Dr. Saeed Barbat has a passion for automotive safety – he never tires of the challenge surrounding it or the rewards his profession brings.
The executive technical leader for safety, Barbat holds the topmost safety technical position at Ford globally, overseeing vehicle safety in research, product development and strategy. He has earned an enviable record of awards, accolades and leadership positions in developing life-saving technologies and influencing strategic safety decisions. Barbat remains devoted to the field to which he’s dedicated his life.
But all of that recognition isn’t what brings tears to his eyes or leads to a catch in his voice. That is saved for his children – he and wife Nedhal have a daughter and two sons, all now involved in life-saving work related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Talking about them now, thinking about them now, I am so, so proud,” says Barbat. “It’s difficult to even voice my pride for what they’re doing and how much they’re giving.”
His son, Justin, 28, is an anesthesiology resident at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, working in the regional infectious containment unit, a special unit for infectious pandemic and epidemic occurrences – now 100 percent devoted to transfers and emergency COVID-19 patients. Justin’s job involves critical care management – working to improve patients’ lung, cardiac and kidney functionality and providing lung ventilation strategies.
“He was so inspired when they received a shipment of Ford face shields, he took a picture of it and texted it to me,” says Barbat. “He told me that Ford’s face shields have the special plastic/rubber component that fits to the forehead and are easier to clean and more durable.” Unlike the foam forehead protector in non-Ford shields, these ensure adequate sanitation after exposure to COVID-19 patients, he adds.
Barbat’s son, Selwan, 32, usually works as a bariatric and minimally invasive general surgeon in Charlotte, North Carolina, but is performing emergency surgeries now to help with the coronavirus situation there. Selwan’s wife, Vallen, is a special ICU nurse.
And Barbat’s daughter, Sally, 33, is working as a self-employed master-level clinical psychologist.
“Since the home shelter announcement in Michigan took place, she’s been conducting long phone sessions throughout the day, the evening and the weekends, providing mental health therapy and treatment to help people cope with challenges associated with this pandemic,” says Barbat. “There’s so much – job loss, family stresses, anxiety and depression. She talks with children, with adults. Sometimes, I will hear her on the phone and I’m always struck by her kindness, her patience and her compassion.”
Barbat glances over his own impressive accolades; he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in February and he received the Haren Gandhi Innovation Award, the highest technical and innovation award given by Ford Motor Company, in 2019. He also received the ASME Barnett-Uzgiris Product Safety Societal Award in 2017 – the sixth recipient of this honor globally.
He never tires of safety research, he says – he has been providing leadership research projects aimed at improving real-world safety for nearly his whole career. “Technology is always changing,” says Barbat. “You’re always moving forward. It’s challenging – and I’m up to the challenge. To be part of developing a system that can mitigate real-life injuries, that’s so rewarding.”
And while his children haven’t followed in his career footsteps, they’ll readily acknowledge to being influenced by Barbat’s dedication and perseverance.
“Although none of us have pursued a career in engineering, his impact on our decisions to select our respective careers has been significant,” says Justin. “Now more than ever, I’ve been able to apply my father’s teachings regarding the dynamics between human and vehicle. In the ICU, this encompasses patient and ventilator, complicated by a third variable – provider safety.
“My father inspired my aspirations of becoming an anesthesiologist and effectively helping those who are critically ill, because he has always extended his devotions beyond his own family in helping others,” Justin adds. “Needless to say, I am proud of my father, and am beyond proud to be his son.”