Hearing Opportunity Knock – Gavin O’Connor, General Counsel at General Nutrition Centers (GNC)

Marlene Caroselli Issue 03 - Jan/Feb 2013, Legal Leave a Comment

GNC’s Gavin O’Connor, Esq., answers the call.

By Marlene Caroselli

“I have always found Gavin O’Connor to be the utmost professional. He is wonderful to deal with because of his attention to detail and his timely responses to our guests.”
– William Brown (Brown-Hurray group)

In 1935, David Shakarian opened a small health food store and within a year, opened another. His hopes were high, but the heights to which the Ohio River rose that year wiped out both business locations. But Shakarian persevered, and in time, his small stores became the General Nutrition Centers (GNC).

Nearly 80 years later, we see that same willingness to reinvent in the man who serves as GNC’s General Counsel for Corporate Affairs and International Operations. O’Connor, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, has worked for four different firms.

While at McGuire Woods, he heard about an opening at GNC; almost offhandedly, he suggested he be the one to fill it. Although O’Connor was not actively seeking a new job at the time, he was familiar with GNC and had handled various corporate and acquisition assignments for the company. He also was 40, with children, as he expressed it, “creeping into teenagehood.” He went for it.

Going Inside

The chance to practice law in a different way made the transition from private practicioner to in-house counsel a simpler for O’Connor. Although his practice areas include mergers and acquisitions and international law, as of late he finds himself focusing largely on compliance issues.

On his smooth transition, O’Connor said, “I already knew several people in the GNC legal department and several members of senior management. Our offices were only a block apart, and GNC was—and is—a client of the firm.”

The working environments at the two organizations were different, O’Connor said, but equally positive.

O’Connor gathers that he learned more in one day in his new role than he had in the five years prior as an outside attorney.“I learned many things about GNC that I did not know as an outside lawyer. At McGuire Woods, I would work on a task,” he recalled, “and then be done thinking about GNC for a month or so, until the next assignment came up.”

Recognizing & Streamlining

Having been with the company for more than two and a half years now, O’Connor recognizes GNC to be a group that rewards people for going above and beyond what is expected of them. He points to President and CEO Joseph Fortunato, who started as a payroll manager, as a prime example.

“Your reputation is the most valuable thing you have. Don’t do anything to sully it.”

“If you are thinking about ways to do things more efficiently,” O’Connor said, “GNC has created a culture that recognizes and appreciates input. Enthusiasm for one’s job and for the firm itself often leads to a rise through the ranks.”

In an effort to contribute to improved efficiency, O’Connor and his boss recently attended a number of compliance seminars to gain knowledge and inspiration so as to build a more comprehensive compliance program.

Caring What Others Think

Asked about lessons learned that could be shared with other professionals, O’Connor offered up advice he once received, on his first day at his first job. “It was important advice for me as a brand-new attorney, and it’s still important advice for me as a seasoned practitioner: Your reputation is the most valuable thing you have. Don’t do anything to sully it.”

O’Connor recalls being told that he was brought on board on the assumption that he is a good lawyer and a good person, and to maintain those qualities; he also was advised to be kind, and not just to those in positions above his own. These words of wisdom have motivated O’Connor as he climbed the professional ladder, and continue to do so each and every day.

Marlene Caroselli is a freelance writer based in Pittsford, New York.

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