Ali and Nahid Khataw Featured in Leadership Austin's 40 Stories in 40 Days Series

December 17, 2019

40 Stories in 40 Days: Day 23

Posted by: Leadership Austin, 2019

If Leadership Austin has an event, Ali Khataw (Essential 30 – 2009) will be there. And, if he isn’t there, he has invited someone else to be there. “I loved the Leadership Austin programs I did so much, I’m a poster child for it now,” Ali says. “I’m walking and talking Leadership Austin always. Anyone I talk to, irrespective of if they have a business background, I’m telling them about Leadership Austin.” And he means it – he encouraged his wife, Nahid (Essential 31 – 2010), to apply the year after he took the class.

When Ali hires someone who is new to Austin to his firm, Encotech Engineering Consultants, he sends them through the Experience Austin program. He buys a season pass to the Engage Breakfast Series so that he can introduce people to Leadership Austin programs. And he encourages his employees to apply for the Essential and Emerge programs. We visited with Ali recently and asked him why he is such a strong advocate of our work.

“This is our community,” Ali says. “I feel like there is something missing to take social equity to the next step, and that is the engagement of businesses. We rely on the government for so much, and funding can be a problem. I think the business community can play an active role. My passion is to get my staff engaged in the community.

“We used to have teambuilding activities that were community service projects, and we would have 50 percent turnout because they were outside of business hours. So we decided, ‘You know what? We’re building a culture in our office. Let’s have these events during office hours so we can have 100 percent participation.’ It costs us money, there’s no doubt about that, but I think the return on investment is there because we’re developing great leaders. Our staff is more engaged in not just designing, but they’re thinking about design as solutions for the community. So community engagement fits very well with engineering, I think. And that is what pushes me.

“Don’t get me wrong – my business is for-profit. I believe in making money. I believe in giving bonuses. I believe in my employees succeeding monetarily. I believe in prosperity, health, happiness – all of that. But I do feel that the business community has an angle to play. Why not be a conscious capitalist where you care about the community that you serve?

“I read an article in Fortune Magazine that said 82 percent of applicants to companies prefer to work for organizations that give back. Community service and community engagement are giving back. It doesn’t have to be a $10,000 check; underwriting programs like Leadership Austin and allowing employees paid time to participate is also giving back. Having an informed staff is the perfect staff; you want your staff to be informed about the city. The gain is that they are going to learn what this community is all about and maybe they’ll be a community leader here. That’s what is very important to me. That is my passion. That is my pulse.”

Why Leadership Austin?

“There’s something special about Leadership Austin,” Ali says, “because to me, as an entrepreneur and businessperson, I can actually see a return on the investment – not just in business, but in people. After my staff attend a couple of Engage Breakfasts, they’re hooked. They just love it because, in a very short period of time, they get issues in the community so beautifully presented to them. There is a constructive conversation and a call to action. And that’s amazing. Everyone takes that call to action very seriously.”

Ali says that he tries to invite people to Leadership Austin programming from communities and industries that are frequently missing in our work. He actively recruits individuals from the Asian community, as well as leaders in construction and architecture. “My reach is in my own network and industry,” Ali says. “I would advise other Leadership Austin alumni to invite people in their own networks and industries to come to Leadership Austin.”

Thanks for promoting Leadership Austin, Ali! If we ever start producing posters, you’ll be on them!

Ali has served on the Leadership Austin Board of Directors since 2011, including a year as Chair of the Board in 2017.