Handiss Spotlight - Shafiq

Handiss Spotlight: Shafiq Muhammad

Commercial and Contract Manager

Shafiq Muhammad is a licensed Professional Engineer with over 18 years of diverse international project and commercial management experience with a civil engineering educational background. He has been working on Multi-billion complex PPP infrastructure development projects at the corporate business strategy level.

His experience has been focused on identifying contract risks and liabilities and mitigation processes, with particular emphasis on continuous improvement resulting in more streamlined and efficient company commercial and contractual procedures , effective change management , enhanced stakeholder relationships, and effective contract claim management.

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Q: As a commercial manager, what do you do exactly?

A: At a high level, my job is to identify, analyze, and propose mitigation for all risks and liabilities associated with multi-billion dollar infrastructure (specifically urban transit / Rail / LRT) improvement projects procured by government agencies / departments using the Public Private Partnership (PPP) contract model.

I provide commercial and contract reviews in the pre-construction phase / bidding phase for these projects together with the legal department/lawyers. Another thing I provide is guidance to the project controls / estimation / scheduling / risk managers with respect to the commercial and contract issues / liabilities. I am also involved with the formulation of subcontractor and sub-consultant / engineering agreements. In addition, I analyze all contract claims and negotiate resolution.

Q: Please name one challenging project you’ve worked on, and tell us a bit about it.

A: I am currently working on the commercial and contract reviews of a number of Rail and LRT type mega PPP projects, which are very complex and challenging and will commence construction in 2021/2022.

I would name a project when I was working for SNC-Lavalin. The Highway 407 E Extension Phase 1 Project in the Town of Whitby, Ontario. This was a $1 Billion CAD project, and we delivered it using the PPP – DBFM contract model. This project extended the existing Express Toll Route to the East with a North-South connector to Highway 401 and included brand new highway alignment with hundreds of structures and bridges traversing through the towns of Ajax, Pickering, Whitby and Oshawa in both east-west and north-south configuration.

It is based on availability payments and includes the provision of operations, maintenance, and rehabilitation of the highway for 30 years(2045). I worked on this project, in a 50/50 joint venture environment, from Commercial Close in May 2012 upto the opening of the new highway to traffic in June 2016. The Minister of Transportation inaugurated the opening of this major highway.

Q: You’ve previously worked in Pakistan. Have you noticed any differences in the work culture between Pakistan and Canada?

A: There are many differences in the work culture between the two countries. Based on my personal experience, and with respect to civil infrastructure development, there is much better and effective long-term planning in Canada compared to Pakistan. In addition, there is extensive community / public consultation and engagement, as well as a real appreciation of the value of taxpayer’s money in Canada compared to Pakistan.

Q: Is it hard getting into a major firm with no previous Canadian experience?

A: Yes, it is definitely harder with no Canadian experience. However, this depends on the industry and the skill shortages that exist in Canada. For example, the rail industry here in Canada is facing a shortage of skilled / specialist people. In addition, there are not many people experienced in the Public Private Partnership type / mega infrastructure improvement projects.

Q: Did you leverage your job prospects with your Masters degree?

A: Absolutely. Master’s degree (particularly if completed from a Canadian University) improves the job prospects as it introduces students, in many cases, to industry experts who are routinely involved with the University for a variety of projects in the engineering field. In addition, Master’s degree also provides excellent opportunities for students to gain very important insight into the real industry via assignments / thesis which are usually based on the local engineering practices with many opportunities to interact with practicing engineers.

In my case, while I was working with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority as an engineering student, someone from AECOM reached out to my manager at the Airport for any engineering students that he would recommend, and my manager recommended me.

Q: You’ve worked for 3 of the major engineering firms in Canada. How does that raise the bar on your next career objectives?

A: I have been fortunate to have worked for major engineering firms since I started my career in Canada. Working for major firms has definitely given me an opportunity to work on some major and complex multi-billion dollar projects that have transformed / will transform people’s lives. The bar is definitely higher for me when I decide to make a move, and the ability to work on mega projects will be a key factor in such a decision.

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