“From the moment I set up Dar Al-Handasah, I had in mind that the company should become something that would continue to prosper long after I had finished working for it-and, indeed, departed this earth.”

Dr. Kamal Shair led a unique life as an outstanding engineer, prominent businessman and tireless activist. He was born on August 10th, 1930 in the small village of Salt in North-West Transjordan. Starting at the American University of Beirut in 1945, he went on to earn a PhD in chemical engineering from Yale University in 1954. Soon after, he returned to the Middle East with big dreams and the determination of great achievers.

Dar Al-Handasah is the incarnation of his vision: an engineering, architectural, and planning consultancy rooted in the Middle East with expanding global reach. Today, Dar has become Dar Group, an alliance of complementary specialist consultants, providing expert solutions to clients around the world.

His early experience growing up in the Arab world and his western education shaped his unique blend of activism for self-determined, democratic, and progressive societies in what is still one of the world’s most volatile regions. He was instrumental in implementing economic reforms, pushing for change and advocating progress through education and innovation. Kamal Shair was in turn advisor, and close friend to heads of states, intellectuals, and journalists who shared his vision of change for the Middle East.

In his later years, his focus widened to embrace global concerns. He was an ardent believer in global responsibility and environmental issues, promoting social and community involvement in all the areas in which Dar operates.

Dr Kamal Shair will be remembered by all those who knew and worked with him as an individual with great integrity and unwavering loyalty. A hard worker, his devotion to the company he built and his contributions to half a century of Arab history have left an enduring imprint. His legacy will forever remain that of a leader with boundless energy who inspired people around him to reach their full potential. The culture and spirit he instilled in his beloved company will live on forever.

Dr. Kamal Shair passed away in the early hours of August 21st, 2008.

“Although I was an engineer and a scientist, I have always been fascinated by the subtleties of philosophy-especially the power of rationalism as a mean of advancing argument.”

Dr. Kamal Shair belonged to an era of heightened political and cultural activity where the features of a new Arab identity and the role of democracy in solving the region's problems first emerged. It is through his identity as a free Arab, a lover-of freedom and democracy that he defined himself. Dr. Shair didn't see any contradiction between those terms; he was an Arab liberal, one who supports free markets, fair competition, and freedom of choice and expression.

Although highly outspoken and often scathingly critical of Arab regimes, leaders, and historically bad decisions, Kamal Shair adopted what he himself called: active neutrality. He believed that lateral thinking and a non-confrontational approach is a very effective way to solve intractable problems. He avoided being sucked into the kind of political rivalries that active party politics encourages. Arab nations needn't align themselves with either global power, they should only take an active role on the issues that concern them.

Active neutrality he argued is the only attitude that enables the Arab to judge whether or not a certain issue is favorable to the process of achieving the goals of the Arab countries themselves.

“The future belongs to the young, and they must find their own ways to shape it. But for those who are set upon establishing their own enterprises, I believe there are important lessons from Dar Al-Handasah’s experience.”

Dr. Kamal Shair never intended Dar Al-Handasah to be a local or even regional company. He wanted to provide young architects and engineers the opportunity to work alongside the best in the world. He believed work to be a great source of pleasure and satisfaction as well as the best way to gain hands on experience and develop leadership skills. Even in the early years, before mega-airports and FTP file transfers, Dar engineers and architects were jetting to unexplored destinations. By being part of multi-national teams designing new cities, laying down infrastructure concepts, he believed is the sure way to forge strong friendships with clients-some now over 40 years and still going. The close bonds that Dr. Kamal Shair and Dar staff developed were not just limited to clients, the transparent working style that is now so much part of Dar's culture established relationships of mutual trust and respect with other consultants.

In 1969, more than 15 years after splitting the business with his founding partner, Dr. Kamal Shair took the gustiest decision he had to make so far. He relinquished 60% ownership to working partner-senior architects or engineers-who had made a substantial contribution to the firm's advancement, or individuals that have distinguished themselves by their leadership qualities and technical skills. Giving up ownership was a completely foreign concept to Dar's working environment. Back in the 1970, this idea was completely novel, and many close to Dr. Kamal Shair were adamantly opposed to it. In less than a decade-between 1970 and 1979-the decision proved to be the right one. Today Dar Al-Handasah is part of Dar group an alliance of specialty consultants providing clients around the world with leading services and superior expertise in multiple markets.

Dr. Shair passed away on August 21st, 2008

First year at the American University of Beirut
First visit to Cairo
Set sail to the United States
End of British Mandate
over Transjordan
The First Arab-Israeli War
and the establishment of the
state of Israel

Dar Al-Handasah formally opened for business
in November
Dr. Shair establishes Dar Al-Handasah, an
engineering Consulting firm, with four of his
colleagues from AUB with an initial capital of
LL25,000 at the time the equivalent of $7,000
Dar's first big
Dar takes a 30% reduction on consulting
fees to land its first big commission, the
Kuwait Power Station Project

Three partners amicably leave Dar Al-Handasah
leaving only two
Kuwait power
station switched on
the six-day war
Dr.Shair takes his first trip
to Africa

Dar Al-Handasah Shair and Partners
is established
Dar Cairo opens
for business
Onset of the Lebanese
civil war
Dar Beirut partially
shut down
“My leaving of
Lebanon was one
of the saddest
days of my life”
Dar Al-Handasah acquires
American architecture firm
Perkins and Will
Jordan's Senate
King Hussein appoints Dr. Shair
member of Jordan’s Senate
Jordan renounces responsibility
over the West Bank
Taif Agreement is
brokered in Lebanon
Dr. Shair makes his
first trip to Angola
Dr. Shair leaves Lebanon
and settles in Amman
Dar Group acquires UK-based Penspen
King Hussein dies
Iraq invades Kuwait
Dar Group acquires
French interior design
firm Pierre Yves Rochon
Dar Al-Handasah leads the
planning efforts for the reconstruction
of Beirut’s Central District
Dr. Shair pens his biography in
his book “Out of the Middle East”
King Abdul
Aziz international airport
Dar Group acquires
Landrum & Brown
Doctorate at the AUB
Dar Group acquires R&H
Railway Consultants
Dr Shair gives the
address and receives
an honorary Doctorate
at the American
University of Beirut
Dr. Shair signs Improvement and
Rehabilitation of King Abdul Aziz
International Airport Project

Kamal Shair was an avid writer and charismatic speaker, in 2006 he penned his biography "Out of the Middle East" in which he recounts his ascension from modest means to building an international architecture, engineering, and consulting firm despite the odds stacked against him.

Of particular interest to Dr. Shair was the struggle of the Arab people to re-invent themselves into modern, productive, and free societies. His commitment to change is documented in his work in the Jordanian Senate , his speeches and articles, as well as what has been written about him.

Dr. Shair was one of a handful of enlightened entrepreneurs in the Arab world. He loved the company he established and dedicated his working life to its success. He took his decisions after careful consideration and consultation but was very passionate in their pursuit. He went after his goals with every intent to make them happen and the kind of spirit that turns dreams into reality. His relentless drive created a philosophy of achievement and pride that is now the culture that sets Dar Al-Handasah apart.

For a full list of documents and manuscripts please contact Dar Al-Handasah Archives

50th Anniversary Address
December 8th, 2006- Beirut
The Dar Al-Handasah Culture: Our Approach to Leadership and Management

I welcome you as we celebrate Dar Al-Handasah (Shair and Partners) Golden Jubilee.
This month marks Dar Al-Handasah’s 50th anniversary, the company I had founded and have had the privilege to lead ever since. As a student in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, I resolved that I would dedicate myself to establishing a world-class architecture and engineering consultancy in the Middle East, on equal footing with European and American firms dominating our region of the world.

Following my doctoral studies, I returned from Yale convinced that Beirut was the right place to realize my mission and that AUB would play a major role in supplying the necessary human potential.

I was fortunate to be appointed assistant professor at the School of Engineering and Architecture in 1956.  It was during that summer that I invited four colleagues for coffee on campus. During that fateful meeting between friends, we shared a common feeling about the Middle East.  The region was ready for an Arab multi-disciplinary consultancy to compete against the dominant western firms.  We were lucky to be working in an academic institution and the university wholeheartedly embraced our endeavour and allowed us to embark on an entrepreneurial challenge in the real world.

We each contributed to our venture’s initial capital- a sum amounting to around $10,000 as I recall. Half was subscribed to meet start-up costs over the first six months, the other half kept as future collateral.  Turns out we would never touch the collateral we set aside, early revenues were quick and consistent.

Dar-Al Handasah was in business.

Fifty years on, the firm is among the leading international multi-disciplinary architecture and engineering consultants. Not only have we met the challenge of competing with leading western firms in the Middle East, but we succeeded in building Dar Group, a global international alliance of specialist consultants and a leading participant in American and European markets.

Our corporate roots in Lebanon have undoubtedly provided the firm with a platform that has served it exceptionally well as it evolved into a global presence. Lebanon has endowed the firm with a number of advantages sparking advancement and progress. Among the many advantages,  I would like to mention the renowned Lebanese entrepreneurial spirit, high work ethics, excellent education,  multi-lingual versatility all of which have established a deeply rooted tradition of highly skilled and creative professionals working throughout the Arab world, African continent, and beyond.

We have indeed benefited from outstanding technical and entrepreneurial individuals who have led and managed the firm so far. But individuals with leadership potential require an institutional environment where they can emerge, thrive, and guide others along the way.

I believe a fundamental part of Dar’s success is the highly motivating corporate environment providing leadership potential and the mechanism necessary for the perpetual renewal of the firm’s leadership.  By the end of the 1960s,we had 300 employees.  As the firm grew, it became necessary to develop a leading and committed cadre.  Extending ownership to individuals showing remarkable leadership potential was the answer; I was certain this was the only way to sustain the firm’s advancement. On January 1st, 1970, I effectively gave away 60% of my share –being the sole owner- to ten senior engineers and architects recognized for their contribution. The impact was instantaneous; Dar became a highly energized enterprise as a result.

I believe concentrating ownership among a few key individuals was the best way to keep them motivated and running a successful firm.  The rewards of ownership provided the incentive for individuals to assume increased responsibilities. Immediately following our restructuring we opened up onto new market, and delved into new areas of expertise.

By the end of the 1970s, we had grown to around 1,000 employees, we had to increase the number of top managers again and keep our commitment to leadership renewal. Those retiring or leaving the firm automatically passed their shares back to be ‘recycled’ to the next generation of leaders. The firm buys back the shares from departing partners. New partners acquire their shares based on the net asset value per share and start earning profit on them immediately. Only when the initial value of the acquired shares is covered by their earned profits can partners start receiving full dividend payments. I have no doubt that my decisions in 1970 to embrace the leadership cadre as collective owners of the firm and in 1979 to provide for the recycling of ownership have been fundamental in developing a sustainable  structure and strong values.  I equally have no doubt that the partners’ energy and enthusiasm stem from a clear vision and a corporate dynamism inherent within the firm.
As our enterprise grew larger, I became increasingly aware of the challenge to provide a corporate culture and management structure combining three key ingredients

  • Processes to continually harness the creative potential our employees
  • Mechanisms to monitor and assure the quality of the deliverables to our clients
  • Vision and purpose channelling energy and achieving success

We have introduced periodical assessment processes to identify high-flyers and set them on a fast- track through our corporate structure. This system is bolstered by a structured bonus scheme and flexible remuneration plan.  The firm encourages individual advancement and supports staff participation in seminars, conferences, and training programs.

Shepherding the technical quality of our work are our technical directors-half of the firm’s leadership cadre. Technical directors ensure that the departments they head maintain state-of-the-art design standards, the most modern techniques, and international practices. Our corporate culture  shuns bureaucracy, but we do engage in world-class quality assurance conforming with international norms.

The other half of our leadership cadre are the dedicated directors of operation primarily responsible for coordination with clients, human and technical resources among projects and timely deliverables according to the program set forth for each project.

Our vision is multi-dimensional

  • A commitment to provide a corporate environment conducive to continual leadership renewal. We are committed to identify leadership potential among our young professionals and admit them as shareholders into the leadership cadre when they are ready, irrespective of age. As a result we have substantial representation of younger professionals within our leadership cadre. The firm today has twenty eight partners half in their 30s or 40s.  The age structure of the partners is an added guarantee for  sustainability and continuity.
  • A distinction among our peers in the business: our roots are in a developing country. Our Middle Eastern roots arm us with an intense commitment to play a comprehensive and independent role in all aspects of physical development in our region and beyond.
  • A commitment to long-term participation and life-changing endeavours in our client’s communities have led us to dedicate half of our leadership cadre to serve as directors in areas where we operate; they live, along with their family and team, in the markets they serve. They understand their clients’ requirements and deal with all aspects of the project from conceptualisation to completion.
  • The establishment of Dar Group, since the mid 1980, has further cemented our commitment to compete with the leading firms in the global marketplace  and has  led us to establish a structural link with advanced market segments

Dar group  now counts

A full service architecture and interior design firm, design excellence in healthcare, education, transportation facilities, education, and tourism facilities.

Specializing in civil & structural engineering, bridges & roadways systems, rail, airport & seaport, high-rise buildings

Specializing in the oil and gas global industry

Interior design firm specializing in the hospitality industry, space planning, furniture and lighting design

Specializing in railway: economic & feasibility studies, operating methods, maintenance and management.

Electricity, gas & water economic strategists

Specializing in aviation and airport consultant and management

The group members are managed as independent businesses responsible for maintaining their leading position in their domestic markets and specialist sectors. Cooperation and cross-application transfers are part of the group professional practices.

Dar’s record over its first half century combines engineering and design excellence, and commitment.  Our aim is to fulfil our clients’ aspirations with the highest level of professionalism and quality. We have tailored a corporate culture to facilitate the continual renewal of a dynamic and committed leadership at all levels. I truly believe that Dar provides an instructive model for professional service businesses in other emerging markets as well as in advanced nations.

Thank you.

By Kamal Shair, FT.com site
Published: Oct 23, 2003

Iraq's economy needed reconstructing long before the war that toppled Saddam Hussein. Under his regime, it endured a third of a century of mismanagement and abuse. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June, Alan Larson, US undersecretary of state, rightly emphasised the need to undo the damage caused by neglect of economic assets, eliminate the distortions of central planning and move from isolation to engagement in the global economy.

The donors' conference for Iraq that began on Thursday in Madrid comes at a time of growing acceptance of the need for wider international participation in helping Iraq to recover. Estimates prepared for the conference put rebuilding costs at $55bn over four years. Other estimates reach up to $100bn over the next decade, which does not include the cost of a military presence.

Mobilising resources from the international community will not be easy. Many potential donor nations have growing fiscal deficits, while the promise of Iraq's oil sector generating significant resources in the near term has faded.

If their hard-earned funds are to have the maximum benefit, donors' attention must focus on helping build an Iraq that will adopt an open, liberal market economy. There are some promising signs that this could happen. Kamel Al-Keylani, Iraq's new finance minister, recently voiced the country's commitment to private sector-led development and establishing the institutional framework of an open market economy.

Donors can help Iraq meet those commitments. But they should bear in mind three strategic principles on which Iraq's emergence as a prosperous nation depends.

First, market mechanisms must be the principal factor in allocating resources. Second, the state's role should be to facilitate private sector provision of public services, to uphold the public interest and to nurture the institutions necessary to allow markets to work. Finally, the national economy must be integrated into the regional and global economies.

This has implications for the Provisional Authority, which must strive - as it is doing - to secure the rule of law, create an independent judiciary and ensure that the economy is managed in a prudent, non-inflationary way. Social and political stability are central to a permissive investment environment. Respect for human rights and good governance based on principles of efficiency, transparency and accountability are among the factors necessary for long-term stability.

Donor support should not be confined to immediate financial assistance for the public sector but should extend to encouraging complementary private investment. In the case of infrastructure, this means establishing tariff structures that reflect building costs and affordable basic levels of provision. It also means giving commercial enterprises a high degree of autonomy while insisting on their accountability, and establishing institutions that allow the entry of private service providers into niche markets.

Donor technical assistance should be forthcoming in these priority areas. Importantly, loan guarantees and other risk mitigation measures should be used to facilitate investment. Private direct foreign investment inflows will be associated with access to management, markets and technology.

In some cases, the institutions can wait. Concessions to establish telecommunications, power, airport and other utility facilities can proceed before sophisticated regulatory bodies have been established. Regulatory conditions may be embedded in concession contracts and licence agreements. But as time goes on, donor support will be required for institution building.

Investment in the people of Iraq is also essential. They will need to be able to hold their own in the modern global economy. Donor assistance is critical in supporting state provision of education, healthcare and other services crucial to developing the nation's human capital. A safety net for those least able to cope with the economy's transition should also be an integral component of any assistance package.
Overcoming the effects of war and years of economic mismanagement will not be easy. But donors' funds and support for private investment, if they are intelligently deployed, could make a world of difference.

The writer is chairman of the Dar Group, a global development consultancy, and former chairman of the Jordanian senate's committee for finance and economic affairs

© Copyright  The Financial Times Limited 2008.  “FT” and “Financial Times” are trademarks of the Financial Times Limited.

"The values of
freedom, and
democracy as the
basis of truly
open societies in
which all people
can fulfill their
true potential will
always prevail."
development means
taking into account
the human impact of
the physical changes
you are making. ‘You
made my life better’
is the highest praise
we can receive.”
“No one continent or
country has a monopoly
on good ideas.”
“For me, anything I do that is not sustained beyond my life is
"For us, hard
work and
deadlines is
something of
an obsession."
"We don't debate issues to
death in endless
committees, and we don't
clog up our corporate
arteries with unnecessary
"I am not looking for an
abstract thinker whose
head is in the clouds, but
an individual who knows
how to apply good practical
intelligence to the
multiplicity of problems
they will face in the varied
and ever-changing world of
development consultancy."
Copyright © 2009 Dar Al-Handasah