Posted

Monday, October 23, 2017
Team Member Spotlight

Q+A with Yousif B. Ghafari

Chairman + Founder

This year, we are proud to celebrate 35 years in business, a milestone made possible by our loyal clients and dedicated team members. We recently sat down with our chairman and founder, Yousif B. Ghafari, to talk about the company’s continued legacy of client care and innovation in our industry. 

Take us back to the early 1980s – what did you do before founding Ghafari Associates?

I worked for a small consulting engineering firm in Southeast Michigan called Manufacturing Technology and Associates. I started there in 1978 as an entry-level engineer and progressed to project management. In less than a year or so, I was running the whole office. It happened very quickly – project management, client relations, managing the bottom line, scheduling staff, writing proposals. When I joined, we had about eight or nine employees, and we grew to about 70 or 80. 

Then 1981 hit – that’s when everything started to go south. Work started to dry out, and every Friday, we’d have to decide how many employees we would have to eliminate. Although my job was secure, I saw that there was something out there that we needed to pay attention to, and that is what the clients at the time were asking: how will your company evolve with the technology side? Back in my day, the only one that had a computer in our office was our administrative assistant. Almost everything was done manually – drafting boards, calculators, slide rules.

What then inspired you to start your own firm?

Around that time, our automotive clients on the manufacturing side started to look at the product engineering side to see what they were doing. Product engineering really adopted CAD (computer-aided design) early on. The clients kept asking us if we were looking at this technology to help them become more efficient, but the equipment was very expensive. We started to lose out on some opportunities.

I saw the chance to go out on my own. So, with help from Kouhaila (Hammer, Ghafari’s eventual CEO), I developed a small business plan with some projections and figured out the investment I would need to make in this technology. I sat down with my existing clients, shared my vision, and asked them if they would do business with a start-up. I told them if they were willing, we would be there for them. And that’s how all of this happened. That was in 1982. 

Has innovation always been an intentional part of the organization?

Yes, it has and it will always be. If you look at our history from 1982 until now, every five to ten years there is something different and new we can build on. Our DNA has always been a technology-driven company.

How do you see technology evolving? It seems like toward the beginning, clients were really pushing for the usage of technology. How are we staying ahead of them when it comes to new and evolving technologies?

I feel like now we really have to educate ourselves and our clients. Some are more advanced than others, and one of the challenges we have right now is to make sure all of our clients are up to speed on what’s out there and what we’re using. And continue to build on that. 

As far as where we are going toward the future, I’m an old man now and I can’t really predict what’s next, but our staff is filled with young, brilliant minded individuals who help me stay aware of the latest and greatest technology. I am a strong believer in the use of technology ─ I will always be a fan and supporter. I will continue to invest in our team members and help them do what they need to do to stay aware and ahead of our competitors.

What has been the key to Ghafari’s longevity and growth?

The long-time partnerships that we’ve had, it’s really about the stability. It goes back to the 80/20 rule. At Ghafari, we work together. We make sure we operate with the highest ethics and standards. We believe in supporting our communities and try to do a good job in everything.

What’s surprised you the most in the last 35 years?

The generational difference has been really interesting to watch over the years, especially my generation compared to this new generation coming into the workforce right now. There’s a vast difference in how we think and what we do, but that’s the future and I have accepted it. I see it in my own children and with employees around the firm. We have to make sure we are ready for them, learn how to adapt, and find more efficient ways of doing things.

After 35 years, what about the company (if anything) hasn’t changed?

The integrity and positive attitudes of our team members working with our clients on their projects.

Give us five adjectives that describe Ghafari team members.

Responsive, entrepreneurial, competent, respectful, and enthusiastic. These things have been in our employees since the beginning. The foundation is still there; it’s in our DNA.

Where would you like to see the company go in the next 5-10 years?

Continuing to diversify.

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

Well, I work out for two hours every morning. I truly believe in leading by example, and my philosophy is healthy body, healthy mind. 65 is the new 45.