The Long Road Home
At Gray, we often like to ask our team members how they would describe the company using one word or phrase. Without fail, it seems, nearly every response we get has something to do with family or feeling at home.
There is something to be said about being comfortable and feeling loved where you are. The difference between a company where you feel like you belong and one where you feel like you just come to work is really the difference between a job and a passion.
But oftentimes finding your work home is a journey that has several stops along the way. For Nasr Youssef, vice president of engineering, his journey is one that began thousands of miles away, as the citizen of another country.
“Growing up in Egypt was certainly different than the U.S.,” says Youssef. “The culture was different, the weather was different, but wherever you grow up, you don’t know any different. That’s all you know.”
Youssef was born, raised, and received most of his education in Egypt. There were no school buses to provide transportation, but Youssef says it was all just a part of the journey. In elementary school, it was nearly a 20-minute walk to and from the schoolhouse every day. In high school it was a little further, about four and a half miles, so Youssef purchased a bike to cutdown on his commute.
“It was great!”
The educational structure in Egypt at the time is part of what Youssef credits for his success today in the field of engineering. Starting in middle school, all children were required to learn a second language, including English. This of course became a huge advantage down the road when Youssef would begin his move to the U.S. Also, when he got to high school, students were incentivized to pursue certain curriculum that would be directly applicable for different career fields.
“You could choose to pursue arts or science, and then within science you had the option of biology or mathematics. Biology and chemistry are more for doctors and the medical field, and of course mathematics is more engineering,” says Youssef. “From then on, it was really preparing me and setting everything up for me to take the national exams and get into college and pursue engineering as a career.”
That education did exactly what it was intended to do. From high school, Youssef went on to Cairo University where he studied and received a bachelor’s degree in engineering before taking a summer internship in Germany that would change everything.
Moving to America
While working as an intern in Germany, Youssef was exposed to a way of life he had never seen before. This new, western way of living was something that intrigued him so much that, after graduation, he decided to “give it a try.”
“At that time, you had several countries that accepted immigration: Canada, U.S., Australia, Brazil. So where do you want to go? I thought if you’re leaving your country, you might as well shoot for the top!”
Youssef filled out all the proper paperwork, crossed the t’s, and dotted the i’s, and to his amazement, he was accepted!
“You’re young, single, what do you have to lose? If it doesn’t work, you just turn around and go home.”
So, armed with a suitcase, the clothes on his back, and a one-way plane ticket, Youssef headed off to chase America with a dream.
He arrived at Kennedy airport on the Saturday before Labor Day, headed to the state employment office to look for open positions, and by that Thursday, started work as a junior engineer for the city of New York.
“The city of New York is such a melting pot and the office where I worked had every nationality, every religion, every color, and they were so helpful. You fit in, you blended in. It was a good job, and things really worked out,” says Youssef. “Day after day, year after year, you just stop thinking about going back. You like the city, you like the people, you like the job, so why go back?”
Climbing the Ladder
Youssef was doing anything but resting on his laurels during his time in New York. The young engineer was hard at work advancing both his professional and personal life. During his seven years working for the city, Youssef met and married his wife. The couple also had one child. Youssef additionally took and passed the Principles and Practice of Engineering Examination, but he still was hungry for more growth.
“I really wanted an American degree. So, I started looking around at my options and I again thought, let’s shoot for the top.”
Youssef applied and was accepted to Columbia University where he received his master’s degree in electrical engineering.
Nearing the end of his time in New York, Youssef began to look around and consider options about the future. One potential option that caught his eye was a design-build company out of Boston that had a large operation in Saudi Arabia.
“After a couple of interviews with the company, I was offered the job, but they told me instead of going to Saudi Arabia I’d be staying in the Boston office.”
Youssef took the job and flourished. He quickly rose up the ranks from senior engineer, to head of the department, and then eventually vice president. Business was booming and all was going well until one wrong decision.
“They took a bad job, a very bad job, and it bankrupted the company,” says Youssef.
The company was bought out by an outside organization and for a couple of years Youssef stuck around to try and right the ship. In that time, some of his friends from the Boston-based company left, and asked him to come join them at a design-build firm in Lexington, Kentucky.
Finally Finding Home
“I did not even know where Kentucky was.”
It has now been 31 years since Youssef made that decision to come to Gray. He has been an integral part on a number of projects, in which his vast experience and expertise has provided invaluable assistance in winning and successfully completing key facilities including the T. Marzetti Sister Schubert’s bakery, Nestlé Waters North America water bottling facility, Austal USA naval ship modular manufacturing facility, Buffalo Trace Distillery mash house renovation, EGGER Wood Products particleboard manufacturing plant, and many others.
“Nasr has played a significant role in both Gray’s engineering department and company culture,” says Stephen Gray, president and CEO, Gray. “Nasr constantly keeps the customers’ best interest in mind when it comes to budget and project performance needs, and he is excellent at solving complex problems while leading customers to value-driven solutions that exceed their expectations.”
“I’ve witnessed countless customers rapidly build genuine trust with Nasr and his leadership. Additionally, he is often called upon to share his wealth of knowledge and experience in the industry with his Gray team members,” says Brian Jones, president and CEO, Gray Construction.
When we asked Youssef what it was that made Gray so special, his answer was similar to so many others.
“It’s a good company to be a part of.”
That is a unique and perfect way to put it. Our team members each play a part in the success of the business. From those who have been here 30+ years, to those who started this week, we all are a part.
For Youssef, it may have been a long road all the way from Egypt to Lexington, but he is finally home.
“And the rest, as they say, is history.”