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Deputy CAO Believes Work is About Making Relationships Work

Ali Qureshi
Deputy CAO Ali Qureshi

To Ali Qureshi an “open door policy” isn’t just a cliché, it’s a way to develop relationships and of doing business effectively.  

The newest Deputy CAO considers his openness one of the keys to his success. “It’s important to be able to talk to people and build alliances. If you’re honest and genuine then you can break down any walls,” he said.

For the ever-humble Qureshi, it’s important to stay “grounded.”

“We’re all the same. We all put on our pants the same way, it’s just what hat you wear,” Qureshi, who calls nearly everyone sir or ma’am, said.

Qureshi, 35, has certainly worn many hats.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from Wilkes University, a small private university in Pennsylvania.

At the time, he said the career “fulfilled the geeky side,” while playing football as a quarterback for his college team taught him lessons about teamwork. “I could lecture on life in football terms, literally” he said. “Just in terms of effort and teamwork, improvising, but I try not to get too cliché” he said, laughing.

After graduation, and a stint at major consulting firm, Qureshi was hired at another consulting and technology powerhouse, where he worked with one of the country’s largest telephone companies.

It was there that his business, and personal, philosophy began to change.

“I began to understand that it’s about more than just technology,” he said. “I used to be such an introvert and I realized it was more about working with people.”

Qureshi quickly rose to management positions within the company and took advantage of a program called flex leave, which allowed him to take time off while earning a percentage of his salary. He used the time off to pursue his masters degree at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and School of Engineering and Applied Science.

But it wasn’t all work and no play.

Qureshi also took a job working at a golf course. It only paid $6 an hour, but the improvement in his swing was worth it, he said.

His experience with the flex leave program helped lay the groundwork for how he thinks about employee benefits today. “The key to any organization is its people. They make or break your organization. Benefits keep your people motivated,” Qureshi said.

During his nine month sabbatical, he also took an independent consulting job working with a non-profit organization focused on HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa. He knew the web could be a powerful informational tool so, with the support of the non-profit, he designed and taught a computer class in Swaziland. In three days, Qureshi taught “everything from what is a computer, to bits and bytes to building a website.”

He said his time in southern Africa was rewarding and challenging to be sure. Sometimes, it was even humorous.

“I showed up at an event and two men that greeted me said, ‘Dr. Qureshi, how are you?’ and I said ‘No, I’m not a doctor.’ And they said, ‘We thought you were here to give a medical lecture to our platoon commanders.’ They wanted me to give a two hour lecture about medical advancements in the treatment of HIV/AIDS as part of a Department of Defense initiative for the Swaziland army. So I wasn’t going to talk about the medical stuff, but since I had the floor for two hours, I decided to talk about leadership. Some people don’t think AIDS is a real disease there, so I told them that they as the commanders had to be the ones to educate their platoons properly. I told them it was their job as leaders. I even fit in a couple scenes in the Powerpoint presentation from the movie Gladiator to get the point across. They loved it.”

His star continued to rise in the consulting and technology company ’s telecommunications department, yet he was itching to branch out. The CIA wanted him to become a language translator because of his command of Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi, but he turned it down.

Despite his success in telecommunications, his desire to get into web management grew and in 2003 he accepted a job as a web branch manager at the House.

“This wasn’t what some people thought of as a cushy government job with banker’s hours, we work hard here,” he said.

Another position as the director of CABS followed. Then everything changed.

It was June 2, 2008, Qureshi remembers.

“I got a call from our Chief of Staff asking me to come up to the Capitol and I had no idea what it was about. I walk into Dan (Beard’s) office and I asked him how he was doing and he said ‘Good, we’d like you to step into the role of the Deputy CAO.’ I said I want to do what you think is best for the organization and he said he wanted me in this job. It was great,” he concludes with a smile.

Qureshi said he has fun in his job, a fact he largely attributes to getting along well with the people he works with. “We click very well as a team,” Qureshi said of his relationship with Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard, Deputy CAO Walt Edwards and Chief of Staff Mel Gipprich.

The responsibility Qureshi feels to nurture human relationships extends across the organization.

One of his greatest joys, he said, is working to strengthening the cooperation between CAO employees.

“Coming back to the sports analogy, we’re one team. I don’t care if you play offense or special teams. We’re all in it together. I think if you take care of your people and you develop that relationship that makes [the employee] want to work harder. It’s not about being a dictator or a tyrant because they won’t get results or if they do, you know what? They’re not going to last or you’re not going to last. It’s about the team, that’s where we’ll find success,” he said.

The conscientious Qureshi said he’s always been hard on himself. That attitude makes him take his role as a leader very seriously.

“I don’t want to fail because I know people are counting on me,” Qureshi said. “I want to make the organization as efficient as possible so we can take on the next challenge and raise the bar.”

Qureshi just finished spearheading the CAO’s new strategy and mission statement and is looking forward to making the organization even more efficient.

Yet his personality dictates that while he will give “110 percent” to his job, he has no desire to hog the spotlight, explaining one of his favorite parts of his position: “It’s important to give people an opportunity to shine. When you see someone on your team achieve something it’s a good feeling.”