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We interview the former Chief Operations Officer of Agang SA, Andrew Gasnolar

Posted in Professionals • Posted 22 October 2013  6 COMMENTS

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Andrew Gasnolar served as  the Chief Operations Officer for Agang SA and as Financial Director at Mandela Rhodes Community NPC, among various other positions.

How did you get into your line of work? Would you say it was serendipitous, or was it planned career path?

After completing high school, I struggled to find something certain and definite that would give me a direct vocational path, which was important because I was looking for something more than just a career.  The focus for me was to be able to do something meaningful; however, after Grade 12 I completed a month-long job shadow programme at a medium-sized law firm. 

At the end of the job shadow / internship the law firm made me an offer to stay on in their employ, receive on-the-job training with the support to complete my law degree on a part-time basis.  This option resonated with me as I would be learning whilst employed and have the benefit of studying with the practical knowledge a work environment would provide. 

In many ways, the legal career is people-focused (in its outcomes) and people-centred (in its input) and on that score I would say my career choice was very much serendipitous and I couldn’t think of doing anything different.  My career path and planning, to complete articles at a premier corporate law firm and thereafter to stay on as an Associate was part of my career plan – to obtain the best possible legal skills and training and exposure to complicated and multi-faceted transactions.

A large part of my own vocational journey has been to acknowledge and accept that service (people-focused approach to issues) has also been rooted in who I am.  This has lead to my involvement with various non-profit organisations (in the poverty relief, education, social entrepreneurship, design, arts and theatre programmes, community development and youth development arena) from a very young age (around 11) and now where I am a trustee/director of a number of organisations some locally founded and others started by Dutch, British and Australian citizens.

Who has been the biggest influence in your professional career?

A legal career is often defined by the work ethic as well as demeanour a lawyer brings to that profession.

Two of my lecturers, Professor van der Poll and Ms Abdullah, both provided me with deep understanding that law is so much more than just words (abstractly placed) in books and volumes of paper but rather that is but one vehicle to transform a particular space.  They instilled a depth of knowledge which extends beyond just knowing the law but understanding the law and that continues to influence my thinking when practising law.

My interaction and involvement with Students for Law and Social Justice (the Legal Resource Centre, Section27 and the Women’s Legal Centre) have provided me with deep respect for many practitioners who are able to provide exceptional legal services to those who need it most.

What did you think you were going to ‘be’ when you grew up, and what changed that?

As a child I thought I would possibly work in government, mainly because I saw it as the one vehicle in which you could meaningfully change the lives of ordinary people.  Over the years, I have also realised that having people of exceptional skills, motivated by excellence and values of service within the private sector and civil sector provides a meaningful platform in which change can happen organically.

I am also mindful that I have many “job titles” and they are all within a similar framework – the realisation that I am actively trying to make a meaningful impact in the world, however, a job title which I am happy to embrace is that of being an attorney.  Through my work as an attorney, I am able to interact with people from various walks of life, with varying degrees of problems and issues, and to deal with complex matters, which require the application of thought, knowledge and reason, with strategic thinking as well.

What changes do you think technology will make to your industry in the next five years?

Technology provides people with access to information and knowledge and in many ways skills, which are currently held by a few.  As a result of technology this will create a more competitive working environment; however, in instances where people require highly-skilled expertise, to complex situations or scenarios, I don’t think technology will have an impact on that market.  It will, however, provide laypersons with the know-how of how others do it, which could change the power dynamics between a client and an attorney.  The ongoing debate of costs in the legal fraternity will continue to rage on and hopefully technology will increase access to justice for those who need it most.

What is your favourite professional motivational quote?

I suppose the maxim If you have been given much in life, you owe the world much and have a duty to give back resonates with me.  I also find the following quotes motivating:

I am only one, / But still I am one. / I cannot do everything, / But still I can do something; / And because I cannot do everything, / I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

-Edward Everett Hale

In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous.  In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero: the teacher, the nurse, the mother, the honest cop, the hard worker at lonely, underpaid, unglamorous, unpublicised jobs. 

– Daniel J Boorstin

What keeps you motivated?

The belief and knowledge that the various activities I am involved in give me great satisfaction and fulfilment and that I am able to do all of them with the required dedication and commitment. 

What are you currently reading and/or what are your most frequented websites?

I’m currently reading A Passage to India and Malcolm Gladwell’s new book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. I regularly visit the websites of City Press, New York Post, New York Times, and the Huffington Post. The Daily Maverick is possibly the best thing on my Twitter feed and definitely on my reading list.

If you could do anything now, what would you do and why?

I would do more of the community outreach projects that I have been conducting and perhaps on a larger scale - simply because the need is so great and we need more people trying to make an impact in our communities.

What would you say are four traits that should be inherent or practiced by any legal professional?

Ethics of the highest standards - staying true to those values always. 

Commitment and dedication - being able to cope with a career that is not just simply about filling the hours of the day. 

An eye to detail and thoroughness - regardless of the size of the task. 

A sense of humour - to deal with a fluctuating, stressful and often unpredictable environment, which is constantly evolving.

Talking to those currently building their legal careers, and with the next five years in mind, what do you think it will take to stand out?

The soft skills of the profession are becoming more and more important, being able to network, interact with clients, conducting high-level presentations on issues of law. In order to succeed in a meaningful way lawyers will need to ensure their expertise is matched by these softer skills. Also the ability to turn things around quickly (providing solutions to clients) will become more important, as solutions to problems are often time-sensitive. 

Tell us about the first job you ever had? 

My first job oddly enough was in a medium-sized law firm whilst completing my law degree at the University of the Western Cape. I was tasked with a myriad of administrative, support and legal functions and my day generally started at 06h00 and ended at 16h00. I then rushed to campus for my law classes. The job was highly demanding but working whilst studying was intellectually stimulating although I would not recommend it to many people as personal sacrifices around your own time and social life does of course take a knock because of the demanding pace that is required.

Tell us about a career highlight?

Being involved in various pro bono projects, which included public-interest law issues as well as lecturing at TSIBA and my involvement in small business clinics, which meaningfully and effectively provide people with a direct benefit from the law. The results are often visible and the benefit of working on these matters is that often you are able to register a home in an elderly person’s name (who has been waiting for over 40 years) for that simple transaction to bear fruits.

What has been your most challenging role to date?

Juggling the varying demands of my additional “job titles” has been quite challenging but surprisingly has been possible.  Each role has seemed to compliment the other and allowed for interesting cross-pollination of skills/roles and contacts, whilst managing my own time has proved complicated yet manageable.

How do you measure success?

Having come from humble beginnings, I was raised on the Cape Flats and attended primary school education in Athlone, I have soon realised that the aspiration for material want is short-sighted and often a race that will never end. I measure success on the level of commitment directed to a project/task but also the outcomes achieved from the work that is put into it. 

I have been able to work on various projects within a specific career context, but also in a broader context and I have always found that I measure the success on the sort of conversations the people are having during and after the conclusion of the project - fulfilment above material want always.  Substance over form always.

Who has had the most positive impact on your career?

Letititia van der Poll, Nathiera Abdullah and Jasmina Gasnolar

What would you like your legacy to be?

I want to contribute in a meaningful way to all the things I am involved in and to be able to share and harness my own life story to provide others with the possibility of choosing something more. 





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