Forward Focused

Change is the common thread woven throughout Saad Syed’s 25 years of life, and he hopes to inspire others to make a little difference of their own.

January 13, 2016

Saad Syed loves his job. And his other job. A third one, too, if you count school.

He’s part of the Koch co-op program, allowing him the flexibility to get real work experience while he studies mechanical engineering at Wichita State University. Saad also manages – somehow – to wring enough time out of the clock to run his freelance photography business. This strong work ethic is a product of his upbringing.

The oldest son in a family of five children, Saad spent countless hours of his youth shadowing his father, Nehal, in his pharmaceutical store in Pakistan. But Nehal sold the shop when Saad was 8 years old, and two years later, moved his family halfway around the world.

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Proud of their first-born son, Saad’s parents named their family pharmacy after him. “My dad is a humble guy, and I’ve never once seen him take credit for anything.”

Transposed from a city of 18 million to less than half a million, he hoped to provide greater opportunity for his children. “No one inspires me more than my dad,” Saad says. “He’s had to work so hard for us to have a better life.”

Saad swings with his parents

“When we were moving, dad told us we’re going to a new country, with new people, and to respect the way they do things.”

Acclimating to school proved tough with a vocabulary comprised of “hey, hello, how are ya?” so Saad and his siblings taught themselves English. Because Nehal’s master’s degree in genetics did not translate in the States, he eventually snagged a job in the aviation industry while his wife, Suboohi, supplemented the family income selling homemade Pakistani meals. Then came 9/11 and a wave of layoffs rocked the Air Capital, but the couple didn’t buckle. Nehal picked up a late-night gig loading trucks, and when the tide turned, he was offered his job back.

Nehal and Suboohi instilled the values of respect and humility in their children, upholding their faith and cultural traditions while embracing societal differences. “They never really restricted us from trying new things, especially when it came to culture,” Saad explains.

Perhaps it’s this acceptance of change that stirred Saad’s spirit for entrepreneurship and innovation. In high school, he discovered a passion for the Koch-led Youth Entrepreneurs® (YE) program. “Because of my dad, I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship,” he recalls. “YE pushed me to think outside the box, and has taught me how to create value for myself and for others.”

Today, Saad hopes to dole out his own inspiration as one of five Wichita State students selected to the prestigious University Innovation Fellows, a group of 150 students dedicated to increasing campus engagement through creative endeavors.

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University Innovation Fellows gather to discuss their projects. Hannah leads Shocker Startup, an initiative to help students formulate business ideas, while Austin’s Startup HQ is an online network to connect students as they develop and launch their businesses.

Carroll reflects on a photo he still holds on to

Though he doesn’t know exactly what his future holds after graduation, Saad’s current job is a perfect fit.

Each student pilots an individual project, all contributing to a common goal – inspiring ideas and providing avenues to spread them. Saad is working diligently to bring a TEDx event, a public forum hosted by either a professor or students, to campus. He will also mentor future Wichita State fellows and he’s excited that five new students have applied.

Saad’s entrepreneurial mindset fits at Koch, the company’s values akin to those his parents instilled in him. “I just like the culture here at Koch,” he continues, “people can challenge my ideas, otherwise, I can work in a way that is really comfortable for me.”

In his role at Koch Business Solutions, he cures technological headaches and designs new solutions to meet the business needs of more than 200 conference rooms at Koch’s headquarters. Seeing the results of his work brings fulfillment, ultimately, the very same thing he loves about photography. “I feel most comfortable holding a camera,” he grins, reaching for his laptop to reveal some of his work. “I try to use photography as a medium to spread good things.” Whether it’s the joy on a mother’s face when she glimpses her baby’s photos or a bride as she views her album, for Saad, a smile is what it’s all about.

With graduation right around the corner, more change is on the horizon. “For me, it’s a constant,” he smiles, “but long term, I’m just really passionate about being a good person and helping inspire people.” 

  • "My parents always taught me to handle challenges with a smile, and to appreciate where I’m at."

  • “I look at the happier things in life. It’s best to just be a good person; be nice to those around you, and people won’t judge you.”

  • Saad discusses a challenging project with one of his engineering professors at Wichita State.