How Chicago Engineer Niranjan Shah Remembers His Roots and Gives Back Along the Way

Even from his humble beginnings in a small Indian village, Niranjan Shah’s incredible support system, intelligence, and dedication were bound to take him far in life. But no one could have predicted just how far.

His hard work led him to the United States, where he received the training he needed to achieve his goals in engineering. He founded Globetrotters Engineering Corporation in 1974 and experienced incredible success. For Shah, though, achieving material success would never be enough. Remembering his roots and the support of his village, Shah decided to give back. His dedication to philanthropy has benefitted many around the world. 

He has received numerous awards for his work and spent more time with various presidents than he can count. As a soft-spoken and humble man, it’s difficult to get Shah to discuss his personal and professional triumphs. A family man at heart, he’d rather spend his time with his wife and two children.

 

From Humble Beginnings to Career Accomplishments

Niranjan Shah was never going to let any obstacle get in the way of his dream. He grew up in a small Indian village that lacked even what modern Westerners would consider basic necessities. Although he had no running water or electricity, he did have what counted: a supportive community and willingness to work hard.

His hard work paid off, and Shah attended Sardar Patel University. He received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1967. For a man with his background and humble beginnings, this was impressive enough. However, he wasn’t done yet. Shah received a full scholarship to the University of Mississippi. With the full support of his family and village, Shah left for the U.S. and earned his master’s degree in civil engineering in 1971. He also graduated from Harvard Business School’s executive management program.

Despite his excellent education, finding the right job was difficult. He worked for several consulting firms, but none of them were fully utilizing his skills and expertise. But Shah was not about to let that stop him from finding his dream job. He decided instead to create the right job for himself.

Globetrotters Projects and Rise to Success

Shah founded his own consulting firm, Globetrotters Engineering Corporation, in 1974. His hard work and dedication made Globetrotters the success that it is today. For over 40 years, the company has been at the forefront of engineering and contributed to some of the largest projects in the U.S. and beyond. From Chicago’s Deep Tunnel Project which received an Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers to the O’Hare Development Program where the company designed and oversaw the construction of International Terminal 5 Globetrotter’s portfolio includes impressive work. 

The company has worked on many successful transportation projects, including I-80 reconstruction and I-355 South extension. Its work on U.S. 6 (159th Street) from IL 1 (Halsted) to I-294 earned Globetrotters the 2012 Consultant Exceptional Service Award from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Some of the company’s other work includes the Embassy Security Program, 911 Emergency Communications Center for the city of Chicago, and Fiber Optics Network for the state of Illinois. Globetrotter also provides consulting around the world. The company equipped consulting centers in the Philippines, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Belize, Costa Rica, and numerous Central American countries.

In addition to its award-winning projects, the company’s research was foundational for various branches of the U.S. government. Globetrotters received numerous contracts from government branches. The company’s study and results were published in several journals, and the information is still used today.

It is often too easy for successful leaders to become consumed with the effort of growing their companies. The stress and excitement of their business crowds take priority over their ability to give back. For Shah, though, giving back to the people who helped him along the way was non-negotiable. No matter how busy or successful he became, Shah has always made philanthropy a priority. He remembers the community that he came from and wants to make contributions to both his native India and the United States.

 Shah gave back by ensuring that there was a high school and medical clinic to care for the people there. He also provided support to other small villages in India to give others the opportunities that he had. 

Shah has also provided valuable insight to top leaders in the U.S. to improve Indian-American relations. He has worked with the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations to help improve communications between the two countries. 

Shah’s influence does not stop there, though. He has spent time with many U.S. presidents while they were in power. He has had lunch with President Reagan and President Bush. However, his closest relationship was with President Clinton. He and his family were among the first Indian Americans to be an overnight guest at the Clinton White House. Shah has also had numerous lunches, dinners, and visits with President Clinton.

Shah has used his influence and connections with the highest offices in the nation to discuss issues relevant to his native India. His efforts have improved American understanding and helped strengthen the relations between the two countries. “During my administration, Mr. Shah was often a source of counsel on Indo-U.S. relations,” said former President Clinton. “He has been a powerful force in gaining support in Congress for Indians and Indian-Americans.”

 

Leadership and Philanthropy

A natural-born leader, Shah uses his skills to help improve lives. The Gujarat Earthquake in January 2001 left many devastated. Shah led the relief efforts to help airlift over 200,000 pounds of medical, clothing, and food supplies as quickly as possible. He also continued his efforts afterward to make sure that Gujarat received economic relief and provided resources and staff for reconstruction. As a result of his work in Gujarat, he was awarded the Glory of Gujarat 2005 Award by the governor of Gujarat. The team rehabilitation workers sent from the U.S., led by an employee of Globetrotters, assessed the damage from the earthquake. They then traveled to Turkey to provide valuable relief there as well.

Shah also used his leadership skills to help improve relations between India and the U.S. He acted as a liaison between Chicago and New Delhi to bring the Chicago City 2000 traveling exhibit to New Delhi. The exhibition toured Europe, including Paris and London. 

Shah never forgot the struggles that he had as a student new to the U.S. The paperwork and steps required to get to and stay in this country can also be confusing for someone not used to United States bureaucracy. He has sought to pave the way for future students to get the support that they need to be successful. Shah assists foreign exchange university students to make sure that they have the resources they need. He offers valuable mentorship to Asian students on programs available for visa application and entry to the U.S. He also gives information concerning university requirements. Without family around to help and support them, school in a foreign country can be an intimidating prospect.

Because of his contributions given to his native country, Shah was honored with the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award. It is the highest civilian award to be given to people of Indian origin. Shri APJ Abdul Kalam, the president of India, had this to say about him: “Shri Niranjan Shah has made the country proud of his achievements and increased the prestige of India and Indians not only in America but in the entire world.”

That same year, Shah was also honored with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. It is presented to the most influential leaders who have contributed significantly to U.S. society. The prestigious medal has been awarded to four U.S. presidents, as well as various Nobel Prize winners.

 

Public Service for the State and Nation

In addition to Shah’s work on behalf of Indian interests, he has also served on many boards and committees to improve his home and native country. He was appointed by the governor to be a member of the Illinois State Police Merit Board for over seven years. In addition, Shah was a Construction Committee chair and responsible for contracts and purchases of almost $1 billion.

Not only has Shah worked on a state level, but he has served on committees on a national level as well. He was nominated by President Clinton to serve as a member of both the United States National Institute of Building Science and the Gold Water Foundation for Excellence in Technical Education. In addition, he was invited by President Clinton to the Economic Conference with leaders all across the U.S. He was the only Indian-American selected to attend and the sole CEO of an architectural and engineering business.  

 

Niranjan Shah: Leadership With Purpose

Shah is a living example of how hard work, determination, and leadership can change lives. Not only did he achieve success in a foreign country, but Shah has also leveraged his leadership skills and influence to help improve the lives of Indians at home and abroad.

From a small village to the guest of presidents, Shah represents the American Dream. 

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