A life on the go
He started out at Odebrecht as a general assistant, and 13 years later, in 2009, took over as the officer responsible for the Commercial program for the Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant construction project in Porto Velho, one of the most important projects in the Brazilian Government’s Growth Acceleration Program (PAC). During that time, he has helped build five hydroelectric projects for company and garnered increasingly demanding jobs with the same focus: making the best of all the opportunities and lessons he receives from the leaders with whom he works. On the way, he had the time and perseverance to graduate in Civil Engineering from the University of Franca, São Paulo, in 2005.
Life has never been easy for José Amin, 41, who has spent 15 years of his life at Odebrecht. Nor has it been dull. Born in Igarapava, São Paulo, the second child of a family of Palestinian immigrants who arrived in Brazil in 1968, he spent his childhood in that small, quiet country town on the banks of the Rio Grande, on the border with Minas Gerais.
At age 15, he and his brother went to live with an uncle in the US city of Chicago, where he finished high school and, of course, learned English. Four years later, he moved again, this time to the West Bank, in Palestine, where his parents had returned. “I stayed there for four years. I met my relatives and learned the language, but ended up going back to Brazil alone, because I wanted to study and there were no opportunities there,” he says. His decision was influenced by the Gulf War (fought in the early 90s between a coalition of Western countries, led by the United States and Britain, and Iraq, then ruled by Saddam Hussein) and the consequent lack of conditions for getting an education.
Back in Igarapava and living with his sister, he only found a job six months later, working for a small contractor that build low-income housing. Then the opportunity to work at Odebrecht arose. In l996, the Organization had begun building the Igarapava plant, the first hydro using bulb turbines in that country – the same type being installed at the Santo Antônio plant.
José Amin was soon promoted from general assistant to security guard at the entrance to the jobsite, and then to costs supervisor in the commercial area, a job that enabled him to follow up on several work fronts and get a better understanding of the complexities of a project of that magnitude. “That was when I got interested in engineering and gained an awareness of how education and self-development would be central to changing my future,” he recalls.
He wanted to go back to school, but money was scarce. Even so, he scraped together some savings and while he was working on the Mascarenhas de Moraes hydroelectric plant, living in worker accommodations where he didn’t have to pay for food, he finally managed to embark on his new dream: he was accepted by the Civil Engineering school in Franca, 80 km from the jobsite, including 30 km of dirt road.
“It was hard, but worth the effort,” says Amin, who not only traveled to school every night but had to study on his own late at night to make up for lost time. “After all, I’d gone 10 years without studying and my math skills were rusty – my school in the United States did not prioritize that subject.” His greatest supporter at the time was the engineer Eleuberto Martorelli, the Project Director, who assured him that he would get a scholarship for 50% of his tuition fees as long as he kept up his productivity to a minimum of 70%. Some time later, that leader took over another program in Angola, and was replaced by the engineer Márcio Marangoni, who continued to encourage Amin. He delegating more responsibility to him in the commercial area during the second phase of the same project, which involved retrofitting with a focus on electromechanical assembly.
Mascarenhas de Moraes was important for José Amin, both professionally and personally. Itt was there that he met his wife, Lidiane, with whom he has a daughter, Júlia, age 7. His next job was a retrofitting project for the Furnas Hydroelectric Power Plant in São José da Barra, Minas Gerais, 130 km from Franca. He worked on budgets, following up on costs and subcontractors, this time under the leadership of engineer Daniela Bernardino, who also gave him new responsibilities.
He finally graduated in 2005, and was promoted to the officer Responsible for the Commercial area for the retrofitting project for the Luiz Carlos Barreto de Carvalho (Estreitinho) hydroelectric plant, led by Project Director Miguel Pedrosa de Senna Figueiredo, who took him with him to his next two projects: the feasibility study for the transmission system for the complex of plants on the Madeira River (a project that Odebrecht bid for but did not win) and the Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant.
“I’m still learning here at Santo Antônio. I am still growing and developing by means of Education through Work, thanks to the boldness of Odebrecht’s leaders, who always introduce the most advanced management and construction methods and delegate responsibility to their team members,” says José Amin. “I do the same thing with the young people on my team. I make sure that the cycle is always renewed.”