My Journey to the World of Railways – The Dilemma of My Life – The Hoped Railway Pioneer

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During the summer of 2010, I was attending the transportation studies class at the university of Jordan, at that time I was looking for answers about my future, I have made sure I have sufficient knowledge and skills that allow me to enter the job market with a great competitive advantages, I have taken so many courses outside the university, such as project management courses, quantity surveying courses, cost estimation courses and more.

Without a clear concrete plan on where I  will be ending up after I finish my undergraduate studies, I was always worried that I will end up in a construction site monitoring the progress of labors for 12 hours a day and get paid  less than 1500 dollars. I have decided to build a competitive advantage. I need to have a unique skill that is in a very high demand at the same time. This will lead that my price in the market can provide me with a sustainable enjoyable life. My prediction for the profession of site civil engineer was true and I can still see the pity in the faces of many people who work on site. My father wanted me to become a civil engineer so we can build a business together, I thought the idea is hard as the capital was not available at that time (specially that I have graduated after the financial crisis and it is impact on Dubai).

I thought the best thing is to pursue a degree in railway systems engineering. I know that the region will have a great amount of railway projects, thus I started looking for universities across the world that can provide me with a degree in railways. I have found a course in the University of Birmingham, at that time, I am only 23 years old and this is my first time to travel outside the Middle East.  I have exchanged few calls and emails with the supervisor of the course at the time, no body helped me doing the application, I have just applied online, this also was a new thing to me, Jordan had great internet connections, but I cannot recall many company or universities in Jordan asking you to apply online. I agreed with a course supervisor that I have to score (Two As) in my summer course in order to be able to be accepted in the university of Birmingham. Thus, they have sent a conditional offer with the summer semester score included.

I enjoyed my year in the University of Birmingham, it was really a very hard crash type of course, it was the first time that I visit Europe and see different attractions across the UK, it was a great experience, and I was first on my class and scored high on my MSc. At that time I was delighted and felt that the world will be my oyster. I told myself “Having a degree in a very technical topic while major infrastructure projects are happening in the region will definitely give me the enjoyable life I am looking for”. I thought now I can position myself on the right track and  definitely many companies will accept me, to increase my chances even further, I was looking for a technical problem that is facing the region and I have done  research in the area of wind-blown sand and filled a patent on my MSc dissertation. I am a student at the time with no funding from no one except from my great father, the late Salim Naser.

The world is your oyster

My MSc dissertation was a great work, I toured the region and visited almost most of the railway entities in the region and presented my solution to them, I got one interview in Amman with a German company. I admit that I was a little bit arrogant at the time; I did not recognize that people in the Middle East really do not care what you have done or what your history is as much as they care about your relationship to them. We do not care if you have a Nobel Prize; we only care if you have a good relationship with us.  In spite of me seeing most of the railway entities in the region and presenting myself. Nobody has offered any job. This is because of two facts:

1- Employees in the Gulf region, really has no power what so ever on hiring decisions, especially the engineers or head engineers, the decisions happens through locals who rarely has the technical competencies to assess  my engineering capabilities. Most of them appreciate what they have and they do not want to risk asking to hire someone just because he is talented. For them this is an additional headache, it is better that we do not interfere.

2- Companies has to go through a process in terms of hiring and this is associated with open vacancies, while this is important, I was always disqualified as all of the vacancies in the gulf requires experience, I tried to apply for companies in the UK, however, I have been faced with serious racism, I got one interview near London with a company called Tony Gee, they discussed a job offer as a permanent way design technician for a salary that is around 22000 Pounds per year. I did not like the salary or the job. It is clear to my mind that people like me are designed to work as Technicians or Research associates in the UK. Few people manage to overcome this vicious cycle, the direction of things was clear to me and I have known that there is no entity or organization that will help me to develop my capabilities because of my nationality.

A third path in life

I thought, It is time to find a more innovative path to the future, otherwise I will repeat the site engineer conditions in a new form in a different country without a proper support group.

3- The University of Birmingham has offered a PhD scholarship, it was a very generous offer, and I could not believe it. I thought these are the guys, who are willing to invest in me, and having a PhD will always be an asset to the future especially in difficult economic conditions, I did not understand the economy as I understand it today. This was a generous offer from the university and a new path for further learning. This does not mean that there are many people who can do my job.  However, it was a good option for me; I thought this is the most sustainable option.  However, my father, the person who has sponsored me and supported my from Day 1 in my life, did not like the fact that a PhD is 3 years in a time where he is facing serious business risk in a very difficult business climate. At that time (2011-2012), Dubai is in a serious trouble as well as his business.  He tried very hard to deviate me from my path for pursuing my studies and bring me to his side as an income generator or as a contributor to his business, I really wanted to help, but I could not see myself being a fundamental part of a building materials company which is basically selling the products of a well-established German companies, I did not appreciate the go to market efforts and the difficulties of building relationships through many years that he has built. I was feeling very grateful for him and I could not deny a request from him. The following happens:

4- He told me that he has a friend who is working with a company who has won a railway project in Turkmenistan, I might be interested in joining them, the salary in the beginning was highly exaggerated, I have been told it will be 12,000 dollars per month, I told him it is quite difficult to offer such a salary for a new graduate. Eventually the salary was exactly as what I am getting as a PhD student and the life was very sweet during the PhD. Basically, there is no working hours.

I kept questioning the opportunity, but under his continuous pressure I told him I shall travel and have a look, however, this will have serious consequences on my scholarship, as my scholarship is tied with doing and industry project and the PhD. I canceled the industry project with the university and kept the PhD, this kept me in a vulnerable position to survive on 600 Pounds per month, and I thought my father will automatically bail out the difference of his adventurous requests, as it was partially his wish.  Six year later, I admit this was a mistake; I should not have listened to my father, as his friend was a self-serving character and he would not try to promote me as a talent. Long story short, this happened. I become in a financially exposed position.  Ultimately in Turkmenistan I was offered 2500 Dollars per month in horrible living conditions, which is exactly what I was getting while I was doing my PhD with the industry project with great future prospects.

5- My father understood clearly that this was a fake opportunity, however, he kept trying to drag me to his business in the building materials business, and especially there was some pressure from the German partners that there should be a clear successor to the business. The company was basically three employees, one logistics, one accounts and my father was responsible for the business creation. Basically, my father and his network was the business.

6- Coming back from Turkmenistan, I told to myself, it is fine, now maybe I can focus on my PhD and trying to find a solution to the financial exposure problem. Unfortunately, my father asked me to travel to Austria to meet his partners and represent him.  This has resulted in an additional financial loss to me as I came after that to Dubai to inform my father about the latest updates from his German Partners and their conspiracies. Basically, they have planted one German guy to tour the market to make sure there is a continuation to the business through over passing my father by building on his contacts. This comes at a great cost around 600,000 Euros, if this money was invested in Emirates German, it could have created a much better results. Unfortunately, The Germans was not convinced of my father abilities because he did not do a power point presentation the way they did, he was a people man, the career and the giver. 

7- A further financial and academic pressure on me, and I had to find a solution. I have found a solution by locating  one famous Saudi scientist who has taken me to Harvard, I thought she will help me and bail me out, in my struggle so I can carry on with my studies, she was an absolute shit, she wanted to use me as an image for her.  However, I realized that this was a fake solution as well. Again, I was left financially exposed and decided to leave my PhD and join a railway company in Abu Dhabi.

Harvard University

8- I have joined TUV Rhineland who had the same mentality as the English companies in the UK, we bring the Asian kid to do all the work for us and we present it to our clients, I did not mind working as slave for someone who will teach me, but it was a war against me from day one.  In the beginning I did not mind at all, as the salary was great. However, many of the team members tried to eliminate me as I represented a threat to them; they did not like that I have mentioned my opinion in one meeting. They told me you should not speak in meetings, Unbelievable!! They tried to con me, when I have told them that I know that one project was not done to the standards and this was before my time and I cannot be responsible for this, one of them wanted to physically punch me, I decided that it is time to  inform the management and all of us got fired. None of the team that I have worked with is working with the company today. NONE!! The management eliminated me under the respect of the director decision and eliminated the director and all of his team after that. WHAT A JOKE and WHAT A CRUEL WORLD. C’est La Vie.

9- 10 Days Later, my father has died in a sudden heart attack, leaving his company in an exposed position. I had no choice but to act morally and to try to take care of his business, specially that I am the only one in the family who is aware of the details, a difficult market, a long business cycle, a German partner without clear plans to the future. The decision was to prepare the company to an exit. I have positioned the company for a successful Exit after 18 months; I have managed to sell it. It was a great exit. It was uncertain but it was a great success. My family has managed to survive as a direct result of this exit. It is a success.

10- Again, I am left with a disrupted career and I am trying to come back to the railway world, I thought I might be able to return in a form of business, I formed a partnership with an English company,  a signaling contractor and introduced myself to the market. I have visited every single railway entity in the region, I told them about three things.
1) Let us build a railway innovation community. (Basically, it should have acted as lobbying community for the interest of the industry).

2) The Signaling Contractor and how we can help in doing some subcontracting work.

3) Job Opportunities. None of them has replied positively. WHY?! I have no satisfactory answer till this date. Sometimes, I say it is my weight; I am a little bit overweight. I have no answer.

11- I thought maybe it is the right time to build a business. I believed in the digital world and the power of the internet. I have based my company in DTEC, Dubai Technology and Entrepreneurship Center and made sure that I have a contact with VCs in the region. Truth to be told, it is a fake community and no one gets an investment if he is not part of the VCs already established network cycle. You should have a recommendation from the top or to be known by the sponsoring entity regardless of the quality of your business. If you try to break the rules, you will break your back. The world it is what it, do not try to change it, otherwise your life will change and the world will stay as it is. What a sad fact. It is time for us to create a better world for the future. 

12- We have identified our startup failure reason is to be the lack of backing from investors and market support. I thought if I have a good product, a good service and a good presence, then I will sell, I was wrong, I should have a very well established network.  If I have known that the realities are completely different from what is written online and circulated within these communities. I could have done better; however, I have developed a great market understanding and great business skills and reach the top people in the country. If I would build a business again, it would be a remarkable success, No Doubt.

13- Now, It is time to raise capital for your next adventure, it is time to get a highly paid job. So I thought I should start applying for the company who has recently won the metro project, definitely they need people and they should consider my application. I started to approach them for a potential hire. Unfortunately, after many attempts and long months, there was no success story. I have built a clear case for them, while their business might be able to compete to the future and proved to them that there are people with less experience in less education who are actually working for them.

14- Today, I am looking to continue my path with a company that will allow me to develop my leadership skills and build on my different experiences in life.  If you like my story and you would like us to build the future together, I am more than happy to be in contact.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my 2nd Article, and I will be looking forward to build new collaborations. If you are interested, you can see my email underneath…..

Feras Naser

Feras.Naser@emergencefze.com

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