerted no pressure on her to follow in her father’s footsteps. However, upon gaining acceptance to Drexel University in Philadelphia, she decided to give engineering a try. She loved it. After graduating, she moved easily into her father’s firm. But things didn’t quite go as she planned.
“I thought I could just kick back and relax. I mean, my dad owns the firm! But my dad was just not that type of person. After 30 days, he fired me, and he was right to do it.”
But Ali was most definitely her father’s daughter. Picking herself up and putting aside her damaged pride, she started over, taking an entry-level job as an assistant civil engineer in the New York City Department of Design and Construction’s (DCC) rotational program. “The great thing about the DDC is that they do a lot of very different kinds of projects. I gained a lot of varied experience including roadway construction, utility work, sewers, etc. It was great.”
Gaining invaluable project experience over the next four years, Ali also earned tremendous respect in her father’s eyes for her work ethic and accomplishments, something that meant a great deal to her. Then, the unimaginable happened.
“In 2016, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. It spread very quickly. He died suddenly. I had to switch gears instantly and take care of my family and the business.”
Ali was 26 years old.
“Suddenly I had a business. I had a staff. I had people I was responsible for. There were projects underway that we had to complete. There were lots of needs and I was responsible for all of them. But I was also in control of everything. So, I made decisions. The good thing was that the business had been around for more than 30 years. We had a good reputation and a good rapport with our clients. People were loyal to my father and then they became loyal to me.”
Ali earned that loyalty. Instituting fundamental changes to the firm—while reassuring all 60 employees—Ali doubled the firm’s revenue in her first year at the helm, winning highly coveted projects as a prime contractor with the New York State Department of Transportation and the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey. “Winning jobs as the ‘prime’ was the best thing. That really put the industry on notice that we’re here to stay.” In that time, Ali also earned her professional engineering license.
These changes continue to serve her firm today. In addition to winning significant new business, particularly in design and construction management, Infra Tech has also won numerous project awards for excellence and outstanding delivery. Though all of the changes are very much her own, Ali credits her dad with helping her find her own path.
“We were very much alike. And we butted heads about everything. We’re both stubborn and detail oriented. And if we know we’re right, we won’t back down. He was tough, but fair. And once you won him over, he was the strongest supporter you could ever hope for.”
Ali also points out that though her father was quite traditional, he also respected the gender and generational differences he had with his daughter.
“My dad had his own way of running the business. He’d make small talk with clients and go out for a beer and joke with them. But it’s different between men and women, particularly in this field. Before he passed, he said to me, ‘Everyone has their own way. You don’t have to follow my path step-by-step. You do whatever works for you. You’re a whole new generation that does things differently. Make your own path. Be friends with women. They’ll probably be more valuable than my relationships anyway.’”
A bend in the road doesn’t have to be the end, if you make the turn. That’s no small “if.” At a young age, Mashal Ali faced a considerable bend in the road. While most women her age were still securing entry-level jobs, she took the reins of a business and her family. Succeeding at both, she continues to grow the business impressively, while ensuring that her younger sisters pursue their educations, as she earns a master’s degree in engineering from Johns Hopkins.
When faced with a big bend in the road, Mashal Ali made a turn and has been a driving force ever since.