Up Close with Nancy Clanton

by | Jul 26, 2021 | News

Nancy Clanton celebrates 40 years. As the CEO of an award-winning lighting design and engineering firm, Clanton & Associates, Inc., and a standout innovator in the industry, Nancy has a long and fascinating history.

Nancy graduated from Colorado University at Boulder in 1975 with an architectural engineering degree. After graduating, she worked at an engineering firm in Minneapolis in a four-person electrical engineering department. As the only female engineer, co-workers underestimated her and suggested she spend time with the female secretaries rather than with the male engineers.

Nancy then became a teacher at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In addition, she worked with Dr. Ron Helms at his company, Lumineering. When Dr. Helms was transferred, Nancy had the opportunity to buy 100% of the company, which later became Clanton & Associates, for just over a thousand dollars. She was 28 years old at the time.

Nancy described Clanton & Associate’s mission- “to illuminate beautiful sustainable places that enable people and nature to thrive.” In order to see how Clanton & Associates has worked towards that mission, Nancy described some goals and highlights from every decade, starting with the 1980’s, where her main goal was to recognize the importance of daylight. Nancy installed the first daylight dimming system and discovered a way to get lighting to respond to daylight. The 1990s was a time of lighting evolution and a highlight for Nancy was running the lighting group for greening the White House. She even talked with Bill Clinton!

Another major interest in the 1990’s was figuring out how to work with the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD). Interestingly, Nancy recalls her highlight of the 2000’s not by any technical development but by working on projects in Brazil and Argentina. Not only did Nancy and her team fix the lighting in 10,000 different schools, but they also cared deeply about the health and welfare of those communities. The 2000’s was a time of improvement and learning how to be a better neighbor to countries, while getting involved with the state department and building operations. The 2010 to present timeframe is a “whole different arena,” as Nancy describes it. Clanton & Associates is focusing on what they can do with lighting that is different. Nancy explained, “One major focus is the importance of natural daylight, because a view is more than just nice to have.” Another major focus of the present day is quality.

Reflecting on her work life experience, Nancy recalls that working as a woman in engineering has not always been smooth sailing. In college, there were only male restrooms in the Engineering building. Being female was one of her toughest experiences due to the gender discrimination in the workplace. However, in order to change culture and biases, Nancy has worked tirelessly to diversify the workplace. Clanton & Associates now has more female engineers than male, which is a huge accomplishment. At the end of the day, Nancy believes that the more diverse the team, the better the production and thought process. Clanton & Associates hires people from different countries with unique backgrounds, and Nancy has been a contributor to the positive diversity progress in the industry. She has paved the way for women in engineering in the future.

Nancy then talked about the future of Clanton and Associates. Dane Sanders, president of Clanton & Associates, will be taking over the company in approximately a year and a half because Nancy wants to run a small company on the side while also working as a consultant for Clanton & Associates. Nancy will be bought out internally by the company and agreed to take a lower payout in order to “preserve what she helped create [because] it is too important.”

Overall, Nancy is very excited about the future. Her dream is to get the world to a place of carbon neutrality and believes this can be done by 2030. She explained, “At its core, engineering is not just about solving problems like everyone thinks, engineering is about creating and asking the what if. It is about the innovation.” Nancy is not only an engineer, but an innovator who has paved the way for generations to come.

Thank you, Nancy, for forty years of service to the industry!

This article was originally featured in the June issue of designing lighting (dl)