Economy

The 11 most influential people in Australia’s tech sector for 2013

Patrick Stafford /

They’re the powerbrokers. The elite. When they talk, people listen, and they wield positions of immense power.

They’re the most influential people in tech – and they’re having a particularly busy year.

Technology is arguably playing a huge part in the way the country is run. The National Broadband Network isn’t just a major piece of construction; politicians would have the country believe the election was essentially a referendum on tech policy.

But it’s not just Canberra. The traditional powerbrokers in technology are more powerful than ever before. Chief executives of telcos and software groups are clearly playing their part, but entrepreneurs and business owners wield more influence than ever before – the recent $400 million takeover offer for Matt Barrie’s Freelancer.com is evidence enough.

Technology plays a huge part in the economy, but more interesting are those who drive it. Who are they, and how did they get to where they are now? What are their motivations?

Malcolm Turnbull

After waiting in the wings for several years, Malcolm Turnbull finally has his day. The newly crowned Communications Minister not only has jurisdiction over the country’s technological development, but the National Broadband Network itself.

Turnbull is well-suited to the role. He chaired internet provider OzEmail during the 1990s and was a director of FTR Holdings until 2004. His knowledge of the industry is deep, and he has played a huge part in shaping how the Liberal party views communications and technology projects.

Turnbull’s role will be significant during the next few years. By shaping the NBN into what the Liberal government wants it to be, Turnbull has a hand in creating what the telecommunications infrastructure of the country will look like for a significant period of time.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone’s story is typical of several entrepreneurs – he started iiNet in his garage, and the business is now one of the largest telcos in the country worth around $1 billion.

But Malone’s influence extends far beyond the walls of his own company. The business has navigated several acquisitions over the past few years, contributing to the company’s current state. He’s well represented in several groups, having founded the WA Internet Association and cofounded the advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Australia.

And after spending three years in court, Malone was vindicated when the High Court ruled in favour of iiNet in a case against Hollywood copyright holders. Having his company set a nationwide legal precedent is surely a legacy that will last.

Matt Barrie

Matt Barrie founded Freelancer.com back in 2009 after buying several websites and putting them together into a single entity. The company has quickly found success – revenue exceeds $50 million and Barrie has by all accounts pulled together a solid list of employees.

But Barrie’s influence in the technology community is beginning to grow. After rejecting a takeover offer earlier this year worth $400 million, Barrie said he would list Freelancer.com on the ASX before the end of the year. He’s also targeted offshore companies such as vWorker and Scriptlance for acquisitions.

Whether or not Freelancer.com’s float is a success remains to be seen, but Barrie still wields significant influence. He also teaches cryptography at the University of Sydney.

David Thodey

Thodey’s contributions to the telecommunications industries require little introduction. After taking over as Telstra chief executive back in 2009, the company has gone from strength to strength. Share prices are now up 27% from the same time last year – and up 19% from five years ago.

Thodey’s participation in the NBN has netted Telstra some lucrative contracts, and those are about to prove even more valuable. Now the Coalition is expected to change the entire structure of the NBN scheme, Thodey is in a good position to negotiate a good result for any changes should they require the government breaking some contracts.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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