The office of Claudio Vissa, BEng 76, MEng 79, on the fifth floor of a downtown Montreal skyscraper, overlooks the domed roof of the cathedral, Marie Reine du Monde, and beneath it, the Place du Canada. His co-workers walk in and out of his office without a hint of formality, at ease with the engineer who has done so much to build the global reputation of the company, AECOM. Now as vice president of Hydropower and Dams in North America, and active on the international scene, Vissa can look back with accomplishment on a career that started out decades ago on construction sites in Italy.
“The satisfaction of life is bringing new vision to problems,” he says. His construction background gives him the practical acumen to resolve engineering problems in a way that might elude others. In the late 1990s, working on the Malana Hydro Project in India at a time when the local business community was starting to lose confidence in hydro power, Vissa was able to organize it so as to reduce the construction time from a projected 60 months to only 30. He’s repeated this kind of feat time and time again.
Born in 1943 in Udine, a town north-east of Venice, construction was the Vissa family’s trade, dating back generations. “My parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents all did construction. It’s in my genes,” he says.
When he was 14, the family immigrated to Canada in search of a more prosperous future. The young Vissa worked in construction and it wasn’t until he was 19 that he started his formal education. At Montreal’s YMCA Elementary School he learned English. He completed his high school and was accepted into engineering at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia).
“I am very grateful to Sir. George Williams and Concordia for giving me the strength and providing the opportunities that helped make me what I am today,” he says.
Vissa launched a career in engineering during a very exciting time for Québec. Then-premiere, Robert Bourassa, was determined to make the province an energy powerhouse. Vissa worked on the James Bay hydro-electric project. There were three competing concepts; Bourassa chose “La Grande Complex” which would provide 15,000 megawatts of power – the one Vissa had worked on.
In 2011, Vissa was selected from among 50,000 employees as one of only 10 AECOM Fellows. The award recognizes a lifetime of professional achievement, industry advancement, and technical success. Upon receiving the award, he explained what has helped propel him so far: “Passion, and commitment in gathering and motivating the professional teams work with me, helping clients, listening to their needs, showing my appreciation, as well for the contributions of my collaborators.”
It’s an ethos that is clearly appreciated by all those Vissa works with, and indeed, by all of the clients to whom he’s provided progressive hydro-electric solutions around the world.