Not far from the coffee estates nestled in the residential suburbs of Nairobi, Kenya, but a long way from his New York roots, Scott Geller is working from home – as most of us are in these days of crisis – juggling his different management roles. As a former board member of LTS International, now firmly in the NIRAS family since the 2018 merger, Scott spends half of his time at NIRAS International Consulting helping the company expand into the UKAID market. The remainder of his time is dedicated to management issues such as corporate strategy, systems and structures as well guidance to offices in Africa and Europe.
“My role is interesting in that I get to see the organisation operate from different angles – be it country, regional or head office. In this respect I am very attuned to what is going on across the International Consulting business unit at multiple levels and, in navigating so many parts of the matrix wearing my different hats, I spend a lot of time helping to steer processes. I feel a bit like ‘sticky glue’ – a floating resource that enables various parts of the organisation collaborate more effectively when it comes to our investments in business development.”
The change agent building durable and long-lasting institutions
With a BSc in Environmental Studies from the University of Vermont and an MSc in Resource Management from the University of Edinburgh, Scott has worked for a variety of international development institutions – from progressive grassroots NGOs to global UN agencies to private contractors – and both SMEs and multi-nationals. Working as a forest policy expert in over 20 countries, during which time he collaborated often with NIRAS, has reinforced the notion for Scott that context is everything. “Burning policy issues affecting forest landscapes are often a reflection of dramas being played out on dozens of stages very far from the forest,” he explains.
Two flagship endeavours particularly shaped his current world view that credible and reputable forestry agencies are critical to realising the sustainable forestry agenda. One was his 2002-2004 role as DFID-funded institutional advisor helping establish the Uganda National Forestry Authority and, the second, his replication of these efforts in a different context as the USAID-funded transaction advisor guiding the development of the Kenya Forestry Service between 2007 and 2010. Under both long-term engagements and several short-term consultancy assignments, Scott dealt with a re-occurring wicked problem – “policy inflation, capacity collapse” – syndromes that plague the continent and the sector. He has operated at the forefront of transforming leadership, strengthening organisational systems and catalysing mindset change across a range of influential policy actors.
Scott joined LTS in Scotland as an intern in 2001, working his way through the consultant ranks and eventually becoming a director and the principal shareholder in 2010. When Scott traded his consultant hat in 2010 to focus on LTS’s expansion, it was a different organisation.
“A company that has been around 45 years is likely to go through development cycles. I am very grateful to have been part of management team that took the company on a notable growth journey over eight years. During this short period, LTS grew in staff numbers from 15 to 50, company offices from 1 to 4, and turnover from £2 to £9 million. As part of the LTS board, my docket was driving business development initiatives across the group. I helped establish company operations and project operations in several countries where LTS works.”
NIRAS is a wonderful organisation. I am most impressed by its growth journey, its committed staff and its risk profile (the glass is often ‘half full’). I generally think one of the organisation’s greatest assets is the open and transparent culture that it brings to working with knowledgeable and driven employees of all levels.
Instilling fresh approaches and new ways of thinking
As part of LTS’s integration into NIRAS International Consulting, in 2019 Scott guided the establishment of NIRAS’s Africa regional office, melding the local expertise of the married firms’ Nairobi offices. Since the merger, Scott has been keenly focused on improving the efficiency of the organisation. He does this via his role as part of the NIRAS International Consulting management team, optimising business development strategies with head office directors, strengthening pipeline development processes with business development directors and market coordinators, and working on step changes to engage in growth markets (UKAID) with key account managers.
“In my first 16 months at NIRAS, I feel I have been successful in helping strengthen our organisation at the centre and its approach to business planning. I’ve led the design and launch of our new, structured, and rigorous approach to Go-No-Go (GONG) decision-making processes and am currently spearheading the creation of best practices in the form of practical business development guidance.
“Despite the current challenges, NIRAS’s potential is huge and the operating platform is unique. The team maintains flexibility around new markets and an openness to new ways of working. On one hand, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and when the matrix thrives (competences, clients and countries), the magic really happens. On the other hand, the matrix is complex, clarity is not always in ready supply and arriving at win-win outcomes across our many offices can be a challenge. I have seen the best and worst of these different strands.”
Day-to-day diversity brings job satisfaction
After almost two decades in development, Scott is still enjoying the journey. He has a strong affinity to the NIRAS vision and values. His exposure to NIRAS’s Scandinavian management style – different to the UK/US approach he is used to – has been an eye-opener. Every day brings something new and rewarding, and he continues to enjoy the full injection of diversity in his work.
“With all my hats, I have become one of these ‘NIRAS-across animals’ roaming the landscape to help navigate the ship through a unique time, expanding our country office footprint, scoping out new business models, crafting client-specific growth strategies, and collaborating with the expansive NIRAS network in their bidding pursuits,” he notes.
For someone who once owned a night club in Kampala and a small sushi restaurant in Vermont, who knew being sticky glue could be so rewarding.