AICI (Association of Indians in Construction Industry) is completing 25 year of its glorious service to New York City’s construction industry. There is not a single reputable major construction-related Company which is not manned by skilled professional Indians in Metropolitan New York City. All these years, AICI had been a premier source of tapping top-notch Project Managers, Estimators, consultants, reputable Contractors and Sub-Contractors. AICI had also been a platform for ‘Networking’, for Indian professionals, most of whom are University Graduates. The members of this Organization have been prized employees everywhere so much so that hardly anyone in its long history had been unemployed more than couple of months.
Like every year this year also, 400-plus suited, booted, professionals from all walks of construction industry will gather for AICI’s annual “Diwali” lavish Dinner (“Diwali” is ‘Festival of Lights’ – a manifestation for removing all ignorance, darkness, unpleasantness from Life – sort of Hindu Christmas) in a spectacular Ball-Room at one of the exclusive Hotel like ‘Hyatt Regency”. This Black-tie affair, for years now has become one of the most eagerly awaited events by our industry. The event provides everyone an opportunity to meet old friends they rarely get to see during the year, reestablish professional relations, get to know new sub-contractors or Architects which could be of benefit in near future. Although AICI started as an Indian community-based Organization, the Indians at this event have been consistently out numbered by 2 to 1 by main stream Americans (or non-Indians, for lack of better word) for 15 years in a row. This support and patronage that AICI and its members have received from Construction Companies is not only a splendid example of recognition of their talent and thorough professionalism, but also, signify the bond that has been forged between the Industry and Indian professionals. I would contribute the success of AICI in every sphere it interacts to the team work of its members and absence of hierarchy. Is this what the founding members of Organization, like us had set out to do 25 yrs back? The unequivocal answer to it is – not by a long shot. In that case, how did this all came about?
If we revisit the history of AICI from its inception to what it has become now, it is a very humbling experience. As a founding member of AICI, I can honestly vouch that those of us who came together 25 yrs back to celebrate “Diwali” had absolutely no idea that our one fluke spontaneous gathering will one day blossom into a largest professional gathering of its kind, in a decade or so. It’s an interesting story how we came together in the first place…. Let’s rewind the memory-tape…. A bunch of us (I can recall – Kamlesh Shah, Pradeep Desai, Siraj Vora, Mansukh Bhaderi, and Chatur Sabhaya, Rakesh Arora … pl forgive me if I forgot got some names) were at Suresh Babaria’s home in Bergen county, N.J. for a Dinner-party and the subject of “Diwali” popped up which was just around the corner then. As we were very much into food in those days (and without any ailments like today, if I may add), there was unanimous decision to have a Lunch-party in Manhattan and the responsibility to make it happen was given to me for whatever reason (now I suspect that I was singled out more as a punishment because I was more vocal than the rest). Of course, I knew then that I could always count on help from my dear friend, Kamlesh Shah and that’s exactly what I did. I chose the Indian Restaurant on 57th street (no longer exists) that was nearest to my office. After quick phone calls etc, we could gather only 34 Indian people for this very first gathering, on such short notice. Next year, once again, at the same place along with Kamlesh, I hosted the party. We had 57 people in attendance then. By leaps and bound, the more and more started joining this annual gathering. After of couple of years, the idea of turning this informal gathering into an Organization was floated. To encompass every one connected to the Construction industry and to make it more broad-based, the Organization was named,” Association of Indians in Construction Industry” (AICI). Pradeep Desai, was its first President.
Pradeep and Kamlesh, as Presidents, not only created the professional framework for the Organization but also promoted it to the Construction industry in general, with help from other members. Siraj Vora, Paul Karsalia, Tushar Shah, Nilesh Kadakia etc had great stake in popularizing it among Sub-contractors while Ramesh Patel, Naresh Chopra, Devendra Shah, Mahesh Hemrajani, etc brought financial stability it badly needed. Once the Organization was on firm ground, technical proficiency seminars by experts in various fields under its stewardship were started, for the benefit of members. In essence, so many have contributed so much for the success of AICI, that it is utterly impossible to mention every ones name. It is therefore suffice to say that each and every executive committee member of last quarter century is responsible to make it one of the most sought after professional entity in NYC for construction needs. In addition to quarterly technical seminars, AICI gives out scholarships to the deserving young professionals and arranges Picnic and outings to promote networking. As the custom is, at the time of annual “Diwali” gathering, for years AICI had been publishing a Souvenir which infact is a directory of major players in Construction industry, sort of who’s who. Although, to establish and enhance the image of Indian professionals in the field of construction is at the core of AICI, it is not totally oblivious to the needs of the victims at the times of catastrophic crisis. When devastating earthquakes struck in the State of Maharastra and Gujarat in India, AICI donated tens of thousands of Dollars to the relief agencies working in affected areas. Similarly, for the victims of 9/11 Families, AICI members, monetarily and materially, generously extended their help. As the integral part of the Society they live in, most of our members are devoted to various causes that serve the disadvantaged community’s basic needs that most of take for granted in life.
In last three decades the way Construction industry conducts its business has drastically changed. In old days, valuation process (estimation), negotiations or even project awarding used to take place face-to-face. Everyone knew everybody they were dealing with on personal level and most of the time discussions, agreements – even informal ones – were as sacrilege as ‘words of personal honor’. Nobody was going around at dizzying speed. We took time to help out whosoever had any technical problem, query or wanted to learn something they did not know. This sometimes included our competitors also. With the advent of virtual reality called ‘Computers’, we have lost that personal touch. Now everything needs to be well documented, substantiated and well preserved. If no paper trail for a ‘dispute’, then no payment. Even ordinary e-mails have become legalistic. The relationships that we were able to form then remained with us till this day. Not long ago, my boss and I went to meet a Vice President of a prestigious firm. He was little unnerved because of what he had heard about ‘VP’. I had no no clue whom we were meeting. As we entered the Conf.RM, the ‘VP’ who was ‘She’ got up from the chair and came forward to shake my hand with “Hi, Prakash”. My boss was stunned to say the least. He asked, ”you two know each other?”. ‘She’ said,” of course, Prakash is the one who helped with my estimating when I was quite new to the industry. Now we don’t see any one, forget about leisurely meeting any one. From getting project documents on CDs, we have progressed to getting ‘links’ for them. Even estimating, bidding, negotiations sometimes are computer-based now. We have sort of become faceless. AICI tries to fill this void for human touch, not only once-a-year but also quarterly through our Seminars.
The reality numbers tell me that it had been a long, long journey. My memory makes me feel that it was just yesterday that 34 of us got together. Unfortunately, some of them are no longer with us. Many have retired to their tranquil life. In this passage of life, one thing is certain. The mantle of AICI is in good, firm hands and its passage is going to be nothing but smooth for decades to come.