J. Lee Simons
Omar Kader, president and CEO of Pal-Tech, Inc., launched his Washington, D.C.-based company in 1987 to “provide high quality services that exceed customer expectations.” Pal-Tech is a management consulting firm that focuses on training, technical assistance, and management.
Kader, who was born in Provo, Utah, to Palestinian immigrants, received his undergraduate education at BYU, earning a double major in political science and international relations. He followed that with an MA in political science and PhD in international relations from the University of Southern California, where he wrote his dissertation on foreign policy and international terrorism. Kader then joined BYU’s faculty and served as assistant dean in the College of Social Sciences, where he taught political science and international relations.
He left the university in August 1983 for a year-long sabbatical in Washington, D.C., where he served as the executive director of the United Palestinian Appeal, a Palestinian charity, and later as executive director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a civil rights group. “I had one year. I wanted to get out and get some experience and come back. I went out to run a charity that was building schools and educational and health facilities in the West Bank, in Palestine,” Kader explained. “After a year I called BYU and said, ‘I think I want to stay longer.’ The dean and I both agreed that maybe this is what I really wanted in life.” That was the beginning of his connections both in the Middle East and in Washington.
“I stayed with the charity until 1985 and with the civil rights organization for a year. Then I looked at my travels in the Middle East, and the development opportunities,” said Kader. In the beginning, Kader concentrated on commercial work with event management. He had projects overseas assisting with trade and information exchange conferences. What he really wanted to do was break into the government market. “It took me a couple of years to break into government contracting. Most people don’t know that the U.S. government market is the single-best market in the world—two trillion dollars a year in one sitting,” Kader stated.
Pal-Tech has contracts with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute, the office of Personnel Management, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Today, they have approximately 150 employees located in the United States and abroad and an annual revenue of $19 million. “The government contracts out almost everything in the defense industry, and all the foreign aid is contracted out or worked through nongovernmental organizations. There are thousands and thousands of contractors here in town getting big shares: computers, training,—you name it, the U.S. government buys it,” marveled Kader. “There are a lot of competitive bids, and it’s a pretty open market, so I decided I would get into the Middle East sector.” His previous work there had connected him with people in the IT area, health care and nutrition, population, and policy.
“I also got involved in the democratic process in other nations. We work with countries setting up their court systems, election systems, their civil society and electoral systems, or parliamentary systems. There’s a lot of reform work that’s going on, so we’ve set up a couple of court systems with the Palestinians, and we’ve done a little bit of that in Egypt, and some in Jordan,” Kader reported. To that end, he has become an international election monitor. “Any time they’re having an election in the Middle East—and the United States is going to monitor any of those elections—I’ve had the privilege of being on the team. I was on the Carter team in 1996, when we monitored the Palestinian elections. There were forty others on that team, and President Carter came with us on that one,” he said.
Election monitors ensure that the procedures are based on international standards. Monitors read the policies, procedures, laws, codes, etc. to make sure they are in compliance and assist with implementing those standards. Kader said, “Then you evaluate them based on their performance, and at the end of the election, they receive a stamp that says, ‘This was an open and fair election,’ or it wasn’t.” He has served as an official international election monitor and observer of elections in Morocco, Yemen, and Palestine.
While traveling in the Middle East, Kader kept running into American consultants who were doing what he deemed the “exciting” work: water development, education reform, private sector development, import and export, and government reform. “I thought, ‘That’s the kind of rewarding work you want to get involved in.’ So I came back and started working toward that goal,” resolved Kader. “My first project was with water, where they were trying to set up water-sharing regimes and protocols throughout the Middle East. The second one was trying to get the private sector up to standards for international trade. You can’t just export and import; you’ve got to have standards. For example, there’s a lot of food produced in the Middle East—say, tomatoes. They don’t know how to can them properly and label the cans for export. The European market is wide open for fruits and vegetables for export. But unless they are produced in a cannery, that is, unless they meet the international standards for hygiene, you can’t export them.”
Kader has discovered a very large niche to capture for development. “The United States is trying to promote that kind of trade because these countries buy the technology from us, and they buy the expertise from us. They want to sell their products, but, in order to sell their products, they have to buy the expertise from somebody else to go to market,” Kader said. “I thought this would be a great way to help private sectors develop their markets. And it works—we’re doing that in Egypt in a very large project, right now. We’re doing pilot programs in the schools, K–12, and in universities, for computerized tech learning online—distance learning. And the other program is to get Egypt into the World Trade Organization (WTO) by upgrading their standards.”
Pal-Tech, with seven offices in the United States and two in the Middle East, now specializes in training services, technical assistance, interactive technology solutions, and outreach and stakeholder involvement, while holding to their core values: commitment to customer service, customer satisfaction, and ethical behavior. Since 1997, they have experienced a 24 percent annual growth rate—90 percent of that growth is due to repeat business.
“The U.S. government has country-by-country projects, and they may give you global projects. They’ll say, ‘We want you to do this kind of work anywhere we need it,’ and then we wait for it to come up,” Kader related. “In the last year, we’ve been to thirty–forty countries worldwide where we do a lot of interactive multimedia upgrading and training. We’ll be going into Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and—I just got back from the Middle East and Georgia. I’ll be going back out to Armenia soon—we do work all over.”
Kader said the origins of government contracting go back as far as the graves at Gettysburg, which were put out to bid; the contractor who won the bid to bury the bodies botched it. He didn’t bury them deep enough, and when the spring thaw came, all the bodies raised, and they had to re-issue the contract.
Pal-Tech’s 150 employees work to implement their five core competencies across the globe, and their projects are not all centered in the Middle East. “At the State Department, we’re a prime contractor at the Foreign Service Institute, where all the diplomats worldwide come back for training. We develop training materials and distance learning for all the embassies worldwide,” Kader said. “That could be safety work; it could be language learning; it could be orientation for dependents if they get deployed. We’re developing multimedia material there, for training, and it’s essentially distance learning. The second area with them is that we are programming an entirely new registration system—admissions, registration, registrar’s office—everything that a college would do, except that we’re building it around the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. In the new system, everyone in the Foreign Service is tracked just like an undergraduate or graduate student—their credits, their training materials, all the classes they’ve taken in the past—and we just monitor them over their career. The programming—pure, hard IT programming—has nothing to do with multimedia and distance learning.”
Pal-Tech’s contract with the Department of Health and Human Services is to work in the Head Start Program—the inner-city program for disadvantaged children. “We have a dozen social workers on staff as the national support service contractor for the Head Start Bureau. We make sure that we have all the core competencies that are required for their teachers, and we produce the materials—newsletters, conferences, etc. We do two hundred conferences a year for them—nationwide. We have a ton of material that we’re producing back and forth on how to complete the grants, we review the grants, and we fund their 2,200 bureaus nationwide,” stated Kader. “The reason I like this project is that it’s like international work, because you’re dealing with the disadvantaged poor within this country. It’s like going to a Third World country.” That should be a hint to others looking out there that we have plenty to accomplish right here in the U.S.
Pal-Tech also works with USAID in three areas. “We do 1) IT, 2) health, population, and nutrition work—that’s one bundle, we call it global health, and 3) democracy and governance,” Kader said. “When the IMM work goes around—trade and training, everything’s online. We have the international trade database, and we work directly with the WTO out of Geneva. Then we go to the countries that need training and show them how to find buyers and sellers for every product in the world. And there are over five thousand commodities worldwide, every item—right down to mules and horses—listed in six-digit numbers—who buys them and who sells them.” Kader spends much of his time training to get the trade regimes of various countries in compliance with international standards so they can be competitive.
The work to reform within other governments may be the most fulfilling for Kader. “The rule of law works with courts, and the democracy and governance deals with the executive branches of government to make it transparent. We work to build—actually create—advocacy groups that sculpture civil society,” he remarked. “We create NGOs and lobbyists, and say, ‘All right, here’s how you get the government to change. You go to the legislature, and you make them pass bills and allocate money for your causes.’ For example, the handicapped in poor countries are the first neglected— people who have disabilities of all kinds. So you organize them, because that’s a legitimate advocacy group.”
Currently, Pal-Tech is upgrading the Department of Labor’s worldwide computer capabilities— matching job opportunities with job requirements. “We have taken the software to around forty countries, and we’ve got about eighty to go—just setting up their IT,” Kader said.
When asked what he had found most surprising in his work, Kader had a ready answer. “You can really make a difference in people’s lives, in small ways. You don’t need really big ways. You don’t need billions of dollars. People only need opportunity; they just need a chance. And that is the big surprise in my experience,” Kader reflected. “I could give you two examples. The first one is international—what you could do to people’s lives internationally, to turn them around and make them competitive, give them opportunity, get their lives going—it’s just stunning how little it takes to help people to make their lives better. It’s very refreshing how that happens. The second surprise is the people inside the company—I found that very few people in industry recruit women or minorities. And if you could get a mix of every kind of American: white, black, Hispanic, Asian,— everything you could get—you would have the most competitive workforce in the world. Nobody recruits women; they recruit men. White males can’t manage a diverse workforce unless they know how to deal with them. White males coming out of MBA programs are skilled and talented, but they lack experience in how to work in a diverse workforce.
“We’ve had more trouble hiring people who know how to deal with minorities and women. And it works both ways. You’ve got to be able to have African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics who can deal with white males as well. It’s just smart variety. You want variety—and then you can have the best workforce in the world. When you do, you can go overseas and develop the same thing. It surprised me to find out that I had to work at designing my workforce—you can’t just haphazardly hire.”
With the continued unrest between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and now the war with Iraq, Pal-Tech’s work has been affected. At the time of this interview, they had received a notice that the staff in the West Bank/Gaza were voluntarily evacuating because work has been disrupted. Although he relies primarily on nationals to staff operations, his consultants travel back and forth for two-week stays. “The two-year Intifada that has been going on between the Israelis and Palestinians has been devastating. The Israelis have essentially destroyed about $400–$600 million worth of infrastructure that the aid community has built over the last seven to eight years,” Kader imparted. “As we got ready for the millennium, most of the infrastructure—including the sewers—had been destroyed. And the United States has decided not to pay attention.”
Dr. Omar Kader is also an active participant in civic affairs. He was a member of the White House delegation at the peace signing between Israel and Jordan in 1994. He frequently provides expert commentary to news organizations and conducts public speaking engagements on the development of political issues in the Middle East. For more information, see Pal-Tech’s web site at http://www.pal-tech.com.