Partner, Duncan Cotterill & Trustee, UC Foundation
Business and Law, 1992
Enabling Growth, Supporting Change.
After graduating from UC in the early 1990’s, Andrew Oh embarked on a successful career in property development and law. Now Partner of law firm Duncan Cotterill and trustee for the UC Foundation, Andrew is a big supporter of the well-rounded experience UC provides – and the advantage it gives to students coming out the other side. “I enjoy giving my time to UC because I get to see these amazing students who, when they’re given opportunities, take them and run with them."
It sounds like your link to UC goes back a fair way!
It does. My father, who was from a very poor background in Malaysia, was given the opportunity to study electrical engineering at UC on a scholarship under the Colombo Plan. He met my mother and returned to Malaysia where I was brought up. When I was a teenager I was sent to boarding school in New Zealand and in 1987 I went to UC to study law.
You’re Partner now at Duncan Cotterill. What do you do in your role?
I do predominantly commercial work, advising people who run businesses. I like dealing with people who own and operate their own company. You can have a big impact and build lasting relationships. Being Partner adds another dimension to my job. It’s definitely a pressure role. You have to shift your focus from just being a lawyer to being a business owner as well. I think that transition surprises a lot of people.
You’re also part of the UC Foundation – tell us about that.
I joined the UC Foundation in 2010. It’s effectively the philanthropic arm of the University, which holds all the money for scholarships. We fundraise, invest and ensure awards are distributed in accordance with the wishes of the donor.
What sparked your involvement with the Foundation?
My father was always very grateful to UC for the opportunity he received. He went on to a successful business career so, as a way of giving back, he set up a scholarship to enable financially struggling Malaysian students to study here. Each year I interview the applicants for the award. I really enjoy meeting the young people of tomorrow whose lives are going to be changed by the opportunities UC provides.
Thinking back to your uni days, what opportunities did UC provide for you?
Different people get different things out of university. It’s not a cookie cutter experience. Personally, UC gave me a chance to mature, try different things and meet people. University today is becoming less about its ranking and more about the well-roundedness of students coming out the other side. Canterbury goes far beyond just providing an academic education and I think students have a distinct advantage when they come out because of that.
Do you still use the skills you learned as a student in your job today?
Studying law taught my brain to process information in a way that’s useful across a whole range of situations. It was about becoming analytical and applying risk and reward scenarios. You can use that skill in virtually any role, in any business, anywhere you go. At uni today there’s even more discussion, group work and analysis. The way subjects are taught now is really helping to prepare students for the world they’re going into, which is very different from the one I encountered.
What kinds of changes have you noticed in students?
10 years ago, if a student had come in for a job interview they would have sat there not saying anything, giving answers they know you want to hear. We now find that they’re asking us questions. They want to know what sort of work we do, how we help the community, what opportunities they’ll have with us. They’re coming out with a very different perspective on life and that’s a good thing.
So it’s a change for the better?
Students today are very socially conscious and want to make a difference with what they do. I think it’s a great change. In my view, most of the problems we strike in the world, whether environmental or social, come down to the fact that people are money-centric. Now we’re realising that we all have to live on this planet, suffering whatever’s come before. We’re getting a generation of people who are starting to say, that’s not acceptable. 20 years ago, they wouldn’t have said anything. Now we’ve taught them to speak up. At work, they want to be involved, they want to give their view. We need to listen and take their feedback into account. I’m hoping this generation will be the change of the planet moving forward.
You sound very optimistic about the leaders of tomorrow!
When you meet these guys and girls, you see and feel that energy. They are the hope for the future and UC is such a great grounding for them. It gives them the opportunity to develop their life skills. I enjoy giving my time to UC because I get to see these amazing students who, when they’re given opportunities, take them and run with them.