Breaking norms leads to success for 2015 EOY entrant

Wearing pink and playing with dolls is often associated with most little girls’ childhood. This was not the case for Shireen Sayed, an adventurous outdoor enthusiast who grew up climbing trees. This Durban-based entrepreneur, owner of Aspire Project Management, says she knew from a young age that she would carve her career in the built environment, and what lead her to initially take the decision to study civil engineering.

Determined to succeed after her parents’ tuition funds ran out after her first year of studies, she managed to stay at school by seeking funding from engineering companies that she contacted using the Yellow Pages. “I wrote a letter to every engineering firm listed in South Africa, while at the same time working part-time in retail. I was then offered a job by Ninham Shand Consulting Engineers – at the time, one of the largest consulting engineering company in South Africa,” says Sayed.

During her time with the firm, Sayed completed numerous projects, from designing water reservoirs, roads and bulk services at various locations in KwaZulu-Natal, to determining the location of the Katse Dam in Lesotho.

She also quickly progressed from the design stage through to the implementation of projects by managing the construction phase and handover process. “This experience provided me with a good grounding on how engineering projects are designed and constructed.”

After seven years with the company, Sayed received an opportunity to work in Ireland which she grabbed with both hands. “Looking back, I viewed this decision as the catalyst to starting my own engineering practice, as the international exposure I received during my time abroad taught me to view life and the role of engineering from a different perspective.”

Having been exposed to project delivery for over 15 years, Sayed took the decision to undertake a Master’s Degree in Project Management at the University of Limerick in Ireland to strengthen her knowledge of the science needed to deliver a projects within constraints.

“While it was a challenging balancing act of working a full-time job managing projects, while studying in the evenings and weekends, I believe my determination and focus paid off, as this was a building block to eventually setting up my own company.”

Armed with a strong foundation in engineering design and construction, as well as project management, Sayed started Aspire Project Management upon her return to South Africa in 2011. “Through my experience, I have developed a good foundation and understanding of how to deliver innovative engineering projects for clients, which now includes various blue chip companies nationally.”

She adds that her varied experience contributes to the value she offers her clients. “Project Management teaches you discipline in following processes and procedures, whereas civil engineering teaches you to be analytical and a problem solver. Both backgrounds afford me the opportunity to engage with project teams as I understand each process inside and out. My thinking and approach to business and life has been shaped by the principles that I have learnt from these two disciplines.”

As Sayed had been out of the country for more than 11 years, she says that her greatest challenge to date has been building the brand’s visibility within a very limited network. “We are however currently sourcing partnerships and support from long standing businesses to assist in raising the profile of the business.”

Setting up Aspire Project Management against all odds has ensured that this innovative thinker continues to follow her dreams, and in the process create jobs and opportunities for her employees and the families they support. “We also undertake small social development programmes by supporting local communities, and I am very grateful that my company is in a position to do this.”

Sayed says her future plans include expanding her company’s footprint nationally. “I see Aspire Project Management establishing itself firmly in the South African business landscape, and we will continue to look for partnerships that share our vision of creating true value for our clients and society as a whole.”

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