This year's ICE Civil Engineering Manager of the Year is a remarkable Fellow whose achievements include working for the United Nations in northern Iraq and leading the project team on Bingley's famous relief road. Ruby Kitching met Charly Clark.
AMEC'S SENIOR contract manager Charly Clark is on a winning streak. In less than a month, he has managed to scoop two of the biggest awards in the construction industry - the Prime Minister's Better Building Award for the A650 Bingley Relief Road and, just last Wednesday, the ICE's Civil Engineering Manager of the Year (CEMYA).
'CEMYA means more to me than anything - it's recognition from my peers of a job well done, ' says Clark, 57. But competition was tough and judging panel chairman Haro Bedelian believes there were very nearly four winners for the award this year, the quality of finalists was so high.
At the finish Clark beat Farrans project manager David Parr, Taylor Woodrow projects director Graham Stanley and BAA Terminal 5 project leader Philip Wilbraham.
Clark's success project managing the A650 project is just the tip of the iceberg. He has spent the last 30 years working in the most unlikely parts of the world - Malawi, Sudan, Israel and Kurdistan - to name just a few. And road projects are just one aspect of his portfolio which includes bridges, dams, opencast mines, offices and schools.
Clark's talent lies in his ability to adjust to these different settings and build confident and motivated teams. Clark takes as a compliment the description of him by A650 client the Highways Agency as a 'steamroller' when it comes to getting a job done: 'I'm the one that paves the way to make things smooth for everyone else.'
Clark knew civil engineering was the career for him part way through his degree when he was on a placement with contractor Taylor Woodrow on the Midlands link motorway.
'It was then that I realised I wanted to build things which would be there for the rest of time.'
He also knew early on that he wanted to work abroad and, on graduation, decided to work for international development charity VSO in Malawi.
'I knew no one would send a fresh graduate on an overseas job at that time, and joining VSO was the best way of getting that experience.'
At the age of 21, Clark was responsible for a bridge project lasting 18 months. But he knew that although working in a developing country was interesting, his career would benefit from experience of more modern building methods in the UK.
So in 1972, he moved back to the UK to work on a dam project in Llandovery before a two-year stint in a design office.
'Going into design was a big shock and it was a year before I actually started enjoying it, ' he admits. Being outdoors working with people is what he enjoys most, but the experience was valuable towards becoming chartered.
Clark's experience in Malawi had him itching to work abroad again and the next decade saw him in Nigeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe. He worked on the £100M Trans-Africa highway project between Kenya and southern Sudan - probably one of his toughest jobs.
'I got a reputation for being able to work in different countries because I could build teams.
But Sudan was different. Many areas were virtually inaccessible and crime was a big problem.'
Deliveries could either take one day along a crime ridden route to the site or four days on a safer route, he explains.
Clark then had a brief spell on precast building projects in Edinburgh before his heart took him to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq in 1998 - a job he saw advertised in NCE. The work in Kurdistan was part of the United Nation's Food for Oil programme where money from exported oil had to be used on infrastructure projects which would rehabilitate the country. Clark had to ensure the money went towards humanitarian projects such as water supply, schools and housing and that money was not squandered.
Clark ran three offices in each province of Northern Iraq with a team of 120 Kurdish staff.
'We selected the projects, used local designers and supervised local contractors.
'It was absolutely fascinating working around two political parties physically fighting each other, both trying to build things that were not about rehabilitation.
He explains that although the project cost was £75M, the money went five times further than in the UK.
'It was like being in charge of a £385M project over a country the size of the UK'.
He explains that nothing had been built while Iran and Iraq were at war so the construction industry had fallen apart.
'We were asking people who hadn't built anything for 10 years to act as contractors. All of a sudden things started to blossom and we could accelerate the building rate, ' he says proudly.
'The look of pleasure on people's faces when we opened schools made it all worthwhile. In one month, we opened ten schools.'
His 18 months in Kurdistan were cut short in 1999 when war broke out again in Iraq.
Clark is still in touch with Kurdish people in Iraq and shares their concerns for the future of the country. For now though, Clark will stay in the UK working for Amec and spending more time with his wife and three children.