173. Hero: Hussain Al-Khalaf – Sr. Project Manager at Jedson Engineering Transcript
Welcome back as we continue our amazing journey down the holidays with our heroes series here on EECO Asks Why and you know, by now, between here and Christmas. These episodes are coming week in and week out. And they are full of inspiration and Christmas week is quickly approaching and that’s when the big surprise will be revealed. So you do not want to miss it.
Now, on this episode, I sat down with my buddy Hussain Al-Khalaf and you may remember him from episode 116, where he gave us that inside look to the pulp and paper world. Now here Hussain talks about a lot of his passions, what he enjoys doing. He’s a big runner. He actually has a coach in doing that. And even since we recorded this, Hussain is now working for a company called Jedson engineering. I know you are going to love Hussain, his story and his inspiration.
Speaking about those stories we’re still getting the industry war stories coming in. And what better time of year than this time of year to start thinking about you’re going to be meeting with family and friends, you’re going to be getting together, gathering and telling all sorts of wonderful stories. So if you do just capture it, record it, send it to us. We love to share your industry war story with others. You can submit those to us on Instagram or Facebook. And you can check out the links in the show notes to figure out exactly how to do that. If you have any questions, just reach out to us. Now it’s time to get some really great insight from my buddy Hussain and his amazing journey. Que the music.
Welcome EECO Asks Why. Today we have a hero conversation and we’re very excited to have with us, Mr. Hussain Al-Khalaf, who is the capital project manager at International Paper. So welcome Hussain.
Thank you. And thank you. Thanks Chris.
How you doing today, man?
Very good. We’re lucky to be alive.
You get that right. Now you’re based out of Savannah, right? So it looks like it’s a beautiful day. Just judge it by the sunshine behind you. It looks like it’s a beautiful day in Georgia.
About 74 right now. And it’s supposed to climb up to 78.
All right. All right. Well, that’s wonderful. Well, we love to get these conversations started Hussain just by sharing your journey with our listeners. So what would you like to tell us?
Well, I’ve got a long journey. Do you want the long version of the short version?
I like the low version of a long version. Always.
All right. You’re going to grab a cup of something while you sit back and enjoy it then. All right, well, hence the name I’m not a US native. I was born in the eighties back in Baghdad, Iraq, and do the turmoil. My parents made a decision to actually leave country, like any Iraqi immigrant family seeking refuge, we were not welcome to any country, unfortunately, around the world, the sanctions due to all that. And so we moved from Iraq Baghdad, Iraq to Amman Jordan for a few months, and then to Beirut Lebanon stayed in Beirut for about six years from a eight to the age of 14.
And they would was not stable. It was not a stable country by any, by all means. Although we did not live comfortably. It brought the family together and it was one of the best places we’ve lived in as a family, despite external factors, there is a beautiful country. If you have a chance to go, go. People love life. People enjoy life. People love their country.
And then late two thousands. My father who’s a doctor got an opportunity and to work in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates. Where we moved and things got a lot better for the family. And then fast forward four years. Just Canada to pursue my undergrad education.
And that’s why I enrolled in university in Hamilton, Ontario, and on my own, I ventured out. A 19 year old wanting to get myself. I thought I was invincible. I thought I can do it all by myself. And no. So I experienced that huge culture shock, a weather shock. Felt like the earth revolved in a different direction than where I was, it was somewhat tough to a manage life, house responsibilities, working part-time, juggling working part-time. And doing odd jobs work. I mean, and school, sorry. I wouldn’t say I graduated with flying colors but it was a difficult journey at first. And I slowly was able to find my bearings and eventually finished my undergrad.
And then 2009 in engineering. And I started to work with shortly after graduation. I started working with Georgia Pacific as a junior process control engineer. They have operations and they had operations in Canada in Southern Ontario where started as a a junior class control engineer in a gypsum plant.
So after Georgia Pacific or GP, the gypsum industry, I shortly moved into the consulting world. I worked with a pilot plant manufacturer and that was a really interesting job where we built miniature sized plants and was administered like that. And it was miniature all cracking and oil the oil industry.
So they build a smaller plant to approve a larger. Oil rig, let’s say so. It was solely built for lab purposes. It was really interesting job. Shortly after I then joined an opportunity opened up in Northern Canada where You’ve experienced minus 59 winters for almost six months of the year. I jumped all over it anyways. It was in the OSB business the oriented strand board. If you’re familiar with it, it’s a substitute to plywood. It was a manufacturing plant in a town called Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan in Northern Canada where there, I led a process control department in the day-to-day maintenance activities. The plant was located in a very small town. Like I said, a population of 1300 people is about four and a half hours away from anything from an airport, from a Costco, from a Walmart, we had two gas stations but you know, a handful of restaurants and the whole town goes to sleep at five.
So, and everybody knew everybody. You couldn’t do anything that people would know of, right? Yeah. This, although it was a very pleasant experience. I liked to immerse myself within the community, so I helped a lot around the community. I shouldn’t say I helped. I immersed myself in the community and gained many different experiences, learned a lot about myself, about people learned to appreciate and look at things from many different angles.
I kept myself busy with community events, like I said joined the rotary club. I volunteered as a coach. Haskell the Hudson bay high school track team. And then in 2014 I’ve got married and moved my wife into Hudson Bay. She loved it… not. So we moved yeah, in 20 and 2016 is when we moved to Portland, Oregon.
The company had an engineering a corporate engineering office located in Washington Vancouver, Washington. And it was one of the, one of the best jobs I’ve done or introduced me to project management where I served as a deputy project manager and a commissioning team lead for projects across the US and Canada. That was a very fun, enjoyable time in my life. Traveling seeing different mills, understanding each mill. What the business does and look from a development standpoint, execution standpoint and commissioning standpoint. So it gave me a lot of appreciation of all these different levels within the company within the projects when the execution levels and the November, 2015 Warehouser announced the sale of their cellulose fiber mills and corporate engineering office. And December, 2016 is when I became an IP employee and moved to Savannah to take on a capital project manager role in June of 2017 and fast forward a few years in 2021 and here I am standing. in front of you.
Man that is great. Yeah. So you have been all over the place, Hussain. That is an amazing story.
Yeah. Contributes to a lot of a lot of my learnings. Definitely.
No doubt, man. That’s now the culture shock alone of, just going from where you were to Canada, I’m sure that was a big one, but I’m thinking the temperature shock itself was probably a big one too.
Very much. Yeah. It came from an environment that the coldest, it would get back in a degree. C it’d be minus one or minus two. So it’ll be 32, 31 degrees F at the lowest, but I went to Canada where it’s far beyond that.
No kidding, man. And then you went even further north and I am familiar with OSB. I used to serve several OSB plants, so I know they could be a lot of fun. I love the the presses inside the OSB mills, the way those presses work to actually make the board but so like it got even colder the further up you went.
So your wife was saying nope, we’re getting out of this cold weather. We gotta get to some warmness. Wonderful answered. It’s been a great journey. Thank you for sharing. So if you’re looking, you’ve been at pulp and paper for a while, what do you see as some of the greatest challenges that industry has in the future?
From my perspective being a younger engineer it’s attracting new talents and the industry. Specifically on new graduates, attracting generation Y individuals where some of them want to work from home or do not necessarily want to get dirty or do not understand that the industry itself. The manufacturing industry itself. So they want to spend less time at work some times and more time focusing on things external to work. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just, it’s a shift. The market and the industry has to adjust to this change and integrate a work-life balance, a workplace that essentially attract people of that nature.
In lieu of that. I think that’s a great feedback. How should we attract them? How can we get that next generation? That gen Y you were talking about to really open their eyes and consider this industry? Are there any practical ideas you may have, or just thoughts around attracting people so far as getting them to want to really invest time in learning about the industry?
Yeah primarily education educate them on the industry, educate them on the manufacturing industry and what sort of rewards they would get being part of that industry. Certainly the challenges are rewarding to me as I spent about 11 years in the manufacturing now and have seen and learned a lot and brought on and expanded my skillset, if you will.
Manufacturing in general is a good place to start the career because. If you could wear many hats and you’re given the opportunity to provide or are do things that are definitely challenging and rewarding, like I stated and then working with a company as IP provides avenues to excel and take your career in the direction that you aspire or want to achieve, and anybody can rise through the ranks, provided that they have the driver and vision.
Right no doubt. Now let’s pretend that we’re in a high school right now and we’re sitting in front of a class of seniors and you want to give them some advice about the future and maybe think that maybe they’re thinking about manufacturing or pulp and paper, or just industry in general. What advice would you offer up, man?
Spend more time thinking about how you can change the opportunities at hand. Understand what’s challenging. Study the challenge before making strides or attempt to change anything. That’s probably the number one thing that come to mind,
So seek to understand.
Seek to understand. Yes.
There you go. That’s so important. I think we’re mighty quick these days to just feel like we need to jump in with an answer, but if we’re not, we don’t have all the information that we need. We may be making a mistake. Couldn’t we?
That is correct. Yeah. Collect all the facts, collect all the on the information before you jump to conclusions.
No doubt my friend. Now how about when you look back across your career, I’m sure there’ve been people in your life that have helped you from a mentor standpoint trying to give you good advice and help you along your way. Does anybody stand out?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve been fortunate to work with amazing people thus far. And I’ve learned a lot from some projects that I’ve executed. And thus far as a PM and as a process control engineer and the one person that helped me or kickstart my career, let’s say and had believed in me and hired me on as a co-op student, but he doesn’t know by the way that I’m calling him out here. His name was Sean Murray. He was a great and awesome individual by that I mean, He like he hired me on, he saw the potential in me as a junior process control engineer wanting to get a co-op job. And he handed me a great deal of responsibility or I’d like to think of that at the time to basically design the human machine interface or the graphics or the HMI and then integrate it with the controller and obviously the first thing, I wouldn’t know what to do first day on the job. You handed me information and be like, go to work.
But I slowly started realizing that he focused on my personality and my personal development, not necessarily my technical abilities. I know I come back to work the next day and he would approach the problems that I had in a different way. So he always had a vested interest in developing me rather than my technical background. They didn’t make me feel like I was a co-op student. He criticized my actions, but not didn’t judge me as a, as my character. I learned a great deal from him. He was always composed and calm regardless of the number of hours he put in each day. He was humble in practice, humility day in and day out. So he was the first person at that plant that I looked up to as a mentor and in the early part of my career.
It sounds like he was pretty intentional as well about, investing his time in you to try to help you. And to just to be that mentor, man. That’s awesome. Yeah. Yeah.
It’s great to feel that way and have people around you that support you.
Absolutely. Now, have you had a chance to mentor others and all the way now this next generation is coming up? Are you finding opportunities to help others particularly in your industry?
Yes. Yes, certainly. We bring in new talents, younger talents. So we try to educate them about the different parts of the paper, manufacturing industry, not only making paper, but there’s supporting services that support the paper industry that supports the machine put like putting new projects. That’s what we primarily do. So we educate them and mentor them on how to develop projects. Take them from an idea into something that can be designed and then later executed and built and handed over to the operations team.
That’s pretty cool, man. Well, hats off to you for recognizing that’s important for you to invest in other people. And he just seemed like it’s a happy guy. Maybe that’s just your personality, man. It’s just, I love your energy. So the happiness that I’m feeling right now, what you’ve been talking about. When do you have that happiness at work? Where you’re feeling fulfillment, you’re really enjoying what you’re doing. What are you doing in those moments? What makes you the happiest?
Well, let me focus on the first part of your question. It’s, when you get fulfillment from when you achieve a goal, when you complete a race, you get that like hormones going through your body. I always liked to feel that way and I’ve gotten that comment from several others. First I most get fulfilled at work when I feel that I have a, I know I’m working with a winning team. It’s about this primarily hinges on how you conduct yourself as a project manager or a leader, or applying good leadership practices and trusting and encouraging teammates.
This is my responsibility to ensure that I facilitate and pave a way to allow people to collaborate or understand. And primarily that’s what we’re after, right, is to make an environment that’s conducive to performing, right? Make it easy for everyone to come to work, wanting to come to work and help them navigate and ensure that we have clear vision and this is what is expected, set the vision. This is what expected, and then guide them through the finish line.
Secondly, this, the sense of fulfillment does not stop at that, but when the team collectively arrives at the finish line, it’s a good feeling. It’s not one person got you to the finish line, but it’s a team effort that gets the winning trophy basically.
That’s right. I’m just feeling that for you, that team collaboration is so important.
Yeah. I realized that you can’t accomplish a task by our own. If you’re at home, you have your family supporting you, right. So that’s your team. If you’re at work, we have the team working with you to achieving our goals and vision, and that’s another team. So it’s I don’t believe in one person can do it all.
Absolutely. Now let’s do one more question about your career and the answer may be you survived the winters in Northern Canada. That may be a highlight, but if there are other highlights you want to look back when things you’ve done that are pretty cool throughout your career. Does anything stand out as a highlight?
Yeah, many highlights I enjoy working with people. I don’t know if you can tell or not, but I don’t like to be stuck behind a computer for such a long time. I did that for the first part of my career, being a process control engineer, where you sit in troubleshoot or sit and program certain code, set in design. I enjoyed that but you know, the moment that I broke away from it, I started finding different fulfillment. That highlights a milestone. And that was a chapter in my career where I’m glad I moved away from, because I started learning. I started experiencing different avenues. And I’m a very social person and that’s that doesn’t fit with your stereotypical engineer’s right? I somehow always find myself drawn to social events, participating in, being in touch with, in contact with people. And certainly that’s not a typical engineer, I guess. So, yeah that that’s probably, one of the main highlights
That’s very cool. Thank you for sharing the information about your career as wonderful. I thank you. You’re making a big impact out there. Now let’s shift gears a little bit. Let’s talk outside of work and I’m excited cause I’ve done some research on you. I know you guys have pretty cool hobbies. So why don’t you share with our listeners some hobbies you have, man.
I have numerous hobbies. But yeah. With a young family it’s difficult to manage your time, work, and what you want to do outside of work and basically just by yourself. So I have to think of ways of doing things with my son, get them engaged while I get to go for a run or a bike ride or swim or whatever. So I love running. I love cycling and I love swimming. I used to race just a short period of time before I got injured, but luckily I could, I get to enjoy the running so, I tried to find ways of doing that with my son.
So I buy all this equipment to have him either sit with me, struggle through that with me and have sweat splash all over. Either take them on a bike ride and at the same time, trying to educate them. And have them pick up the sport that has done his dad loves and enjoys.
The other hobby I like to coach and seeing people pursue their and their passions. I enjoy coaching and share my experiences with younger runners, seasoned runners and people, even people that haven’t, moved a couple of feet before in a straight line direction to to pursue running primarily around not only running, but I also coach cycling in and a little bit of swimming as well.
Okay. So I haven’t talked to a running coach before, so maybe talk to us a little bit. What is a typical session with a running coach look like? What are you doing there?
Well, coming from having an engineering background helps me look at the symmetry points of each runner because we’re pretty much symmetrical head to let’s say belly button after that, your legs are on their own, there’s not much symmetry going down. So I look for opportunities to correct symmetry first, before we can introduce, any hard workouts that would know would improve your performance or your endurance.
So I would look at getting a symmetrical hip, symmetrical knees, symmetrical angles before we can attack different paradigms, if you will to improving your fitness and making you run faster and more efficiently.
That’s pretty cool. So how long have you been doing that?
Since unofficially not as a business, I’ve been coaching and mentoring runners since 2014, but I just launched my business last year during the pandemic.
Okay. Well, wish you much luck with that. And we can definitely link that into show notes so our listeners can check it out and learn more that if they want to run faster and get better, they know where to go. That’s it. You guys said that you rigged up your bike and your some equipment to take your son for a ride and run with you. What else would you like to share with us about your family?
From a loving and caring family was brought up in different parts of the world. Middle East, Canada and US. Lived in five different countries by the age of 18. I learned at an early age to appreciate the world and believe that everyone has a lot to offer. I’m fortunate to be married to a beautiful woman, we share a four and a half year old and a four month old, a baby girl. And we’re as busy parents. But that doesn’t mean that we have to stop thinking about people around us, people that support us not necessarily people that we we’re ever going to ask a favor of but promote a peaceful environment. It can be conducive to the living life to the fullest.
That’s awesome, man. Well, thank you so that you have your hands full there with a young baby and a four and a half year old son. So that’s a good times ahead for you, my friend.
Thank you. Thank you. Luckily she’s been easy.
That’s right. That’s right. Well, it’s good stuff, man. Good stuff. Now how about from a personal standpoint, are there any podcast or videos, books, things like that, that you’ve, that you find value in that you think you like to share with others?
Yeah. I just recently started listening to you guys, it’s you guys have and have been bringing great people. Interviewing great people and been learning a lot from the material you present. But on a running front I read a lot of books, primarily around running. Marathon training and just general form general fitness books.
And I’d like to. And maybe a couple of the books that I’ve recently read is a book called Running Rewired. It talks about how you can rewire your brain to run efficiently and it presents exercises that would rewire your brain to teach your body how to move in different planes. So I thought that was a great, really intriguing greed. I learned a lot from it and that I use that as let’s say, a Bible to educate runners and coach runners to adopt some of the exercises or fashions of exercise of exercises that book institutes.
And another really good book. I don’t know if you’ve heard of David Goggins. Yeah, he’s the book’s name is Can’t Hurt Me. It’s a great book to help people move forward and achieve their goals. He went from being overweight and depressed becoming a record breaking athlete. He’s an inspiring military leader. And I world class personal trainer when it comes to getting fit a lot of basically what he talks about. We’re either too busy or we want to sleep in, or we don’t feel like it. It’s a definitely a good read for your listeners to adopt.
Yeah. And we’ll make sure we link all that stuff in our show notes for our listeners. They can go straight to those resources, man.
A couple more books. Awaken the Giant Within, by Tony Robbins. It’s a great book. I read it twice now. And the first time I read the book was, it made me feel really happy for a few weeks, actually, just to try and remember the things I read on a daily basis and try to implement them. And the power of the techniques in this book is definitely life changing for me. And implementation of all of them can be difficult. Of course many are not easy, but you have to force yourself to, or being that habit to make a change. One of the most practical books that I’ve ever read.
And some of the takeaways that I’ve been utilizing to this day, I’ve read the book, write the book about a year and a half ago. And some of the takeaways I can share with your listeners is you can change your beliefs to ones that empower you and the remove ones that disempower you. So always be positive, basically focus only on things that can, that you can control. Don’t try changing things that you cannot. You don’t have the power to make a change or impact and follow your end values not your mean values, right? These are the three main takeaways.
And another book is the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I don’t know if you’ve read that very well. It’s a great book.
Yeah. I mean, it’s a definitely a good resource. I have it a having on my bookshelf myself. So it’s one that has helped me in the past as well, man. So I’ll tell you what Hussain we love to play a game called the lightning round. We get to just ask a bunch of random questions. Gives us a little more insight to who you are as a person. What makes you really tick? So if you’re willing to play, we’ll get to. Go ahead. And what’s your I’m interested with you being the world wide traveler that you’ve been what’s your favorite food?
Are you familiar with shawarma? Well, it’s a middle Eastern steak, basically rotates on a, put to punch a bunch of meat or chicken on a skewer and then rotating in front of a open flame and they slice it. Cut, put in a sandwich and devour it.
That’s awesome some stuff, huh?
We don’t have burgers, we have burgers, but it’s like a substitute to burger, but in the middle east.
How about let’s go all-time favorite movie, man.
Scarface. Yeah. I love that movie.
What about music?
Music? I like a dance music
Dance music. Okay.
Yeah. I like I don’t know, I just listen on Spotify to dance music. I don’t have a particular, I’m a very boring person. As my wife calls me, I listen to news in the morning. I don’t listen to music. I try to find something. I enjoy news channels. I don’t know why I enjoy the drama in the world. I like to listen to the drama in the world.
There’s definitely no lack of that right now my friend. How about sports teams. Do you have any favorite sports teams?
Yeah, I’m a huge soccer fan. I grew up in a household where my uncles watched soccer day in, day out, or we call it football, and in this world, do you call it soccer? But I am a Man United. Manchester United to the bone for the soccer fanatics that listen to this podcast will understand. I don’t like I dislike Liverpool and I dislike Chelsea.
Got that plug in. I hear you, man. Now you have been all over the world. So I’m curious about this. Is there anywhere you haven’t been yet that you’d love to go?
I’d love to visit Turkey and I’d love to visit the Eastern Asia. I didn’t have a chance to go to China, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam. I like, like I said, every country offers some different and there’s good people everywhere you go. so, yeah, I’d love to experience that east Asian.
Now since you have been all over, how many languages do you speak?
Just two. Arabic and English.
Okay. All right. How about vacation somewhere you’ve been that you just highly recommend others to go to?
I can tell you a place that I am in personally, but I, my wife and I have been planning to go eh, two places Greece and Turkey. My parents go to Turkey whenever they get a chance. It’s a beautiful country. It combined both, the middle east and Europe in the same location. And Greece, it’s known to be one of the most romantic, Greece Island, sorry. Very, romantic very very beautiful.
Okay now stick it to that romantic theme. So you’re taking your wife out for a nice night just you and her. What are you guys doing? Where are you going? What’s that night look like?
We would probably end up in a restaurant and be wanting to go back home to look after the kids, five minutes into it. Unfortunately, we don’t have any family around, so we don’t have a lot of dates together. Parents are not close by my parents live in both our parents live in Canada. So, yeah, but back to your question if we do think of going out and we’ll probably go spend an hour and then we’d be racing back to come home.
I agree. I hear you. Last one dogs or cats?
I don’t have either, honestly, but if I would ever to get a pet, I would get a dog.
There was only one right answer and you got it right. So that was a lot of fun, man. I get to know you more. Thank you for being such a good sport on that.
Thank you. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
This has been a fun conversation just saying, and we call it EECO Asks Why we wrap up with the why, and this is all about your passion, what drives you as an individual. So what would be your personal why?
My personal, why. Should I mention something about maybe a retirement or?
Your buddy, for sure. Wherever you want to go.
I love bicycles. I don’t know if you could tell, but I have a bicycle right behind me here. I love to ride. I love to race it just given me I don’t know. It pumps that adrenaline in my bloodstream and I’d always wanted to open up my own bike shop where I’d leisurely bike to work every day.
And it probably is a retirement dream and then bike to work by bike back home when I’m done work and then enjoy maybe two or three days or three rides a day. With, either the team or whoever decides to pick up a ride with me during the day. That’s on a personal level and of course something on a family level, I just watch my kids grow in front of my eyes and I hope that God keeps me around so I can enjoy their successes.
I love it. I love it. I hope that dream comes to fruition one day for you all. That sounds like a wonderful goal that you’re reaching for with that bike shop, man.
Thank you. Hopefully I’ll let you know when I’m 65.
Now the people that want to learn about your coaching practice or just connect with you, what’s the best way to do that?
My website probably has all information and I have an Instagram as well. Our website is www.irun4.life. You can find a lot of information, their contact information and plans that I offer.
And we’ll make sure we link all that in our show notes for our listeners too. They could go straight to Hussain’s information for his running practice and connect with him on LinkedIn. I know you drop a lot of really good quotes and things like that on LinkedIn. I’m really enjoying what you’re putting out there. So, and this has been a fun hero conversation. You’re definitely one of our heroes and I can’t thank you enough for taking the time you did with us.
Thank you, sir. I really appreciate the opportunity.
Absolutely. You have a wonderful day.
Have a good weekend.