Spotlight Interview in Person: Jasmine Azima Owner of Jasmine Engineering (Construction News – December 2012)

photo_construction_newsAgainst the odds, Jasmine Azima came to this country with a solid academic foundation and limited knowledge of English, but she worked her way through college to become a mechanical engineer, and by the time she was 26, she founded her own engineering firm which was also the first commissioning firm in San Antonio, Jasmine Engineering.

Today, Jasmine Engineering has transitioned past engineering design into “total” building commissioning, offering owner’s representative services complemented by construction management  and project management, Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing Commissioning,  LEED Commissioning, cost estimating, design review and constructability review, value engineering, and scheduling.  Coupled with the Jasmine Engineering’s deep background in Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing systems design, this makes for a truly unique package of services, specifically tailored for each individual client and project.

Some of Jasmine Engineering’s recent commissioning projects, which represent a combined construction cost of $210 Million, are Southwest Key Social Enterprise Complex, New Student Center at Texas A&M University—Commerce, the UTSA Combined Science Renovation, the BRAC Admin Building at Randolph AFB, KCI Headquarters, the City of San Antonio Public Safety Headquarters, and the Paul Elizondo Tower at the Bexar County Justice Center.

The firm has also been involved in multiple bond projects for Harlandale ISD totaling more than $70 Million, with a combined savings and Added Value Features of more than $8 Million. Jasmine Engineering was also the first Commissioning Agent hired by the Texas A&M University System. The firm has two Indefinite Delivery/ Indefinite Quantity (ID/IQ) contracts with the University of Texas System: one for Commissioning and one for Construction Inspection Services. Jasmine Engineering also holds a contract with the City of San Antonio for On-Call Construction Inspection Services, and was recently selected by the University of Texas at Austin campus for an ID/IQ contract for Commissioning services.

When Jasmine Engineering reached its 20th year, Texas A&M University encouraged a mentor protégé relationship with Zachry Construction, and Jasmine Engineering became certified as a Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) by the State of Texas.

While she admits the road has been tough to her career, she has persevered to hold her own in the industry she loves.

What made you want to pursue a career in engineering?

I always had a very strong interest and abilities in science, physics, and math while I was growing up, I loved cars and anything mechanical…It was almost second nature for me to transfer those skills into pursuing engineering as a career.  At UT, I decided to go into Mechanical engineering because it was dynamic and was the most challenging to me.

After UT, I worked in one firm, and quickly moved up to become the President at age 23, which made me want to have my own business. Jasmine Engineering will be 28 years old this December.

Making Jasmine Engineering successful was very challenging. The company was brand new at a time when the economy was very soft; but we grew fast and Jasmine Engineering became well known quickly because of the quality of our work.

As an entrepreneur I wanted to create something new and different. That’s how Jasmine Engineering came to focus on Owners Representative Services. We got involved in the Alamodome project as part of a multidisciplinary team for the project management of the project…

Jasmine Engineering’s involvement in the AlamoDome project redirected the vision of the company resulting in a shift to focusing exclusively on owner representative services.

Most Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing design firms have commissioning as a division of their practice – but Jasmine Engineering didn’t want to approach it that way… We wanted to avoid any potential conflicts of interest between our Commissioning services and our design services, so Jasmine Engineering has not pursued design since that time. So here we are today, and Jasmine Engineering has evolved into a truly multi-discipline firm with a variety of professionals in-house.

Jasmine Engineering’s vision was to be different from our competitors. For one thing, we wanted Jasmine Engineering’s services to have real benefits and value for our clients – we wanted to do quality work and also save our clients money. This has always been a successful approach for us.

No matter what type of business you’re in, if a consultant could save you up to 20 percent of your industry costs each time they set foot in your door and at a savings three to four times the fee they charge your company, wouldn’t that be a great thing for your business?

Jasmine Engineering does just that for our clients with our tailored Total Building Commissioning Authority service, which is unique in the commissioning industry today. It is a process that Jasmine Engineering specifically developed to best serve our varied client base. That is how our definition of Total Building Commissioning Authority services came about. We wanted to ensure the best value for our clients without sacrificing quality or scope.

Jasmine Engineering’s Total Building Commissioning Authority service is a total package that is different from what other companies offer. It is a combination of what Jasmine Engineering considers the most valuable project development techniques from the disciplines of Program Management, Project Management, Construction Management, Facility Assessment, Facility Programming, Value Engineering, and Commissioning.

The difference between Jasmine Engineering and other firms that provide commissioning services is that our philosophy and mission is different. This is because typical industry commissioning primarily focuses on the process of validating the design. There is really no troubleshooting involved: there is really no interaction with the design engineer to determine how the engineer might improve system performance.

Jasmine Engineering works with the design engineer in collaboration to assist the design engineer in looking at possible ways to improve the system and its performance. Jasmine Engineering’s collaborative approach with the Mechanical engineer results in systems that work as intended, can be built in a timely manner, and can be operated in a cost effective way. That’s something that has brought Jasmine Engineering a lot of respect and trust from our clients like Harlandale ISD and many others…

So really what we do is to make sure that owners like Harlandale avoid running into issues with the cost, design and schedules of their projects … Because Jasmine Engineering assists the designer to fine-tune everything during the design and makes sure that the design works, all major bugs have already been worked out before the actual construction begins…the result is fewer problems with change orders, lower costs and fewer schedule delays – all money savers for the Owner.

Tell me a little bit about your background and where you’re from?

I was born and raised in Tehran, Iran in the Middle East, and that’s one of the major reasons I have always been very interested in energy conservation – because of the oil embargoes and all the things I experienced as I was growing up…

I was lucky that math ability was a part of my genetics…that made the academics much easier. My dad wanted me to be a doctor, but intuitively I just knew I would be better going into engineering. Engineering is my passion and that’s basically a gift that God has given me.

What is it like being a woman in this industry? What kind of challenges have you run into?

A woman engineer was so unusual 30 years ago. My experience was that being a woman is not so much the problem. It was more a problem of convincing the powers that be that I had the physical stamina and necessary mental capacity to do the job. My profession still is perceived to be a “man’s field” in many ways — it’s just not traditional for a woman even in 2012. So, even after being in this field for more than 30 years, I still have the challenges of being a woman competing in what far too many believe should be an exclusively male arena.

However, I have found after we perform well, Jasmine Engineering’s existing clients quickly come to understand the value of what we can do for them. They respect us. Jasmine Engineering really has to work harder to prove ourselves because we are a woman-owned firm. Frankly, that makes us work not only harder, but smarter. Unfortunately today, successful women still are under a lot of pressure to be counted as an equal. Successful women and their companies so often get judged by a higher standard. They still often get targeted for no good reason, because of not being “one of the boys.” But in the long run that just makes women in this business stronger because women always have to work harder, better and more efficiently – we have to set the standard…

It was not easy starting out in a male dominated field.  Jasmine Engineering was one of the first engineering firms in the state of Texas owned by a licensed woman engineer. It was very different then, but it still not easy for the young women engineers coming into the profession today.

When I encourage young women to go into this field, I make sure they understand that they should have a thick skin, which is often very hard for a woman to have…

Being women, they are still not going to be “one of the boys,” even today. That means that young women engineers still have to be able to fit themselves somehow into the system.  That has not been easy, and it will never be easy, but it is certainly better than 30 years ago…

Would I do this again? I probably would, but I would have waited a little bit longer before I started Jasmine Engineering. I went through a lot as a woman in trying to make sure that I didn’t give up, being persistent and consistent. You really have to be a focused, goal-oriented person to be a woman engineer. Being somewhat sensitive and trusting as I have always been, and many women are, can be a benefit  creating good relationships with clients, but these same traits can work against you in the industry.

In what ways do you encourage women who want to go into the field to pursue that dream?

I mentor. One of the joys I have is seeing young people I’ve mentored go to engineering school. Mentoring a young person is one of my biggest joys.  It is very rewarding when they are still my friends years later, and they call me or send a postcard to tell me what they’re doing, and how successful they have become. That, to me, is much more rewarding than what I have done with Jasmine Engineering. Having a positive impact on a young person’s life is basically what it is…especially with women. Back when Jasmine Engineering started, I had to be much more active to promote women in engineering; I still give lectures, and make sure that I keep talking to my colleagues from the University of Texas – because I’m on the Board of Engineering Advisory Board…

Even though there are more women in the industry, it is still important to have successful women engineers out in the business world constantly telling them, “don’t give up, it’s going to work out, it’s all going to be easier later.” I think every university should have a mentor program with businesses so they can keep these young people engaged in the engineering profession.

What Jasmine Engineering is all about is quality services and projects and giving back to the community. I enjoy giving back through mentoring and civic activities as much as I possibly can.

Advertisements