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Claes Clifford: Increasing business unit collaboration to expand market presence

NIRAS’s former Technical Director for Water relishes his new management position

A geologist by training with more than 30 years’ experience in overseeing sustainable water resource management projects in over 20 countries, Claes Clifford still believes his biggest achievement lies ahead of him. In his new role as NIRAS International Consulting’s Business Development Director for Infrastructure, Claes sees nothing but opportunities.

“Up to now, we have not implemented a great deal on actual infrastructure construction in our development consulting portfolio. But when you look at the rest of NIRAS – meaning the more traditional engineering operations such as drainage and waste water treatment; roads; rail; ports and marines; and food and beverage to name just a few  – you can see we’ve done some fairly impressive work. And there lies the potential for integration and collaboration," Claes explains.

“Imagine if we were to apply the business model and vast network of International Consulting and blend it with our engineering offerings, we could expand this market considerably. My challenge is to see how this can be fast-tracked for a much greater internationalisation of NIRAS.”

Around the world in 30 years

Growing up in Espergærde, a small coastal harbour town north of Copenhagen, Claes was attracted to volcanos, so geology was an obvious path. He earned an MSc from the University of Copenhagen with a specialisation in petrology and, in parallel, hydrogeology, water resource and environmental management.

Claes joined NIRAS in early 1990 and spent the following eight years working partly in Denmark and, for extended periods of time, in Mali as part of the resident engineer team supervising a Danish contractor. In 1998, he left NIRAS to work for Danida, first in India for four years ‒ advising the Government of Karnataka on implementing rural drinking water supply and sanitation facilities and managing groundwater resources  ‒ followed by two and half years in Bhutan as a senior water technical advisor with the Ministry of Health.  

It was here that Claes first began exploring the Himalayas, a hobby he continues to enjoy alongside a bit of scuba diving on assignments on smaller islands.

Imagine if we were to apply the business model and vast network of International Consulting and blend it with our engineering offerings, we could expand this market considerably. My challenge is to see how this can be fast-tracked for a much greater internationalisation of NIRAS.

Returning to the NIRAS family in 2005, Claes has spent the last 15 years working on short-term assignments in places like Kenya and Tanzania, with Sven Hindkjær back in 2006 looking at rainwater for the AfDB, Mauritius, and Gambia with Sven Jacobi setting up entities to manage the national water resources. Today Claes is still the Project Director for the Ayeyarwady Integrated River Basin Management project, which aims to improve the quality of weather, climate and hydrological information and services in Myanmar.

At last count, Claes has worked in 21 countries mostly as a water resource specialist, team leader or project director. In addition, he has taken on various managing roles at NIRAS culminating in his position as Technical Director of Water in 2014, where he coordinated and oversaw all development cooperation water-related projects.

“I love the unpredictable nature of this business – you never know what’s around the corner. Next week, you might be sitting on a flight to an unknown destination or going for a contract negotiation in the Central African Republic. It never gets dull.” 

New role in revamped technical structure

Claes is one of four recently appointed Business Development Directors in the International Consulting business unit of NIRAS. Along with the other three  – economic development, climate, governance & democracy – his role is to shape the technical organisation by providing vision and leadership for the infrastructure sector, advise management on technical trends and strategy, and support sector leads (colleagues focused on business development in sustainable energy, water and urban development).

Stepping up from his role as Technical Director for Water, Claes is keen to see how far he can go in his new position.

“NIRAS is a great company founded on respect, creativity and individualism, which make it even more interesting to be in a managing position,” he says. “My biggest achievement hopefully lies ahead of me – namely to eventually steer this process of increased presence and market share of NIRAS globally, through greater and more fruitful collaboration across NIRAS operations in order to merge the best qualities, ideas and energies within the organisation.”