“Our people have always been our best asset.”
- Niranjan Shah, Globetrotters Engineering Co-founder and Chairman
Nearly 50 years ago in a small office on Chicago’s South Side, two gentlemen got together with a shared vision to build a business that would help build a city.
So began Globetrotters Engineering Corporation (GEC), launched in 1974 by co-founders Niranjan Shah and William Moore. The partners grew GEC from the ground up, one contract at a time, into what today is one of the most diversified, full-service architectural and engineering firms in the Midwest. Employing hundreds of seasoned professionals, GEC, its headquarters now occupying two floors in Chicago’s downtown Loop, has served as a prime consultant on hundreds of complex, multi-million dollar infrastructure projects locally, nationally and internationally–from transportation, transit and roadways to airports, government facilities, major housing developments and more.
The firm’s humble roots reflect those of its founders. A native of India, Niranjan Shah grew up in a small village with no electricity or running water. A brilliant student who showed his engineering talents early on, Mr. Shah was able to attend Sardar Patel University in Gujarat, a state on the western coast of India, where he earned a Bachelor of Engineering degree. In 1970, he emigrated to the United States to pursue graduate studies at the University of Mississippi, where he received his Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering. He then moved to Chicago to make his home and pursue his profession.
There, he met Bill Moore, a veteran construction professional who had worked in management roles on a variety of public infrastructure projects in the Chicagoland region. The two men saw a market opportunity for civil engineering consultants who understood the local landscape. The two brought on a third partner, Adolph Scott, Jr., who oversaw business development and later helped establish the firm’s status as a minority-owned business with the city, state and federal governments.
GEC’s first break was in 1977, when the firm was brought on as a prime consultant by the Illinois Department of Transportation to perform engineering design services for a rehabilitation project on Chicago’s Edens Expressway (I-94).
From its earliest days, GEC has made environmental sustainability part of its core mission. In 1978, the firm got another big break when it was brought on as a subconsultant on Chicago’s Deep Tunnel, a massive, multi-decade mega-project aimed to reduce flooding in the city and surrounding areas, and divert to a holding reservoir contaminated stormwater and raw sewage to keep it from draining into Lake Michigan. GEC provided construction management services and geohydrological investigations for a 31-mile section of the tunnel which, when finished, had diameters of 13 to 33 feet and was connected to the existing combined sewer system by 252 collecting structures and 226 drop shafts.
When work on this part of the project was completed in 1986, the American Society of Civil Engineers awarded GEC its Outstanding Engineering Achievement Award.
The 1980s put GEC on a path of rapid growth. In 1980, GEC was selected as a subconsultant with the City of Milwaukee on its Water Pollution Abatement Program. Over the next 12 years, GEC provided civil engineering, program management and other services for the project’s design and construction improvements. During this time, the firm also added key personnel to its team. They included Dr. Jim Braxton, at the time one of the early African American graduates of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design who later served as a chief engineer with the Chicago Water Reclamation District. (Dr. Braxton, who retired from Globetrotters in 1989, passed away in 2015 at the age of 101).
In the latter 1980s, GEC became truly global when the U.S. Department of State engaged GEC to restore the U.S. Embassy in Brazil. That was followed by a contract with USAID and the Government of Indonesia to provide support for its country-wide Rural Roads Maintenance Systems project. The firm continued to be involved as a subcontractor on overseas projects in the Philippines, Indonesia, Latin America and other parts of the world for the State Department, USAID, the U.S. Information Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Work included security review and design for U.S. embassies and infrastructure engineering services for highways, rural roads, bridges, airfields, railroads, pipelines, ports and harbors, and waterways.
From 1980 to 1996, GEC also engaged with the Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) to run its Minority Business Development Centers in Gary, Indiana, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Indianapolis. Globetrotters provided management and technical assistance to certified minority and disadvantaged business enterprises (MBE/DBEs), as well as education and training opportunities to enhance the management and operational skills of minority entrepreneurs. The firm’s certification as a DBE in federal and local contracting opportunities helped GEC demonstrate its capabilities and capacity. Though it has since graduated from its original DBE status, GEC remains a certified MBE with the City of Chicago.
Managing the MBDCs was one way GEC was able to give back to the minority business community. Observed Mr. Shah on the company’s 40th anniversary, in 2014:
“No business can succeed without having the opportunity to perform, and we were fortunate to get that. City and State leaders set the tone to promote small business. Their passion and support for these businesses has created opportunities for all of us.”
Throughout the ensuing years, GEC continued to be involved in large, complex infrastructure projects abroad and at home. Other important projects included the redevelopment of Midway International Airport, infrastructure improvements to John Stroger Jr. Hospital, the McCormick Place Expansion, and the design and facility management of O’Hare Airport’s International Terminal 5.
In 2006, our award-winning Interchange at I-355 with I-80 and U.S. 6 for the Illinois Tollway was named as the number one Top Road Project in North America by the Governor of Illinois.
Incorporating green, sustainable design that is both environmentally friendly and operationally cost-effective remains a competitive advantage for the firm. We now employ more than 15 LEED-Accredited professionals across all disciplines. GEC’s environmentally-friendly design solutions protect and enhance the environment, conserve energy and natural resources, and preserve historic, scenic and aesthetic project settings.
As would be expected of a firm 47 years old, GEC’s ownership has transitioned over time. Mr. Shah, Chairman of the Board, appointed Ajay Shah, previously the firm’s General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer, as CEO.
Today, as a second-generation family-owned and led business, our leadership team is planning for the next 50 years in Globetrotters Engineering’s story. In a rapidly changing world, we can rely on the values with which Niranjan Shah and his partners built GEC to guide the firm into the future:
Inclusivity, excellence, teamwork, equitable practices, and a deep and abiding respect for the planet and the people who inhabit it–today, tomorrow and for generations to come.