Written by Anne Belli Perez for Texas Lawyer
When a hit-and-run driver being chased by police killed a 13-year-old boy and injured the boy’s mother last April, John Ansbach was impacted in three big ways.
As a father, he was saddened by the senseless death of the boy, the son of a Cedar Hill police sergeant. He was shaken by the fact that he and his own young son had passed through the same intersection just a few minutes before. And, as general counsel of the Dallas-based technology integrator General Datatech, he knew the whole tragedy could have been avoided.
“That accident didn’t need to happen because the technology exists that could have prevented it,” he said, referring to a variety of radars, cameras and other traffic monitoring devices that could have forewarned the mother of the approaching chase.
Stories such as this are behind Ansbach’s obvious passion to be a part of the improvements technology has—and will have—on our global society. Indeed, the 43-year-old Dallas native sees his role as general counsel at the fast-growing GDT as an opportunity to make a difference.
“This company helps other companies create solutions to make lives better,” he said of the privately-held firm, which assists companies with their cloud, unified communication, networking, storage and general computer needs. “I have found a home at GDT.”
Although he just joined the firm in October 2012, Ansbach has made a name for himself as a tech expert in the field of law and business. He’s authored several articles, has his own blog and gives about a half dozen speeches a year mainly on the topics of the cloud, cyber security and the so-called “Internet of things.” The latter is defined by Goldman Sachs as “the next technology mega-trend.” It refers to the connection of the Internet to billions of everyday devices—from fitness bracelets to home security systems to personal medical equipment.
“He [Ansbach] has become a real leader in technology since joining GDT,” said Peter Vogel, a partner at Gardere and chair of the firm’s Electronic Discovery Group and its Internet, eCommerce and Technology Industry Team. “Also, he has become one of the best speakers I have ever known … I think a lot of him and think he is a very skilled individual who helps not only GDT but also other lawyers.”
Vogel and others tout Ansbach’s apparent unending need to know, gobbling up as much information he can find on these burgeoning tech topics. Learning, Ansbach said, has been a lifelong passion.
“It was my father who instilled in me that education was the foundation for everything,” he said.
The son of an engineer and a homemaker, Ansbach and his sister grew up in Dallas. After living a short time outside Austin, he went to college at Texas A&M University, where he was active in student government and majored in economics. He was then accepted to the University of Texas School of Law, where he graduated in 1996.
A litigator at heart, Ansbach went to work at a few smaller firms before landing his first big job as a lawyer at Baron & Budd. There he spent four years honing his litigation skills, “getting what I thought was some of the best litigation experience possible” working on product liability and toxic tort cases, he said. He credits this time with not only providing invaluable experience as a lawyer, but also learning about “generational dynamics.”
He poured over as much literature he could find on the topic, learning how people of different generations respond to each other, work with each other and conduct themselves in business and society in general. He became so passionate about generational issues that it became the foundation for a speaking career. For several years he traveled around the country giving talks to Fortune 500 company employees such as PepsiCo and Frito Lay.
Ansbach took his law skills in-house in 2007 when he accepted a job as GC at Frisco-based EFA Data Processing, which helps debt settlement companies by providing a wide range of services. In the wake of the economic downturn, EFA’s business grew, as did Ansbach’s ability to use his business background to help develop corporate strategy.
“In the GC community, I have often experienced that there are lawyers who enjoy just being lawyers, and then there are those who enjoy the expanded role,” he said.
It was during his time that Ansbach earned a reputation as a trailblazer in the young but growing debt settlement industry, working with lawmakers and lobbyists to craft new federal regulations. In April 2008, as a board member of the U.S. Organization for Bankruptcy Alternatives, he testified before the Senate Committee on Business & Commerce advocating for regulations that would help weed out unscrupulous companies in the industry.
In 2010, Ansbach took a different in-house job with the nonprofit Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Here he learned that as chief legal officer he could not only marry his interests in law and business by helping run an organization, but also do all of that for something for which he was passionate. He was drawn in by MADD’s mission, and spent two years leading its legal department, promoting its public policy and legislative efforts, among other duties.
In 2012, he learned that GDT was searching for a new general counsel and, as a tech hobbyist, he perked up. An opportunity to meet GDT owner and chief executive J.W. Roberts led to lengthy conversation that had less to do with law and everything to do with whether Ansbach would be a cultural fit there. Forward thinking with regard to employee benefits and a big supporter of community service, GDT is a “family” that puts employees and customers first and doesn’t play the “blame game,” Ansbach said. The fit was perfect, he added, sitting in his office in the “green” glass and steel northwest Dallas headquarters building, which was once a dairy processing plant.
After joining the firm, Ansbach set out to do what he does best: learn. Recognizing he was “not a Cisco engineer,” he began to study all he could and surround himself with experts. Over the next couple of years, he established himself as a go-to person within the legal industry for advice and expertise on how lawyers and firms can and should better understand the multiple moving parts of technology as they relate to business.
“I see people with their eyes opening wide,” he said.
Ron Barger, general counsel of ORIX Americas and former chairman of The General Counsel Forum, said he has high regard for Ansbach’s desire not only to learn, but also to pass it on.
“John has something I really admire and that is intellectual curiosity,” Barger said. “He has had a voracious, insatiable appetite about learning all he could about technology.”
More than that, he added, is Ansbach’s need to use that understanding to help others.
“That is the thing that strikes me most about John is his heart,” Barger said. “I believe in the concept of purpose-driven life and I think John really embodies that. He really wants to impact people and the world around him.”
Ansbach said these days his life is consumed by two things: his family, consisting of his wife, Dallas lawyer Cindy Kang Ansbach, and 2-year-old son; and the breakneck growth of GDT. In the last 18 months alone, the company has grown from 300 employees to 600, while revenue has swelled from $300 million to $600 million. His staff consists of three people, including one other lawyer.