We continue to shine a light on Heriot-Watt’s special relationship with Norway, as we profile some of our exceptional Norway alumni.
This month we are delighted to profile Axel Klafstad, an enterprising young business leader who is building a career in strategic consultancy. Graduating from Heriot-Watt in 2011, with a MA (Hons) in Business and Finance, Axel thought he would become an investment banker but an early role in the oil sector put him on another path.
Through hard work and a strong belief in the importance of relationship building, Axel has built his career to date through immersion in new experiences and being open to opportunities.
He initially worked for Seadrill, a leading offshore oil and gas drilling contractor, based in Stavanger, Norway, and later in Houston, Texas – an experience he hugely enjoyed. While working with them there, the company decided to relocate its corporate headquarters, and as a consequence, Axel was offered a leading role in setting up the new headquarters in Dubai. He was unsure about being based in the Middle East but now reflects that his experiences in Dubai have been critical to his success.
“I learnt a great deal through this experience. I was deeply involved in setting up the office from scratch, implementing company systems and processes, working across all aspects – operations, shipyard projects, HR, finance, accounting, legal, etc. I became a fixer for just about any problem we encountered. Dubai is an exciting city and the challenge of working in a different country with a different business culture stretched my skills and developed my capabilities.”
Two years after taking up the role the oil crisis hit. Leaving Seadrill, Axel took a ‘timeout’ from working and used the freedom this gave him to set up the Norwegian Business Council in Dubai, in cooperation with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Norwegian companies with a base in Dubai. His enterprising initiative connected him with the Danish Trade Council, which subsequently offered him a role as a Commercial Advisor, responsible for developing and executing growth strategies and stakeholder management for Danish companies in the energy and maritime sectors across the UAE and Qatar.
With a young family, Axel decided to return to Norway in early 2017 and continued his role for the Danish Trade Council, based in Oslo, as a Senior Energy Advisor. It was this role that opened his eyes to the renewables sector.
“I became really excited about it. Electricity is such an essential resource; it felt important and urgent to work in this area. Denmark has a strong renewables sector, so I could see there would be interesting possibilities. In 2021 I ‘jumped ship’ to work with COWI, one of Denmark's leading engineering firms, where I am responsible for developing customer relations and contribute to grow COWI's portfolio of projects in the renewables sector.”
In parallel with his career, Axel has been an active alumnus for ten years through roles on the Watt Club Executive Council and work to represent Heriot-Watt to local high schools in Norway via education fairs and other events. He has played a key role in helping to establish a branch of the Watt Club in Norway and currently serves as its Deputy Chair.
“After I completed my conscript military service with the King’s Guard, I was unsure what to study. Dr Tønnevold, a Heriot-Watt alumnus, is a family friend and spoke very highly of the University. So, I thought: why not study in Scotland? And Edinburgh seemed like a great city to be based in. I really enjoyed my time at Heriot-Watt. Continuing to be engaged with the University acknowledges how important that experience has been in my life and provides a way for me to continue to build links between Scotland and Norway. My mantra is ‘fortune favours the bold’ and I believe you have to take chances, but making the best out of your current moment can be enhanced by who you meet and connect with, so I’m keen to find ways to help others to enjoy a similar adventure to my own.”