Mashal Ali

How This Civil Engineer Used Early Leadership Experience to Launch a Thriving Construction Career

Mashal Ali was thrust into leading her family’s engineering firm at a young age, an experience that provided myriad lessons that have since translated into a successful career

“I was a reluctant leader,” said Mashal Ali, CEO of Infra Tech Engineering LLC, based in New York City. “I didn’t imagine myself in this position and taking care of people in my home.”

Ali was thrust into an engineering leadership role at an early age when her father, who founded the traffic and transportation engineering services firm in 1983, died from cancer.

It wasn’t a straight line from being the oldest of three children to taking over the family business for Ali. Her father actually discouraged her from getting into engineering at first, but that motivated her more. “I was a bit of a rebel and figured he must be holding out,” she said.

Wake-up call

Ali went to Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she majored in civil engineering. After graduation, Ali returned to her home on Staten Island to be with her family. It was only natural that Ali got a role in the family business at Infra Tech. 

At 22, Ali figured she was all set. Five weeks after her tough-love dad hired her, however, he fired her. While Ali was embarrassed at the time, she later realized that she had earned her axing. “I came in late, talked with friends and left early. I acted entitled and spoiled,” she recalled.

Ali soon landed a new job as a civil engineer with the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) rotational program. Her dad was not convinced; he openly wondered whether she would learn anything at the new job as well. Yet Ali stuck at it, learned a great deal and gained valuable experience in a variety of projects.

No choice

After her father’s death, when Ali stepped up to become the CEO of Infra Tech, she was nervous that she wouldn’t be able to handle it, but that didn’t stop her. “I felt like I didn’t have a choice,” Ali said. “My sisters were in college, my mom was not working and a city salary was not going to pay the bills.” 

At the time, Infra Tech had just five employees, down from its high of 120 in the 1990s.

Despite the nerves, Ali, then 26, was determined to succeed. “I figured what did I have to lose? I had all the time in the world and decided to make Infra Tech my life.” Ali didn’t want to simply take the reins of the company. Instead, she had a vision of taking it to the next level.

Everyone’s daughter

During the early days, Ali said she tried to look older to assure others that she was a serious leader. Yet during negotiations, when everyone around the table was older than her, they saw Ali as “as young as their daughter.”

Ali saw this as a challenge—one she has since overcome.

These days, Infra Tech is booming. In 2022, the company brought in 50 new projects. To handle the workload, it has done a massive amount of hiring. The firm’s headcount is up to 70; it is trying to fill 40 more positions at the time of this writing. 

Among the new hires are Ali’s younger sisters. The youngest followed Ali’s footsteps and received an engineering degree from Drexel. The other has a Ph.D. in nuclear physics. Ali, who said she was “bossy” as a child, loves having her family working with her. 

When Ali’s father ran the company, it focused strictly on traffic planning. Since Ali took over, the company has broadened its offerings. The expanded services include traffic design, bridge design and construction management services.

The company focuses on public infrastructure. Among its current work are two major New York City projects. “I like being part of a huge project,” Ali said. “There’s so much going on, and it’s exciting be part of the team.”

Giving back

Ali is active in WTS, an organization focused on “creating a more diverse, inclusive and equitable transportation industry through the global advancement of women.” Each year, Ali sponsors two college scholarships in her dad’s name. It’s her way of paying it forward.

“There’s no guard rail up,” said Ali regarding holding women back from engineering. “If women are interested in the profession, we should grab them while they are young, bring them into the club and get them started.”

When Ali thinks of her career path, she inevitably goes back to her father. And if he could talk to her now, she’s convinced he would tell her to keep working and enjoy her life. And let your sisters fend for themselves. She laughs at this thought, adding, “My father was funny and believed in tough love.”

It’s been seven years since Ali took on the role of CEO. She believes experience is everything, and hers has led her to grow comfortable and confident. Still, challenges remain, including recruiting talented veterans who can help her further expand the company. 

While Ali continues to establish herself in the industry, she’s excited and determined to see Infra Tech expand.

Read more inspiring stories of successful women in construction.