Ashley Dafel, MBA – On Collective Wisdom (Pt. 1)

In our first installment on Ashley Dafel we explore his upbringing and career choices. He is an interesting man and his story is equally fascinating. His road to success is not a conventional one. Filled with risks, including gunshots and near death (and no, I am not exaggerating) his story starts in South Africa, continues in Canada and astonishes as much as it inspires.

Let’s start with the obvious first question – why did you choose a finance career?
I can’t say it was a straight line into a finance career. The schooling system in South Africa didn’t really have a career guidance component to it. I did well in accounting/business economics in high school, but my family wasn’t very well off. I wanted an education though, so after completing 2 years of mandatory military service, I started articling with a small firm while I went to school at night. This let me pay my university bills while I got my education. I finished my degree and thought that I would become a teacher, but after I finished I realized that all of the high level knowledge I had would never really get used. A recruiter heard about me, called me and placed me with Anglo American, my first firm. They actually offered me a job in three different departments. Working for them was a very good decision, as I met my mentor there. He guided my career and shaped my approach to managing personnel today.

I did well in accounting/business economics in high school, but my family wasn’t very well off… so after completing 2 years of mandatory military service, I started articling with a small firm…

Besides teaching, did you consider any other careers?
This may sound odd, but I always wanted to be a reconstructive surgeon. Unfortunately, as I said before, my family wasn’t very well off and a medical career was not a feasible path financially. I did, however, volunteer at a clinic in Johannesburg with my wife. I would describe it as very ‘hands on’ experience. I removed bullets, sutured countless wounds, resuscitated people and delivered babies. I would do a 24 hour shift at the clinic and time would feel like it was standing still. Working there fulfilled my need to give back.

I would do a 24 hour shift at the clinic and time would feel like it was standing still. Working there fulfilled my need to give back.

Did you have any specific goals for yourself at the start of your career?
I don’t think that I had a specific goal. I was dedicated to being a hard worker and was quite ambitious. When I set my mind on something, I did everything I could to make it happen. I’m still like that now. If you believe it, you can achieve it.

Why did you decide to emigrate to Canada?
If you had told me when I was younger that I would end up in Canada I would never have believed you. When you evaluate the opportunities that exist in Canada you realize that it is an incredible place to work, live and raise a family. I committed to the idea of being here and I was frankly open to pumping gas if I had to for the first year to support my family. Let’s face it, the world is not a truly structured and predictable place. I believe that people who are adaptable and transformational by nature can achieve anything that they set their hearts and minds on. I was willing to be open and take risks that would lead to success. The move to Canada was a risk and it paved the way to success.

When you evaluate the opportunities that exist in Canada you realize that it is an incredible place to work, live and raise a family.

What was your first job in Canada and how did you get it? 
I had done some work in risk management on a diamond mine when I was still in South Africa. I was asked to present at a conference in Canada by the Institute of Internal Auditors. One of the attendees was from CICA. The model I spoke about was the Criteria of Control model that he and his team developed at CICA. We spoke after the presentation at some length and later, in 1998, when I wanted to move to Canada, I contacted him and he acted as a referral for me and I secured a position with CICA prior to leaving South Africa. My successful transition to Canada was paved by 3 things: In my career I had exposed myself to new technologies and ways of doing things, and this interested my future employers, I was willing to take the calculated risk of moving and I had a key relationship who acted as a reference for me. It was a combination of skills, resources and relationships that enabled me to move to Canada and start my career there.

In my career I had exposed myself to new technologies and ways of doing things and this interested my future employers…

What would you say are the critical steps that you took to get to where you are today?
There were 4 key things that I did and that I still do:

  •  Invest in relationships at a deep level – superficial relationships are just that- “superficial” and don’t always help you get to the end goal.
  •  Build your skill set
  •  Collect resources
  •  Develop deep personal awareness

Join us on Friday and read about Ashley’s life changing mentors as well as the steps he took to become the head of M&A.