“I wish someone had told me” is a series of posts that feed into our inquisitive nature at CN&CO. Each week we hear from someone in our network about something interesting or surprising that has recently happened or occurred to them – or lessons they learnt. These blogs are a way to pay it forward and form part of CN&CO’s belief that the world can be a better place – and we all have a responsibility to make it so. This week’s post is by Emi Adriano

On the 1st August, 2015, a group of nine incredible people with mad skills and talent, (some of whom had worked together since 2000 at Hollard Insurance) opened the doors to a business that defied everything that we know to be the tired, conventional practices of “human resources”, “marketing” and “stakeholder engagement”, and formulated a business with people in the centre of all happenings.

In a recent blog written by Colin entitled, “CN&CO and the psychology of happiness,”Carel recalls the following: “We believe in the importance and the power of those around us”, says chief señor, Carel Nolte. “It is important to us that we work with people who share our values and that we add real value. “CN&COis a vibrant, challenging, demanding, at times frantic, special, caring, learning, growing, entrepreneurial, all-consuming agency that, at its heart, continues to be a lifestyle business made up of a bunch of people who believe in the power of 1+1 being way more than 2; in the need to take what one does seriously, not oneself; in the responsibility to make the world a better place; and a belief that through relationships and diversity, all that is possible. A place where we make mistakes, but we know that we do so in a place of safety and opportunity to learn from those, to apologise and to come back stronger and wiser to add more value to all in our CN&CO sphere.”

In some way, shape or form, each one of us are connected to Carel. In most instances, it is these relationships that have shaped the way in which we work, in life and in business. Carel is an investor in people and businesses. His passions are numerous and legendary – insurance, education, the arts, travel, fitness, cancer awareness, champagne, clever people, smart brands and not fuccing up, to name but a few. Carel proposed CN&CO to help him in his quest to build long-term, sustainable value with like-minded individuals and companies, while having (a lot of!) fun.

In a meeting with one of our partners, Kurt was asked how he formed part of the CN&CO team.

Having not known anything about Kurt’s background in entrepreneurship, I soon realised that I work with a bunch of incredibly talented and diverse individuals, however, I am fully unaware of how our past experiences had led us to what is now our team of thirteen and how our skill sets acquired in our past work environments have effectively added value to the work we do today.

In saying so, I turned to the team and asked them to tell me how they found their way to CN&CO:

Starting with myself, having come from a Drama Therapy background, my passion has always been understanding people and behaviour. The purpose of Drama Therapy is to lead participants on a process of setting goals, solving problems, expressing feelings, or achieving catharsis. Through drama, the depth of the inner experience is explored and in order to enhance interpersonal relationships in order to bring about meaningful change. Having finished my Honours and not being entirely sure of where I was going next, I decided to take a break from Drama Therapy and spent a few months as an intern at a private school in the Drama department, as my background was largely rooted in the subject having completed numerous Trinity of London Drama exams and having excelled in the subject at school. I met Carel through my cousin, Gianluca many years before when Gianluca was still working at Etana. Having finished my internship, I spent some time travelling and was approach by Carel to test the waters at CN&CO and spend some time getting to know the business….well, I never left. Two years later I am still part of a phenomenal team and have been challenged in so many more ways then I could ever have hoped to use the skill set I already obtain and find different ways to incorporate these into the work we already do, while expanding on these daily, as we are constantly being challenged to thing bigger, do bigger and ultimately become better versions of ourselves with greater knowledge, skills and understanding for people, businesses and life.


In 2009 I started as a brand champion at Etana insurance and was part of the team drove the people, brand and Etana culture led by Carel – truly inspiring and special years which ultimately founded CN&CO and formed some of the strongest relationships I have today. Part of this meant I got work with many of our our CN&CO partners and team members. Post Etana, I found my next step in the digital world of Flow Communications for two years, working on and project managing diverse projects and brands in the travel, tech, finance, design and beverage industries. In 2014, we set off to start the CN&CO journey and it’s been a fulfilling ride so far with great people, partners and brands around us.


I met Carel at the FNB Whisky Live Festival about 12 years ago. I was working for Diageo brands then selling whisky & beer brands to nightclubs, restaurants and bars.
From there I moved to London where I worked for Bacardi Rum for four years, marketing the brand at music festivals and managing a team of 200 bartenders who promoted Bacardi Mojito’s to students at various varsities across the UK. Carel fished me out of London and the fun world of alcohol and rock stars to come and market insurance for a South African Italian called Paolo! I have never looked back and adore the insurance industry. Who knew it would be more fun than being backstage with the Kings of Leon and Cold Play? I did a short stint with South Africas’ oldest Corporate giant Barloworld, heading up marketing operations for their transport division and then again, Carel came knocking to start a lifestyle business together called CN&CO. Four years, one husband and two kids later here we are!


I met Carel when Etana started, I worked at an industry publication called Risksa at the time, as we all know Carel doesnt believe in standard advertising and challenged me to add value. It wasnt long before we started running exciting campaigns and infact it wasnt long before we started running together as Carel started his health and weight loss journey.
Carel has been a client, friend and mentor over the years.


How long is a piece of string…

17 years old – no idea what to do after school but wanted to take a gap year
18 years old – took a gap year confident it would give me time to decide what to study
19 years old – didn’t focus on figuring out what to study; toss up between engineering and medicine eventually
20-23 years old – studied engineering, lived in Cape Town, worked at Armscor and spent a couple of nights on Robben Island renovating a WWII bunker
24 years old – went abroad traveling and working in Thailand, New Zealand and South Korea
25 years old – came back to SA, had some time off over the new year so helped out at a bush school for Pretoria Boys High School
– met Alan Bader and Carel Nolte who came to see the bush school grounds as they are owned by St Stithians
– had a “job interview” running the Born2Run time trial; I beat Carel but he still bought me a bear
– did some work with Carel and Kurt at Fulcrum, inbetween driving to Mongolia in an interesting Eurasia road trip
26 years old – time at Fulcrum was ending, CN&CO was just getting going so joined the team
29 years old – living an interesting life and involved in many different things – friends now call me “Ray Donovan” as they can never figure out what I do for a living


I started working with Hollard in the late 90s and met Carel when he joined the company in 2000. I left Hollard in 2007 to do a bit of freelance work and ended up at Etana. From there I went to Flow Communications. I left Flow to complete my honours at Wits. After graduation I joined up with Carel, Josie, Kurt, Gianluca, Rob and Gabbi to form CN&CO in its current guise.


I studied musical theatre, After that started a internship at Media 24, I worked for all weekly magazines and Landbouweekblad was one of them. Etana was a sponsor for the Landbouweekblad talks at all farm town festivals and thats where I got to know of Carel over mail etc. It was only some time later that I would meet Carel at Higher Ground at Saints. I just finished a musical so didn’t have work and he had just finished at ETANA and we started working together, him me and Dimitra (His PA before Penny) then a year later CN&CO was started.


So I’ve known Carel through Saints connection for the past decade.

I was at Nedbank Group Insurance Brokers at the time and him and I got talking as I was looking at a few possibilities. One of them being moving down to Durban for a few months to work in the Etana branch there before possibly going overseas. We met and I asked him if I liked the job down in Durban, could I make it permanent? He said if I want a permanent job, I must stay in Joburg. He then had Claudine, the HR lady from Etana contact me and I then joined Etana two months later.I then worked my way up to Underwriting Manager in the branch before joining CN&CO in March 2017.


I feel like I have been part of the CN&CO team for far longer than the actual five months I’ve been employed at CN&CO (making me the “youngest” team member). I have known Giangi, Carel, and Colin for some time and through them I met the rest of the team (either at a bar, a party at Higher Ground, or at a meeting…)

I know Carel through a few people and places so I’m not entirely sure how we first met. Perhaps, he does. He is an Old Stithian, like me. We both have a passion for the school and we’re both involved in a few projects there (him more so than me). I also worked at Saints for some time creating even more intersections. Carel is also a great friend of my amazing mum’s and my granny loves him to bits so he’s basically in the family.

Some time ago I also worked at Flow Communications where I got to know Giangi and Coli really well and Carel did some work with us there. So, there’s that.

My time at CN&CO has been nothing short of wonderful and I’m so happy that the stars crossed and connections were made to ensure I met and now work with these fantastic people.


I did my diploma and BBA at IMM Graduate School of Marketing. Marketing has always been a passion of mine. So my mother’s employer ( a friend of Carel) put in a word for me and Carel was happy to give me an interview – my one chance to put my best impression. CN&CO is actually my first real job. Prior to this I interned at one or two companies, so you an imagine my cv was not so impressive, but the potential for me to grow into the perfect fit for the company was seen in me. Which is unlikely in the big corporates.

CN&COis a strong believer in human resources (people). We believe in the importance and the power of those around us. We believe in the power of relationships and adding value to others.

I interned at CN&CO for three months and within that period, I could take a lot back with me. I learnt so much in a short space of time, grew in the workspace and also built some confidence (personal growth).

Thankfully I was taken in permanent and the learning continues, everyday.

Working in a team is one thing. It is equally as easy to light a fire underneath and individual but the true value comes when lighting a fire within them. THIS is where the magic really happiness – where passionate people are invested in the business and the way in which they can add value to it.

In saying so, it is essential to remember that where we have come from is equally as powerful as where we are going. These past experiences have shaped the way we think, learn and develop. They become imbedded in who we are, how we approach challenges, the way we tackle difficulties and the way in which we approach business and life. Investing in the people around us allows us to listen, learn, acknowledge and in doing so, further our individual thoughts, values and ideas. A team is only as strong as its weakest link and by investing in people, you are investing in their growth, their potential and they success.

They say that our experiences makes us who we are. That they shape us and guide our life decisions. Nathan Mizellin his TED Talk entitled: “How our experiences shape us” goes on to say, “our experiences shape our thoughts, our actions and our judgement. Consciously and subconsciously, we all judge based on our experience. Our lack of sharing experience is what creates judgement with context to what one has experienced to what one has not.” Sharing our experiences, our learnings and the parts of our past that have shaped the way in which we see the business and life today is invaluable.

It should be our challenge to ourselves to invest primarily in people….in their thoughts, actions, experiences and judgements. Understand them, learn from them, acknowledge them and play to their strengths. The rest will follow….

Today, I challenge you to take a minute out of your day to have a conversation with someone in your surrounds that you may not interact with often. Learn something new about where they have come from; a small part of their past and what brought them to where they are today. Start investing in the people around you, not just for the people that they are in the work place but who they have been and who they are yet to become.