USU Board candidate interview: Amir Jabbari

The full interview transcript of Honi's interview with Amir Jabbari.

Honi Soit: Let us just start with some basic questions, what is your name, degree year, campaign color and your slogan?

Amir Jabbari: Sure. Ok. So first of all, I want to say hi to all of my friends, and basically anyone who watches this video and the interview because I am actually about to reveal all the secrets Sydney University doesnt want you to know. I am Amir, a third year civil engineering student in Sydney Uni. My color is black, and my slogan is” happy ending is here again”. 

HS: Who is your campaign manager or do you have any campaign managers?

AJ: myself. 

HS: is there any reason why you don’t have a campaign manager?

AJ: Yeah,  because of automation, like you can do everything with automation. You don’t necessarily need to have a campaign manager. I have gotten a lot of friends. But at the end of the day, I need to tell them what to do and what not to do. I know that some of them are busy with assignments as well. So I decided to be my own campaign manager.

HS: Could you expand a little bit about what you mean by the automation?

AJ: Sure. In terms of the campaign, so basically the way you’re gonna promote stuff, promote yourself and basically getting your message out there, all of these can be done by automation with software that you can used for campaigning. So, instead writing for people individually and having the campaign managers write for you, you just can use software, and automation to send things in bulk. 

HS: Really, really taking advantage of the the digital nature of this campaign. So, are you on a political party?

AJ: No. 

HS: Cool. Could you just describe your political beliefs?

AJ: Okay. So, for myself. I will say that a bit towards labour, for myself but for USU, Independent.

HS: Okay, great, are you in a faction on campus or have you campaigned for anyone before?

AJ: No.

HS: So you’ve had no involvement with student politics whatsoever?

AJ: No.

HS: With that in mind, why are you running for USU board this year?

AJ: just One second. 

HS: Yep. No worries. So as I was saying, given that you don’t have a history and you don’t have a faction. Why are you running for USU board this year?

AJ: Okay, because USU is completely different to have a faction. Faction is more important for SRC. USU is more about student life. And basically you can’t really mix your own political background with thousands of students’ backgrounds. Because most of them just want an improved student life. You cannot just use political background in a USU campaign. 

HS: I understand, but why are you running this year, what is your reason?

AJ: I’ve found one hundred gaps in the university which I want to fill.My goal is basically to make the university to the level that it hasn’t reached in its history, in USU’s history. I’ve identified all those goals and the solutions. So basically all of them are identified and all of those solutions are identified as well. And yet, basically fill those gaps that haven’t been filled yet.

HS: Okay, great. I’m sure we’re gonna get to those a bit later on. We talked about new policy so I’m keen to hear about the hundred gaps. But what do you think makes you a better place than the other candidates running, what makes you know you are unique, why do people want to vote for you?

AJ: First I don’t want to say I’m is the best, and who is the worst, or something like that. But I leave the judgement to the students. So, I’m going to talk about myself and my experience. I worked in a South Korean embassy before for managing events, basically cultural events. I learned a lot of things though. So that was like a real version of, let’s say, university, a lot of responsibilities. So I learned a lot from that, and also I’m the President of the Iranian society., I started society that a few years ago, zero members and now that society is established. And apart from that, as I’ve mentioned, I’m a serial entrepreneur, not like the cereal you eat for breakfast. That means that I’ve failed a lot. So I’ve started businesses, some of them work and some of them failed. At the end of the day all learned a lot about how to manage staff, and how to commit to your work. When you start things you need to finish that.  I have other background skills: IT, negotiation, leadership, public speaking. Also I’ve got mentors, Tai Lopaz, who is among the top 10 mentors in the world. Basically I had him as a mentor, which I am proud about. And the most important thing I would say is about listening to the audience and how you may implement strategies to their needs. There’s a lot of people that say theyll do something without doing it. I am the person if I say something, I would do. I’m pretty sure other candidates are like this as well. So I’ll leave the judgement to the audience.

HS: Okay. So could you just tell us which two candidates are your favourite or the two that you’re most similar with, and which are your least favourite, or the two that you’re perhaps least compatible with?

AJ: I thought about nearly all the candidates. Some of them have the same ideas, same answers I will say that. Do you want me to say the name? 

HS: Yeah. 

AJ: Okay, I’ll say that there are some candidates, for example, Nick and Ben, from Panda as well. We’ve got similar mindsets in general. Also, there are other candidates as well with a lot of similarities. Yeah. But if you want me to tell you which one are my favourites, I would say, maybe Nick and Ben. For my least favourite, I have no answer. We have similarities with all the candidates but we have more similarities with some specific candidates. 

HS: What candidate would you say you have like the least amount of similarities with?

AJ: Ok. Prudence.

HS: Why is that? 

AJ: I feel like they are made for SRC, rather than USU. USU is about student life, SRC is more about politics. 

HS: Right, so you don’t believe that politics have any place in the USU?

AJ: It has, but it’s like 99% it doesnt but 1% it does.

HS: You said that but the two candidates you’ve identified are Ben Heinz and Nick rigby, who are fairly active members of the young liberals. So, do you think you can be compatible with them even if they begin to kind of bring those political ideas in, or would you try to resist that?

AJ: No. I am not gonna resist their ideas of the political stuff. But I will not combine that with the students. 

HS: Okay, I understand, and also just expanding on something you said before. You said your mindset is similar to Ben and Nick, do you could go into a little more detail about what you mean by mindset? 

AJ: The mindset depends on many factors such as your goals, which I’m pretty sure that might be another question. The goals and mission, and how you’re going to implement your ideology. The way that you think and how you believe you can make a change at university. I’m going to call that a similarity of mindset. At the end of the day, the people who are collected need to have the same mindset because they are working in a team. Now imagine a team that has very opposite mindsets. That is going to be hard. Therefore, it is going to be hard to manage it. 

HS: Right. And in terms of having like the same mindsets as Ben and Nick and obviously the politics of the board. A big issue of contention recently has been the Ramsey Centre, which is obviously quite intensely political and Ben and Nick are going have a certain kind of response to that, do you think that you would be compatible with them on that issue or is that where you see some issues could arise? 

AJ: What do you mean by compatible? You mean their political background?

HS: Yeah. In terms of their response to the Ramsay, you said that because you said earlier that you were more aligned with Labor. The overwhelming labour position on something like the Ramsey Centre would be that they’re against it, whereas the liberals would be in favour of it. So I’m just curious as to why you aligned yourself with these two different candidates? Do you not perceive that there would be some kind of issue when it comes to things like the Ramsey Centre or do you agree more with that side of politics? 

AJ: I didn’t say I’m Liberal or Labor. I’m more Labor myself but I’m more independent, and know that they are all moderate liberals.

HS: Ben Hines isn’t really a moderate liberal though. He is in a conservative liberal faction. 

AJ: Okay, okay. But what I want to say about that is that in terms of combining, it is important that I don’t want to affect students with our own politics. So that’s very important. For example, Ben is I’m pretty sure a liberal, but towards the centre.

HS: Right, but I mean the Ramsey Centre is something that does affect all students as it was a proposed degree being introduced into the university but then became a political issue. So there are political issues that do affect students. I’m just kind of curious as to how you would interact with them, given that you’ve said that you think that politics is only 1% of the USU operations? 

AJ: Yeah. It’s the thing that we said it happens, that’s a good thing. We have them, on the political side. I’m not into that political stuff. So if we have people like them, it’s going to be a bonus. But I’m going to tell you actually later why I said 1% that’s because of the task that the USU does and the financial problems.

HS: Right. so when it comes to political stuff you’re more likely to kind of abstain from it?

AJ: Yeah, I don’t want to combine that with students. 

HS: Okay, so let’s move on to the financials then. If you had to cut a million dollars from the USU budget. Where would you cut it from? 

AJ: Okay, so basically some USU programs run last year were good and some were bad. I’m not gonna say bad, but some of them were less effective. So, we need to prioritise. For example, Incubate was one of them. I’m pretty sure that I myself tried to start one business but I failed. that is myself on our projects. Incubate receives a lot of money from the USU’s budget project. You can see from the nice build, I’m in the ISL building now. Incubate is just there, it’s a very fancy and beautiful building. I would say there are maybe 25 or 30 members working in Incubate, which are not a lot. It’s a minority of thousands of students. A lot of USU money is concentrated to Incubate. They also receive a lot of money from outside, like investors. It will be something that we can cut from because they already have partners from outside. 

HS: Okay, let’s talk a little bit about the unprecedented times we’re currently living in, especially the USU’s current financial situation. That’s happened as a result of the COVID crisis. Do you think the staff of the USU, the majority of which got stood down recently.

Do you think that was a necessary decision as a result of the decrease of money coming in?

AJ: There are two aspects we need to consider about this decision. We have the financial aspect and the health aspect. In regards to finance, I’ll tell you an example. In 2017,  the USU profited 700,000. In 2019, they had a loss of nearly half a million. This is a very bad thing for the USU. Health is more important than the financial aspect. Also we’ve got the rules [restrictions] so the USU can’t really do anything about that. However, they are still operating a bit. . So they’re gonna lose a lot of money again this year. It’s gonna be a very hard year for USU.

HS: So do you support the decision to lay off and stand down the stuff?

AJ: You mean closing USU?

HS: No. Do you specifically support the USU’s decision to fire quite large proportion of staff?

AJ: I mean, I would say yes but temporarily, not forever because of the loss that i’ve just mentioned. For example, if they fire someone, it does not mean that they are not coming back, they will come back. At this time, I mean they can’t. 

HS: Do you think that the CEO heads in department and board directors should be taking a pay cut then, in order to try to save some of the staff or just in general during this crisis?

AJ: Pay what? 

HS: Pay cut. 

AJ: You mean reduce their…

HS: reduce their incomes. Yes. 

AJ: Elon Musk, basically said that your salary is based on your value. Sometimes with your responsibilities you get a lot of money. Okay, so that’s okay. But sometimes you don’t have enough responsibility. However, you have that name, for example, you are CEO, basically you’ll use this title to get a high salary. For this time, I mean, they have responsibility but aren’t putting in that much effort because everything is so relaxed. Therefore, USU can cut off the salaries. That means that they’re going to basically cut some losses.

HS: Okay.

AJ: Do you want to go to more detail? 

HS: I think, I think it should be fine. We might come back to a similar question. Right, okay. Well, just a couple more questions maybe on the financials as well, with the current precarious situation where the USU is suffering huge losses, would you support a stand against the university takeover of the Union in order to try to bring it back into profits, why or why not? 

AJ: You mean is it possible or not?

HS: Now I’m asking, would you support the university takeover of the Union?

AJ: Okay. For this question, if the board directors they run, they’re gonna have some experience. Experience is built on… like the directors that are working know the positive and negatives of the USU and how it works. If you want to give the USU to the University, then the responsibility of the university will be way too much. One of the hardest things for Sydney University is the online platform. Zhe zoom we are talking now.  That’s a hard decision for Union. There is already a lot of responsibility of Sydney University. Now imagine what will happen if you combine the two. It’s very hard to control. 

HS: So you would not support the university takeover?

AJ: No.

HS: Do you think that the free access introduced last year is so viable given the US current financial state?

AJ:  It was a good move. Psychologically, a lot of students pay first and then see how it works. Since they introduced that one the number of members for all the clubs has increased. However, the USU should think about other ways of making a profit while still keeping free ACCESS. 

HS:  So what’s your opinion on how successful the current board has been and specifically what is your opinion on kind of Connor Wherett’s presidency?

AJ: So for the current board, I’ve loved some of the things that they have introduced. Renovations, cafes, the quality of the food.  They’ve used teamwork between them and the President himself. Also for example, the ? (23:08) thing. I loved that because of the environment and sustainability and encouraging students to join. Incubate was a good thing to do but in terms of budgeting there was too much given to Incubate. I also love free membership. Some of the things that they implemented that haven’t been implemented successfully are things like moving to WeChat because it’s something new to the USU so in the following years we have to improve those aspects. 

HS: Okay. So, what kind of USU CEO do you want? Obviously in the USU there is a kind of hierarchy: board directors, a CEO overseeing everything. Last year with the hire of Alexis Roitman, what kind of CEO do you want and what should their role be? 

AJ: Okay, so, um, I read the biography of Alexis. She is very experienced. If you’re a CEO, your name says everything. You need to have good leadership skills, negotiation, time management, risk management. Risk management is very important. USU struggled last year and probably this year. An ideal CEO acts like a CEO. They need to be a good leader so they need to be a good leader but they need to be able to direct the whole Union. Also they need to work the Board to make sure everything is implemented correctly and finished. 

HS: Okay, maybe just one more question broadly about the USU before we get into your specific policies. What role do you think PULP plays in reporting on the USU. So, Pulp is the USU’s student publication. Do you think the current editorial team is too afraid to criticise the USU or do you think that the USU has too much control over what Pulp publishes. Basically, what role do you think Pulp should have?

AJ: One word, awareness but at the same time, Pulp need to act smart as well. You know what to write but you know at the same to support USU and to make that engaging for students. . 

HS: So you’re saying Pulp should kind of support the USU if they can?

AJ: Because Pulp is for University I dont think they should be working for the USU and hiding the bad things about them but they should be transparent. That’s what the publications should be but in reality most of them are not.

HS: Ok, but Pulp is the USU publication. So you think they should be transparent when they support the USU? What do you mean exactly?

AJ: Yes. It should be transparent because students like transparency.

CY: Okay. Well, I know you mentioned before about your hundred gaps, let’s move into it, although we don’t have time for all 100 obviously. What would you say is your overall policy priority, if you have to pick a priority?

HS: There are three policies. In terms of priority, first I will say events and societies. There is a reason behind that because I’m pretty sure students that are watching this pay SSAF fee and they are not too sure what that is for. So basically with the events and societies, we pay that amount and its revenue for the USU. That’s a large number. So that needs to be spent wisely. So what do I mean by events and clubs? At the moment we have 250 clubs. One of my goals is to increase that to 350. All those 100 will be based on the student’s ideas. Apart from that, I love the collaboration between clubs and societies. There isn’t a lot of collaboration at the moment. I know myself because I am the President of a society. By collaborating, you not only engage student unions but the friendship and mentor parts will have a psychological impact on students as well. Apart from that, increasing the budgets for clubs and in societies. I know that’s clubs and societies are based on expense, which is not a good structure for managing the the budget. Also the budget needs to be increased for all societies so they can have more events, and also, who doesn’t love partying? The first party ever year, that is one of the most famous parties that everyone loves. For example, here’s a video. This is me actually. (shows video of himself dancing) So that’s for that party, everyone loves that. We need to have more of those. So, the other one is about the infrastructure of the USU. We need to increase the food quality. I was thinking of adding about 100 different types of food, for different students with different tastes. And if it can be possible, it’s free delivery on campus, as I’m quite sure we don’t have that. Also certain spaces increased, made more modern and I’m definitely sure that those who are watching me, think that the USU needs to monitor the broken microwaves at Fisher and other buildings. I remember that there was a microwave at Fisher was broken and I’m not sure if it is fixed or not. Also sanitation and sanitary items for women, these are important things. And the third one is all about support, increasing support by ten times more than last year. I mean mental support, health support. Anxiety is too much, it’s like 35% at Sydney University. Another thing that is important is helping students to find a job. By job, I mean a professional job. We help them to find a job and we can double or triple the amount of students who find their dream job this year. Other forms of support include: those who want to move out, looking for accommodation, those sorts of things and supporting the crisis.

HS: Okay me thanks for that really thorough answer. I’ve just got a little bit of a concern. So you said that you were going to increase the clubs by 100 and you’re going to add 100 new foods. You’re going to introduce all these new services and increase support ten times over. Yet you identified, just a few minutes ago, the kind of financial struggles the USU is going through. How do you think it’s going to be possible to hold all these parties and open up these new clubs which all need increased funding. How are you going to manage them? I’m not sure. 

AJ: So it all depends on the way the USU wants to market and manage. So that means for example, the USU can upsell events or creating new clubs that are basically charging students in some other ways while having free ACCESS as well. This depends on the art of marketing and management by the USU but all of these are possible. 

HS: So, essentially you’re saying, the USU should try to increase the numbers of student transactions in general in terms of even in the clubs as well. Trying to get students to spend more often? And that’s how you will do the policies? 

AJ: I’ll tell them something, if you add one hundred foods it’s like your willing it. For a student like myself, I love to eat the food that I like. It means a lot of students will buy the food, that’s just a simple example. As they enjoy this at the same time, the USU will profit from that. One more thing, is I said the art of management. The USU, last year, lost about $600,000 because of the payment of CRM software that they were using. That’s the risk management part and the management part. This happened in 2018 when they lost this money. In 2017 it was zero. If we managed that then definitely we can add all these other things.

HS: Okay. With that being said, how about we talk a little bit about your business credentials then? It seems you’re saying that by getting on board you can bring a lot of business experience and help with risk management, marketing and things like that. So, in terms of your business credentials according to LinkedIn, you’re the Director of a marketing company, the HiDigitals. Will you be resigning from this position if elected to board to focus on board, why or why not?

AJ: I’m not going to resign. But what I’m going to do is use that experience to improve the USU.

HS: Do you not see a conflict in being director of a company, and then being on the USU board?

AJ: Being on the board of the USU means you need to work about 24 hours a week. I myself wake up at 4 and sleep at 10 so I would say I work 16 hours, [sometimes] 18 hours. So I definitely can commit to the USU about 20 hours a week, because this is nothing. That 20 hours, I mean, you can do the same thing in ten hours. 

HS: Okay. Looking more at your company which is something that we’re quite curious about, its promotional materials say that it’s helping 500 plus businesses directly through revenue. It’s listed is only being registered in January of this year and the website is also under construction. How is this possible? Also how do you have 1000 Instagram followers, despite only being posting since the start of April. 

AJ: Okay. So for the business actually, I know that you searched the ABN. By the way, thanks for plugging the business. So that business is actually an international business, based back in my country, Iran. We have clients from all over the world and I’ve seen a very very good opportunity in Australia because we are the only agency that offers a wide range of services for marketing in Australia. I registered that one last year. 

HS: Okay so how many clients do you have in Australia then?

AJ:  In Australia we are working on Australian clients, we’ve had meetings with some of them. But I would say, we have most of, about 90%, of the Persian community in Australia. 

HS:Okay. 

AJ: You ask another question as well. Why do I have a large number of Instagram followers?

HS: Yeah well you have 1000 Instagram followers despite starting posting only since the start of April. It seems an impressive follower amount especially when you consider the ratio of likes on your images as well as how long the account has been active. We’re just wondering how you marketed yourself to get that many followers? 

AJ: I haven’t marketed myself but I invested in myself. I mean I play the piano and I love playing the piano. I love posting about the piano and my other interests. So, I made an audience and they loved my concept, so they followed. That’s a simple strategy behind it, it’s all about the content you put up. It’s likeGary Vaynerchuk.

HS: So when you get to the USU board, do you think you’ll attract lots of people with your character? Is that what you’re saying, in a similar way?

AJ: Only if we share the same interests. If I post a video of the piano and someone hates music then, no.  

HS: Right, yeah. I just have a quick few questions based on policies. In the statement you sent us, you said you were running for the President of the USU but the election of the President is separate to the one you are running in currently. I was wondering what you mean by that?

AJ: That was for a future. Also, I knew that a lot of candidates won’t write the word, ‘president.’ So I intentionally did that. 

HS: Right, so this is you indicating your wish to run for president next year?

AJ: Yes. Just to get the familiarity..

HS: Okay, interesting. You mentioned dating in your policy statement given to us. How will you specifically improve dating on campus? 

AJ: As I said, that 35% due to anxiety, depression, friendship and relationship factors. So basically, there are a lot of students that have a bad experience about dating. For example, breakups, those sort of things. It is very hard. So, we need to help them with this.  Also, there are a lot of single at university like myself. By those dating programs, you can share people who share the same interests. For example, a dating program for musicians. 

HS: So you’re suggesting that the USU design a dating program and run it as a service?

AJ: The SSAF fee can be used for this.

HS: Chuyi, do we have any other questions? No, I think we’re pretty good. Do you want to add anything else before we let you go? Any final words to the viewers?

AJ: They can already understand what my missions and goals are. If they like my mindset and they agree, they can vote and support so we can get the message out there. Vote for me as one candidate to get the message to send to the USU to make a change.

HS: All right. Thanks so much.