Shehraze Shah

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

Today Shehraze Shah is a veteran of the federal contract space in IT, telecommunications, logistics, and more, as President and CEO of ICS, the Vienna-based, certified 8(a) Small Disadvantaged Business.  However, it didn’t start off this way.  He and his twin brother, Khurram, who co-owns ICS today, were born in Pakistan in 1978, and later moved to the States with their parents and two older sisters in 1994.  “In retrospect, it has been quite a journey.  We have come far, but we’re still growing,” Shehraze explains.  “ICS wasn’t just our idea; rather, it was my family, mentors and friends that supported the idea, and eventually contributed to where we are today.”

In Pakistan, Shehraze’s father had been very successful in running a leather tanning business, which ultimately flourished into an import-export business.  Political unrest in Pakistan only escalated his urge to provide stability and a world-class education to his children, compelling Shehraze’s father to bring his family to the United States.   The family moved to a college town in Florida where Shehraze and Khurram were the only foreign-born students at their high school.  “It was very tough being the only two foreigners,” says Shehraze.

Some people have challenging first days at new jobs, but as a Pakistani-American engineer working for Sprint in the DC area who happened to report for duty on September 11, 2001, Shehraze’s was especially unusual.  He didn’t just stay to work his first shift through 11 pm; in fact, he volunteered to stay through the next shift as well, helping the company through one of its most demanding and chaotic 24-hour periods as the nation dealt with the terrorist attacks that struck that morning.  “When they saw I was committed, everyone relaxed,” Shehraze says.  “They understood I was a team player, and that I was not going to go home until I got the job done.”  This attitude earned him a lot of respect and acknowledgement, both at work and in home life.

The twins graduated in 1996, and after two semesters as Pre-Med students, they switched gears, and fields.  “We saw a close relative experiencing success in the IT business,” Shehraze remembers, “and he insisted that we should get the required certifications to learn more about IT.”  The twins went first to community college in Virginia and then to George Mason University, and it was in Virginia that the family finally felt as though they had truly found home.

Shehraze graduated from George Mason in the fall of 2001 with an IT minor.  He then received his Cisco certification and interviewed at Sprint, where Khurram was already working.  “Taking the Cisco course was a huge thing,” Shehraze says.  “I walked into the interview, and the guy said, if you answer this one question you’ll have the job.  It was a tough question, but I had done my preparation.  I ended up getting that job in seconds.”

After working his way up several rungs at Sprint, Khurram had became a Systems Manager, yet the brothers decided that the two of them could put their heads together and provide IT services on their own.  They got their first big business deal in 2003 with a private company.  Shehraze and Khurram then worked with a friend to build internal IT solutions, and after rendering their services for the company for a year, the owner wrote them a $50,000 check.  “We brought the check over to my father and our cousin,” Shehraze says, “and they said straight away, ‘You should incorporate and this will be the seed money.’  So we incorporated ICS on December 13, 2003, and that check went straight into ICS’s bank account.”

Shortly after ICS was formed, Shehraze went back home for his wedding preparation.  His twin brother joined him there, and they celebrated their hard work and good fortune.  But when they returned to the States, they dove full-throttle back into growing their company while still working full-time.  Shehraze was working days at Sprint and nights at ICS, and Khurram was at one point working three jobs.  After experimenting in the commodities market, they found themselves working through a transitional period, refining their business model through the end of 2005, when they landed their breakout contract with Fannie Mae.  “The company needed support in building a new environment,” Shehraze remembers.  “Since Khurram had done consulting with Fannie Mae, it made sense to take it to the next level by leveraging that relationship.  Luckily, Khurram’s boss asked him to find 50 people for a job, and to bring him resumes.”  That’s when Shehraze seized the opportunity and contacted every associate he knew at Sprint—from networking engineers, to system administrators, to any other qualified IT professional in his contact database—and finally had the pile of resumes assembled.

The efforts paid off.  The contract with Fannie was growing, but their own business demanded their full attention.  ICS had grown from $50 thousand in revenues in 2003, up to $250 thousand by 2005.  By 2006, they had $6.1 million in billings from a single client managing up to 78 employees full-time, doing executions of Linux boxes, backups of core clusters, and managing restatement operations.  What began as a move by ICS to find new clients as a matter of survival had become the beginning of a cascade of growth and new contracts and expansions into new areas of federal contracting.  This required new management positions, which led to the twins bringing on one of their sisters to help with recruiting and finance, as well as a full-time recruiter that Shehraze had hired straight out of Home Depot after the man had sold him some hardware.  “He had no skill sets relevant to recruiting, but he was amazing in sales, and today he is one of the best at recruiting, staffing and hiring in the entire Washington district,” Shehraze affirms.

Since growing from $250 thousand to $6 million practically overnight, ICS expanded to $33 million in 2010.  This growth has not come from mere repeats of the kind of work they did in IT, but rather from venturing into new frontiers and pursuing new horizons.  Their first prime contract came with ATF in 2007, and then the game-changing contract for the US Census Bureau came in 2008.  ICS was then instrumental in the successful management and completion of the 2010 Census, receiving wide praise for saving the bureau $1.87 billion in costs.  ICS will be returning to work on the 2020 Census, and by then Shehraze has trended ICS to grow from a small business to a medium- or large-sized enterprise.  “It’s going to be organic growth,” he says.  “Khurram and I have a plan in place.  In a way, our success in the Census was the end of our business as merely IT.”

Although IT remains the core bread-and-butter business line for ICS, it has expanded to be able to handle many complex areas across the federal government as their expertise has grown into telecommunications, transportation, and shipping.  Furthermore, their employees have security clearances that allow ICS to win very sensitive contracts with the US Navy and other intelligence areas.

Today, Shehraze credits his success not only to his parents for their upbringing, support, and contribution to their success, but also to his relationship with Khurram.  “Twins have their own dynamic,” he affirms.  “When you have a twin it’s a competition every day.  If I can’t produce as much as he’s producing, then I’ll step up my game.”  When Shehraze was featured in the SmartCEO May cover story, he wanted Khurram to be on the cover with him, but they couldn’t put two CEOs together.  “Both of us have a vision,” Shehraze says, “but today it’s my turn to be acknowledged.  We were always together, learning together, taking classes together.” The twins taught each other what it takes to be successful in their industry, and Shehraze loves to take those lessons and share them with other people.  “I love to talk to people,” he says.  “I love working, especially when it’s with people who inspire me.

In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Shehraze says he knows that students are vulnerable to taking shortcuts, especially when they can Google the answers to certain problems.  But he emphasizes that one should instead strive to learn the concept, and be able to apply that knowledge.  “We’ve seen the shortcuts,” he says.  “But you need a map.  Firstly, build a list of what you want to be or do in life, or what you think is achievable with what you have, and then focus on how to get there.”

Considering this advice, it makes sense that the twins have been recognized for their talent and unique working style.  The respect came because they dared to invest themselves fully, and dared to burn the candle at both ends.  “To me, the double flame is sure to cast more light and, simultaneously, to garner greater success,” says Shehraze.  “I have been working together with Khurram to make ICS known as a standout, reliable federal contractor, and much more.  We will continue these efforts to attract more work, and ICS will soar to great heights, building on its alliances and actually making a difference.”

Shehraze Shah

Gordon J Bernhardt


President and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management and author of Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area. Gordon provides financial planning and wealth management services to affluent individuals, families and business owners throughout the Washington, DC area. Since establishing his firm in 1994, he and his team have been focused on providing high quality service and independent financial advice to help clients make informed decisions about their money.

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