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‘I will never forget Concordia,’ says recipient of lifetime achievement award for engineering

Grad Rehan ul Ambia Riaz was honoured by Pakistan’s premier professional body for engineers
February 4, 2020
By Ian Harrison, BComm 01

Rehan ul Ambia Riaz, MEng 79 “A quality education at a university such as Concordia provides a good base for engineering. At the same time, it is just the beginning.”

Over the course of his half-century career, Rehan ul Ambia Riaz, MEng (Building) 79, has seen untold changes in his industry. One constant, however, has been the Karachi-based engineer’s steadfast commitment to professionalism and best practices.

As a result, ul Ambia Riaz was honoured with a lifetime achievement award by Pakistan’s premier professional body for engineers.

In a recent interview he acknowledged the advantages of his Concordia education with pride and shared some fond and vivid remembrances of his time at the university.

Can you tell us more about your recent award?

Rehan ul Ambia Riaz: It was given by the Institute of Engineers, Pakistan, a professional organization established in 1948. The basis for the award was my contributions to teaching and training engineers on the practical applications of project management knowledge.

I felt honoured and a sense of fulfillment that my 50 years of work in this field was recognized. It was the result of my strong background of knowledge gained at Concordia University.

Could you provide us with an overview of your career post-Concordia?

RAR: After graduating, I landed in Karachi in 1980. In 1981 I was made responsible for total project management of a large commercial complex, the largest in Pakistan at the time. I got the opportunity to apply the knowledge I gained at Concordia.

Three other projects I am proud of include the renovation of two stadiums that co-hosted the Cricket World Cup in 1996. The deadline was firm, with no allowance for extension. Working 24 hours a day the upgrades were completed on time and within budget. The third project was the completion of a cancer hospital conceptualized by Imran Khan, the current prime minister of Pakistan.

You presented a paper in February 2019 on time and cost overruns on major construction projects. What have you learned about this endemic problem over the course of your career?

The focus of my research was to determine the major reasons for time delays and cost overruns, and who was responsible and to what extent. I had chosen 48 factors, out of which 15 proved most critical. Responsible stakeholders were further classified into groups that were significantly responsible for those factors.

The chronic problem on almost all projects in Pakistan is the poor knowledge of clients (mostly bureaucrats) about the intricacies involved in a project’s life cycle and the importance of project management. Some measures that may help mitigate time and cost overruns include hiring qualified people, avoiding overly aggressive schedules and engaging cost engineers.

What do you most remember about your time at Concordia?

Rehan ul Ambia Riaz, MEng 79 Rehan ul Ambia Riaz and his wife Wajahat Rehan in 1978

I am indebted to my thesis supervisor Dr. Alan D. Russell for his sincere and capable guidance and his interest in my thesis subject. I will never forget his courtesy when we discussed my thesis at his home.

My other professors and the staff at Concordia were kind, courteous and helpful. I adored Drs. Dawson, Soda and Lang for their skillful and knowledgeable lectures.

I also will never forget the long nights when my wife (an engineer who raised our two children in lieu of pursuing her master’s) and I used to line up in front of the huge mainframe computer to get results on Fortran 4 punch cards. That sense of disappointment when we would get a ‘Syntax Error’ still haunts me.

What skills are most critical to a successful career in your industry?

I would rate communication, both verbal and written, as number one. A willingness to learn and share knowledge, a commitment to work honestly and diligently, and analytical thinking are also very important skills.

A quality education at a university such as Concordia provides a good base for engineering. At the same time, it is just the beginning. The quest for knowledge must continue throughout one’s life. Always adopt worthy engineering ethics, respect senior professionals, work with a good team spirit and have the generosity to impart knowledge to juniors.

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