“There is the perception that a corporate counsel’s job is to say, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ But I’m about breaking this myth.”

Anita Dusevic Oliva, corporate counsel and corporate secretary at Inter Pipeline Fund.

Talking change with Anita Dusevic Oliva, corporate counsel and corporate secretary of Inter Pipeline Fund

If there is one constant theme in Anita Dusevic Oliva’s life, it is her acceptance—even eager embrace—of change. Perhaps we should expect no less from Dusevic Oliva, who has made the uncommon journey from classical violinist to corporate counsel for Inter Pipeline Fund, a leading Canadian energy infrastructure business. Advantage recently spoke with Dusevic Oliva about her life’s unique course.

Advantage: How did you make the leap from classical violinist to corporate counselor?
Anita Dusevic Oliva: Many people assumed that I would follow in the footsteps of my sister, Tanya, who earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in flute performance at New York’s prestigious Juilliard School. For a time, I even travelled to New York on weekends, where I stayed with my sister while taking lessons with Juilliard faculty. But then I had the rare opportunity of performing for legendary violinist Issac Stern. It didn’t go well. I decided that was okay, however, and considered other options. I went to university and finished an undergraduate degree in English and German literature. I then applied to law schools to take a different career path.

What led you into corporate law?
In my third year of law school, I did an internship with Anadarko Corporation, the Canadian subsidiary of a Houston, Texas-based oil-and-petroleum enterprise. There seemed to be a good balance of life and work within the firm’s corporate-counsel department. That and the fact that the job was in Calgary—a city that I loved—helped me choose corporate-counsel law. After graduation and following articles and a year as an associate at a law firm, I worked for Anadarko. After two years at Anadarko, I moved into my role at Inter Pipeline.

What do you like best about your role at Inter Pipeline?
I serve as corporate counsel and corporate secretary to the firm’s executive board of directors. There is an authentic entrepreneurial spirit within the company. The bureaucracy is limited, so it is easier for good decisions to be made and action taken. If a legal document needs to be signed, it is simply a matter of walking down the hall and knocking on the CEO’s door to get his signature. As corporate secretary, I have direct access to senior management and the board of directors. I have the opportunity to advise—and also learn from—a very astute and experienced group of executives and directors.

What is a typical day like for you?
One day I may be reviewing documents for the acquisition of a new business, and the next day I may be going over contracts for a new pipeline. My work is rarely the same, so it is always interesting and challenging—and that is how I like it.

What is your legal philosophy in terms of your work at Inter Pipeline?
There is the perception that a corporate counsel’s job is to say, “No, you can’t do that.” But I’m about breaking this myth. I strive to offer legal advice or solutions that help the company move forward—to make it possible for goals to be reached while following necessary legal requirements.

I understand that you see mentoring as essential to your success.
In order to build a great team, it is vital to help members achieve success. This can only be done through quality mentoring. I take the time to nurture my staff, to help them learn so they can do the best job possible. There is no question that mentoring has helped me grow professionally. I always hear questions from my staff that give me a different perspective and, from time to time, a new and better way of doing things.

How has development of the Alberta oil sands affected both you and Inter Pipeline?
It has been huge—not just for Inter Pipeline but also the entire Calgary energy industry. Much of my work in this regard has focused on establishing contracts and agreements for Inter Pipeline’s oil-sands pipeline expansions and new facilities. It is vital that we keep on top of these developments, especially when it comes to accommodating increasing volumes of oil-sands products.

What do you see as the future for Inter Pipeline, as well as for your own career?
The Alberta oil sands will continue having a major impact within our industry. It is an exciting time to be here. I’m really looking forward to Inter Pipeline’s continued growth in this environment and my role as an integral, contributing member of its management team.