Influence comes in many forms. It can come through having the wit, intellect and experience that makes people listen to you. Most importantly, it is demonstrated when you can change the thinking and behaviour of those who are listening.
This year’s list of the 10 most influential people in the Australian IT industry is a group who have all proven capable of influencing the thinking and actions of others. Whether it is in shaping (or reshaping) the organisations they lead, the industry as a whole, or our broader society, they have all driven tangible outcomes that might not have otherwise been possible.
And with technology and innovation rising in Australia’s national agenda, their influence is only likely to grow stronger.
Here are the most influential people in Australian tech (in alphabetical order):
1. Peter Bradd, chief executive, StartupAUS
Many people have played a role in the invigoration of Australia’s startup scene and its elevation to national policy discussion, but one person who has been working for years on this goal is Peter Bradd. As a founding director of the Fishburners coworking space he helped grow it from hosting 30 entrepreneurs to 180, drawing support along the way from corporates including Optus, PwC, News Corp and Google. He regularly works with traditional businesses to inject startup thinking, and is a regular speaker and writer on startup processes and culture. Now, as the inaugural chief executive of startup advocacy group StartupAUS, he is working to develop policy to benefit Australia’s emerging high growth businesses, working closely with Canberra policymakers.
2. Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder, Atlassian
As a founder of Australia’s only unicorn (a venture capital-backed company that achieves a valuation of $US1 billion), Mike Cannon-Brookes could be excused for spending his time growing his 13-year-old business. Today Atlassian boasts more than 48,000 customers in over 160 countries, serviced by 1200 staff globally (with more than half in Sydney), and is on its way to a $US3 billion initial public offering. Cannon-Brookes has played a hand in creating a unique corporate culture that gives great freedom to employees, and has seen Atlassian named Australia’s Best Place to Work in 2014 and 2015. He has also been a tireless campaigner for growing the Australian startup sector, most recently by weighing in with a proposal to retain Sydney’s Australian Technology Park as a startup precinct, and has been recognised numerous times for his work, including winning the 2015 Advance Global Impact Award with Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar.
3. Nigel Dalton, chief information officer, REA Group
Often referred to as Australia’s ‘godfather of agile’, there can be little doubt about the influence that Nigel Dalton has had both on his employer, REA Group, and the entire Australian agile development movement. His relentless speaking schedule has seen Dalton delivering the closing keynote at the Agile Australia conference amongst dozens of other engagements. He has also mentored numerous startups and met with more than 500 organisations to discuss agility and disruption. But it is within REA that his impact is most visible, where he has created a culture based around agile practices that extends far beyond the tech team, and even influenced the design of the company’s new Melbourne headquarters.
4. Adrian Di Marco, founder, TechnologyOne
Success can be fleeting, unless you’re Adrian Di Marco, founder and executive chairman of TechnologyOne. Since founding the enterprise software company in a factory in 1987 he has grown it to become Australia’s largest software makers, listing it on the ASX in December 1999 and subsequently joining the ranks of the top 200 ASX listed companies. Last year the company notched up 11 consecutive years of record revenue. He is also a big investor in R&D, having sunk more than $400 million into his company’s software which is now being sold across Asia and the UK with plans to expand to the US. Di Marco himself has been an outspoken champion of the local tech industry, as a founding member of Software Queensland an active participant in the QLD InQbator, as well being a regular speaker at events across the country.
5. Catherine Livingstone, chair, Telstra
As the chair of Australia’s largest technology company, Livingstone holds an unrivalled position of authority. And she has used that to drive one of the most impressive transformation programs in Australian corporate history, empowering her team to make sweeping changes that have rewritten the culture of what was once a moribund public sector organisation, and successfully guided Telstra into a stronger position despite the potentially disruptive emergence of the NBN. She is a passionate advocate for the role of technology in transforming Australian business, which she has pursued through her role as President at the Business Council of Australia, and was the focus of her widely-reported speech on disruption to the National Press Club in April this year.
6. Pip Marlow, managing director, Microsoft Australia
Microsoft has experienced something of a renaissance globally under the leadership of Satya Nadella. But its success in Australia owes much to the work of Pip Marlow. A 20-year company veteran, Marlow held numerous roles with Microsoft both locally and in the US, before taking on the role of managing director in January 2011. She was the instigator of a program to transition to local office to activity-based working, making Microsoft an award-winning example of this new mode of working. She also drove Microsoft’s 2015 campaign on Joined-Up Innovation, to demonstrate the importance of innovation to business success, and the importance of culture to successful innovation. This included a parliamentary presentation to demonstrate the key finding that accelerating innovation among SMEs can potentially add $11 billion to Australia’s GDP. Marlow is also on the board of the Australian Information Industries Association and chairs the Business Council of Australia’s Labour Market, Skills and Education Committee.
7. Larry Marshall, chief executive officer, CSIRO
Larry Marshall was surprised when he received the offer last year to head up Australia’s peak scientific research organisation. Many of those that know him well were even more surprised that he accepted. But the chance to improve Australia’s patchy record on commercialisation was sufficient to lure this multi-time successful Silicon Valley-based expat entrepreneur home. Marshall inherited an organisation shell-shocked by massive budget cuts, but has worked hard to create CSIRO’s 2020 strategy, placing significant emphasis on digital innovation and accelerating CSIRO’s entrepreneurial capacity. He has also overseen the merger of NICTA and CSIRO’s digital research business to create Data61, and launched the CSIRO On accelerator program to build the organisation’s entrepreneurial skills, facilitate new collaborations, and implement new funding models.
8. Cyan Ta’eed, executive director and co-founder, Envato
Envato may not be a household name, but given it operates many of the world’s largest online media marketplaces, there is a good chance you have used its services. Co-founder Cyan Ta’eed has been a key figure behind Envato’s growth, and has also found time to become a passionate advocate for greater gender diversity in the Australian tech sector. Envato was the first Australian tech company to produce a diversity report in 2014, and challenged others to do so to draw attention to the low levels of women in technical roles. She has since established a comprehensive program within Envato to begin rebalancing its gender mix, including reforming recruitment process, and extending flexible work policies, leave offerings, and job sharing. She is a frequent speaker on entrepreneurship and women in startups and tech generally at events including Syd Start 2015 and Tech23; has been a finalist and winner in numerous entrepreneur’s awards; and involved in a slew of initiatives to get girls more interested in tech, including Girl Geeks, She Hacks, and Code Like A Girl.
9. Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister
As Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull was always a strong contender to appear on this list. As the prime minister, his influence has grown by an order of magnitude. It is unlikely that Turnbull will be able to entirely let go of the NBN, and his strong interest in innovation shines through in the appointment of Christopher Pyne and Wyatt Roy to ministerial positions within that portfolio. His decision to bring the Digital Transformation Office under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office also speaks to him retaining a strong hand in the digital modernisation of federal government. The startup community particularly greeted his ascension with joy – it remains now to see how much influence he can wield within cabinet (and with the Australian people) to deliver his promise of making Australia a more agile and innovative economy.
10. David Whiteing, group executive of enterprise services and chief information officer, Commonwealth Bank
When it comes to Australian CIO roles, there are few bigger shoes to fill than those of former Commonwealth Bank CIO Michael Harte. While David Whiteing might not have achieved the public profile of his predecessor, he has nonetheless continued on a digital transformation agenda that has turned a bank into a technology company in its own right. Whiteing has continued to drive the bank’s innovation agenda, helping open the CBA Innovation Lab and backing the bank’s $5 million investment in helping Australian-based researchers build a silicon-based quantum computer. He has advocated for greater training in cybersecurity, including the creation of university prize for this field, while also backing programs to keep children safe online. And he has also found time to deliver a raft of innovations within the bank itself, including more than a dozen major new process and services releases in the past 12 months, and more than 3500 system changes each month.