David Thodey on Upcoming Tech and What Makes a Successful Disruptor?
Interview with David Thodey
What makes a successful disruptor? Is 5G really all it’s cracked up to be? And what other upcoming technologies can we expect to challenge industry standards as we know them?
Who would be better placed to tackle these questions than technologist David Thodey: as the Chair of the Commonwealth Science, Industry & Research Organisation (CSIRO), accounting revolutionary Xero, Aussie fintech powerhouse Tyro and a board member at Vodafone the correct answer is not many.
That’s why we sat down with David in this episode to give him a penny for his thoughts.
Douglas Nicol: Hello, I’m Douglas Nicol, and welcome to Smart Dust, the podcast that likes to look at the tech and innovation trends and people that are changing our world. Sometimes big mega trends and sometimes, well, the ideas that sit at the fringes of science and technology. As always, I’m joined by digital and innovation devotee, Mr. Nick Abrahams.
Nick Abrahams: Hello Douglas, and hello listeners. Lovely to have you here, and devotee this week, Douglas. I guess if I think about my devotions, it’s family first, and then it’s a toss up with legal and innovation. So, but certainly devotee is fair enough.
Douglas Nicol: I will mention that to your wife.
Nick Abrahams: Number one, of course.
Douglas Nicol: In this episode, we are very lucky to be joined by David Thodey, one of the most accomplished business people in Australia. David sits as chair of the CSIRO, the Commonwealth Science Industry and Research Organization, which for our overseas listeners is the national research organization for Australia. He also sits on the boards of Xero at Tyro Payments. He’s a director of Ramsey Healthcare and Vodafone International. And as many of you will know, David was previously CEO of Telstra, and prior to that was IBM CEO for Australia and New Zealand. David is a true technologist and fascinated by the possibilities of the customer-centered transformation of business. David, you are very welcome to Smart Dust.
David Thodey: Well, thank you, Douglas and Nick. I mean, I’m really looking forward to this after that introduction. I like the sense of [crosstalk 00:01:43]. I’m just trying to think family versus legal, I think family wins every time, doesn’t it?
Nick Abrahams: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. Don’t tell my partner that, of course. Unfortunately, David, we may have started at a high point and who knows where we go from here, but anyway, let’s see how it unfolds.
But maybe if we can first talk about CSIRO.
David Thodey: Yeah.
Nick Abrahams: So between yourself and obviously under, well, not new CEO anymore, but relatively new CEO, Larry Marshall, tremendous changes for CSRO in recent years. Can you just talk a little bit about what those changes have been and how you found both the organization and outside the organization responding to those changes?
David Thodey: Yeah, I’d really be delighted to. I mean, firstly, as you said, CSRO is the national science agency, and it sits in this very complex world between brilliant science and then trying to commercialize it and being a government agency working very strongly in the academic community.
So it’s got many stakeholders as you start to unpack it, but when it was set up in 1906, it was all about how do you make science drive real economic or social or environmental value. And that’s a really tough one because what you have is these brilliant scientists and those real strengths of these organizations are the people and that they’re really passionate about what they want to do, but actually taking that and getting into the real world of industry is really hard. And if you don’t watch it, you can create an internally-focused organization. So to come back to your question around Larry, I think Larry came in from Silicon Valley. So it was a bit of a, I mean, I don’t want to say this if Larry will see it, it was a bit of a bit because he had been running a venture capital firm out of Silicon Valley and he had done his PhD there in laser optics and then he’d gone to venture capital.
So, we brought him back here to Australia, and initially the scientists weren’t quite sure as he kept talking about series A and series B and how we commercialize.
Nick Abrahams: Oh, yes. Yep.
David Thodey: And so a little bit difficult, but what he’s brought is really, I think three things. He’s really brought an external focus, real focus on taking great science and making it relevant to an industry or being with a customer and doing something differently. I think secondly, we’ve spent a lot of time on this very vexed issue of how you commercialize great science and it’s not straightforward. We might explore that a bit. And then thirdly, I think he’s done an incredible job of moving the culture forward of being, I can do innovative, engaging group of scientists. And I think he’s really done a commendable job over the last three years. It hasn’t always been easy though.
Nick Abrahams: Yeah. No. And I think the feeling around CSIRO now is quite different to what it was before. In the early days, particularly the media were sort of quite excited in a, not necessarily a positive way about what Larry was doing there, but it seems like there’s a rhythm to the organization now, a bit of a cadence to things.
David Thodey: Yeah. Look, I think so. I mean, he’s done some really innovative things, like in commercialization, we’ve set up a innovation fund called Main Sequence Ventures, got about 250 million, $300 million under management now. We’ve probably done about 10 royalty deals, maybe about 12 joint ventures, so these are really significant things. And he’s got a voice and all our stats are showing that the trust in CSIRO, especially during COVID-19, because remember we did a lot of work in terms of the early detection of the virus and testing some vaccines, it has really risen and it’s great. But it’s a great Australian icon. And what makes it unique is these great Australian scientists who are just, I’d feel every time I go and see them, any of them, all 5,000 of them in all their different areas, you just feel inspired. And it’s just great. So I just feel very privileged to be there.
Douglas Nicol: David, the CSIRO, the track record of this organization is quite extraordinary on a global level, inventing wifi, plastic bank nodes, extended wear contact lenses, the most extraordinary mix of things. And you mentioned culture early. I mean, I’d like to dig into that one. What is the secret source for that innovative culture? Because government isn’t always known for being particularly innovative and something that works. Can we dig deeper into that?
David Thodey: I’d love… We can have a bit of a dig at it. I’m not sure I’ve got all the answers on this one, but let me have a go. Look, there’s no question. It has done some amazing things. As you mentioned, wifi. I can remember how many hundreds of millions of dollars through royalties from that patent, bank notes, plastic bank notes, et cetera. Look, I think it’s a mixture of things, and I’m probably going to draw a little bit on my own business experience. Yeah. Innovation is both an attitude and a culture about a desire to do things better and differently and test the boundaries. But it’s also incredibly disciplined, hard work, hard work. And this is what I think people miss a bit, that to really innovate, you have to be willing to really dig deep and put different things together.
So if I said to you, the culture is important. It’s about giving people permission to do things differently and celebrating, celebrating difference, celebrating new ideas, and funding it, and making it a part of who you are. But on the other side, it is this rigorous discipline of trial and error, of failure, of staying the course, of having a greater vision and purpose that drives you to get a better outcome. And occasionally you have that moment of brilliance when it all comes together, but it’s actually a lot of hard work. And that’s what we encourage our people to work through, the culture and then have a big aspiration and then work it hard, bring in people, team, and do things differently. And talk about it. Talk about that we want to change the world. Talk about how we can be different. So that’s been my experience, and we’re not always successful for sure, but it does create something quite unique.
Nick Abrahams: No, it is. It is fantastic to create an environment where people can feel like they can take those chances is fantastic. I think, so Douglas has obviously gone for the big names, but what we like to… We’d like to let our listeners know that there’s more to CSIRO’s big inventions than just wifi, plastic bank notes. So Aeroguard, that’s CSIRO.
David Thodey: Yes. Yes. Yes.
Nick Abrahams: Softly washing liquid, and David, I know you and I were talking about this just before, the Total Wellbeing Diet. I know as chairman, you’d be a big believer in the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet. So, it’s done a lot over the years.
Douglas Nicol: [inaudible 00:10:05].
Nick Abrahams: Oh, that’s right. [inaudible 00:10:08].
David Thodey: [inaudible 00:10:09].
Nick Abrahams: Yeah. What are you excited about? I mean, obviously their working on so many different things. Is there anything particularly that you think is really quite extraordinary?
David Thodey: Well, it’s interesting you ask because sometimes I discover things that I had no idea about.
Nick Abrahams: Yeah.
David Thodey: This team up in North Queensland, who’ve been, discovered this seaweed that manages me-, well, reduces methane production in cows.
Nick Abrahams: Oh, wow.
David Thodey: I mean, who would have believed it? Really important actually.
Nick Abrahams: Yeah.
David Thodey: But what we do do in terms of the innovative science, every 12 to 24 months, we go through a process of looking at what we call future science platforms, and that’s sort of big trends, but I find them just absolutely inspiring. One obvious area that you’d be aware of is synthetic biology, where we’re doing a lot in terms of gene editing and management of how to drive disease resistant crops and things like that. And that’s an enormous sort of focus.
And especially in this world of digital agriculture, this is going to be really important, but also we’ve got things like the Deep Earth Imaging project, where the team are trying to map the three kilometer layer of the Earth’s crust in Australia. So they’re taking all the seismic data from every oil company and geologists that they can find, and then visualizing. So if you’re up in the northwest of Australia, you can put on your goo-, well, your visualization glasses, it could be Google glasses and actually see the stratification of different water, or iron ore deposits, all because you’ve got the huge great database. I mean, I just find that unbelievable.
Also, we’ve got the big square kilometer array. We go beyond a million ectors out west where we’ve got now what, 33 enormous satellite dishes we’re trying to look at the origins of the universe. And we’ve got one of the, I think we’ve got more fiber in the middle of nowhere, than probably our national carrier has. I mean, it’s just unbelievable.
So these are the things that I think are really going to drive a difference. Also we’re looking at, there is like enviro-nomics, how we use our technology to better predict the environment or biosecurity. And so it’s bringing machines together with nature. Remember, science, at the end of the day, is all about discovering the world around us. And that’s what gets me so excited, or giving you sort of deep insights. So I could go on. There’s actually a group of about 12 exciting new possibilities that are just incredible.
Douglas Nicol: And obviously we can’t ignore the elephant in the room that is a once in a century event of a global pandemic. So, rewind back to February of this year, what impact has COVID had on work at CSIRO? And what’s CSIRO’s contribution to the hunt for a cure?
David Thodey: Yeah. Well, look, it’s been an enormous change, like I think every organization in the world with when you go into lockdown, you lose contact with… Well, lose contact, you’re not with people. And you’ve got to find new techniques to keep that communication going. For us, a lot of our field work dries up.
But I should say at the same time, a lot of the lab work we do, and field work, is virtualized and in this new era of digital enablement. So we’ve been impacted like most organizations.
Thankfully, people have really kept pretty up. The morale is pretty good. I think it is testing, in terms of mental health, for some of them as they don’t have that interaction. So, a mix, but I think we’re doing okay.
In terms of our contribution to the whole virus and vaccine, we have what we call the Center for Health and Disease Prevention down in Jalong, which is our, what they call a category five facility, that allows you to, you go through about five different levels of, well I suppose, it is biosecurity before you get into a sealed area in the middle of this huge great building where we actually had the virus, probably, well it would have been November, December last year.
And so we then had been doing some testing on animals in that environment. And so we’re very active in understanding the virus, doing analysis on the virus, and then also testing some of the vaccines as they come forward. And then, on the manufacturing process, because like every country in the world, we’ve got to find a vaccine that’s approved, and then we’ve got to build the manufacturing capability.
So yeah, we’ve got some brilliant scientists. They very talented. And they’re part of a global community all working on this. Yeah, very- [crosstalk]
Douglas Nicol: Do you have a view as to whether we’ll get to an effective vaccine in the next year, for example?
David Thodey: Well, I can only really express what they say to me, because I’m not a epidemiologist. But their view is, there’s a high probability that we’ll get a vaccine in the next three or four months.
Now, I think you got to be very careful with this. We don’t know which of the vaccines. There’s about eight or nine that are looking good, or possibilities at the moment. But depending on which vaccine goes through, they each have a different character. Some of them you’ll get a shot, but you need a booster. Some of them you’ll get a shot, then you’ll need to take nasal spray.
Some of the vaccines actually suppress the symptoms of COVID-19. They don’t actually make you immune. And so we’ve got to really wait to see which vaccines come through before we can, obviously, build the manufacturing capability, and then how we roll it out.
So I think the actual rollout will take a good nine to 12 months. We’re trying to get prepared at the moment, and had facilities here in Australia an access to global manufacturing capability, but it’s still a little bit too early. But I am hopeful.
The bottom line is that the team are telling me the probability is we will get something in the next three to four months.
Douglas Nicol: That would be fantastic. And I already got, our hopes are all pinned on the phenomenal medical researchers that are all over the world working on that.
David Thodey: Yeah.
Douglas Nicol: And if we sort of change gear a little bit, and talk about the move that you’ve made, in a sense, so if we look at your executive career, so you led IBM and you led Telstra very successfully, but very established businesses.
And yet, in your non-exec career, you’ve gone on to be the chair of two extraordinary, but very different disruptors. So the neobank Tyro, which is going incredibly well. And then Xero, the accounting solution, which is taking the world on in what was considered to be a cavalier approach early on, and now is really making its mark globally.
Can you give us your thoughts on what makes a company a successful disruptor?
David Thodey: Yeah, well, I mean, firstly, I suppose it does here, looking at my career, that there has sort of a been a big corporate survivor and up, being two disruptors. I mean, I did start my life as an engineer, as a software engineer.
Douglas Nicol: Okay.
David Thodey: And so that’s sort of probably going back to my roots in a way. But I’ve always been inspired by the impact of technology to change business models and make a difference in people’s lives. And back when I joined IBM in ’79, even then it was an enormous change of big old mainframes down to the PC or et cetera, but this world of cloud computing platforms, and enabling people to communicate and connect in different ways, is just inspiring. So what makes a successful disruptor?
Well, I think you’ve got to see the world of possibility, and be driven by that desire to make a difference on a global scale.
Tyro may be on the Australian base, but it saw an opportunity to do payments differently, and to target a market small or medium business that was underserved, and to use really innovative technology to switch those transactions at a low cost, but in a way that the customer, the merchant, could see real value.
So that was really the… It does now. That was what, 13 years ago when they started that company. And so it’s not been an overnight success, but it has done incredibly well. I mean, Xero’s the same, the world of accounting. What’s the thing we all hate doing? It’s our accounts, tax returns. And small business operators are no different to any of us.
And so Rod Drury, who was the founder, he had this vision about making life simpler for small businesses. And again, an underserved market, and it just so happened that he built his platform on the cloud.
And that, was actually just incredibly fortuitous, because it gave both the small business and the bookkeeper accountant, visibility the same data. And you could do it from your mobile phone or from in your desk.
I mean, so you’ve got to have this vision, and then you go to bam to bring the relevant technology to change the business model. And so we run one digital platform for Xero, right, for right across the world. They’ve go, obviously, localization for tax and things. So I think that’s what makes a great disruption. Change the world vision and then this enabler of technology differentiation really enables you to do things incredibly differently.
Douglas Nicol: David, Xero’s made some fantastic inroads into the US market. What advice do you have for other Australian companies who want to go to the USA and do well? What learnings have you got to share?
David Thodey: Hmm, well, I think it’s no secret that we would have liked to have done better in the US than what we have done. The US is an enormous market. And I think for any aspiring platform business that has global aspirations, being successful in the United States is really important. But the US is, it’s a very diverse market. Every state is different. And I think one of the things we’ve learned there is, having an offering in the West coast is fundamentally different to what you do in the South Southeast, in Florida, or Texas, somewhere like that.
So you’ve got to go there, you’ve got to sit up there, you’ve got to build talent there. And then you’ve got to start to address market by market and take a long-term view.
Now, as I say that, I’ve got to say Afterpay has done incredibly well, very, very quickly. They’ve been there probably less time than Xero. And they’ve just captured a market transition. I think that if I look back, one of the things we did not do was make sure that our product was absolutely fit for purpose. I think we thought we could get around a few product features. And when you’re competing with a very large company like Intuit, you really need to make sure your product is really differentiated. And while we believe we are the global leader in cloud, small business accounting. Intuit has enormous market presence. So, there’s a few learning there. So set up, go there, understand it’s a multifaceted market, make sure your product is really fit for purpose. And then, you’re there for the long term. You can’t sort of flip in, spend two weeks there, and flip out. You got to really build long-term capability and market presence.
Nick Abrahams: And David, you mentioned that company that we… It continually comes up on this, and it just makes us all sad, which is Afterpay.
David Thodey: It’s all right.
Nick Abrahams: Because we all should have invested back in January.
David Thodey: Yes, we should have.
Nick Abrahams: But, oh, well. Good luck to them. They’re doing an amazing job. So I did sort of paint it there that your executive career was sort of in more traditional businesses. But one of the things that I can remember very clearly, particularly from the Telstra days, was the culture that you were intent on creating there and which had innovation, I think, at its core. And back in 2013, which is… it’s sort of… It doesn’t seem like that long ago, in one sense-
David Thodey: No. No, it doesn’t.
Nick Abrahams: … but it seems like a lifetime in another. You set up [inaudible 00:01:19]. And can you just talk about how, within a big organization, how can you get that sense of innovation and giving people that air cover if they want to try something new?
David Thodey: Well, I mean, I think you’ve got to do lots of different things. Firstly, you’ve got to believe that people are fundamentally… I was going to wait to use the word “creative,” but it’s more than that. People are driven by creating value and being appreciated for it. So, I mean, I think one of the great things that management or leaders can do is create this world of permission for people to make a difference and to recognize them for it.
And so that’s a really big part of the cultural focus that I think we tried to do. I mean, we did it partially. But then you need to also back it up with processes and money. But also you’ve got to be driven by something that’s bigger than all of you. I mean, we talked around that aspiration for Telstra. I can still remember when I became CEO. I think I said… You know how you do those press sessions and everything? It was after Sol Trujillo had been there, and everyone wanted to know I would stand for. And I said I’d be a agent for the customer.
And I think, if you get an organization focused on serving, being excellently focused on serving a customer, and give them permission to innovate and do things differently to delight or do something different for the customer, it’s amazing what people do. And all that innovation wasn’t come from me or the senior team. It came from people who were driven to make that difference.
So I think that’s the trick here, and it’s different for every organization. I mean, there isn’t a magic formula. But, if you can find that, you unleash this incredible energy and power, that people end up doing more than they thought they could do, and including myself. But we were all driven by making a difference for the customer and then finding innovative ways to do things differently.
Sometimes it was big, complex technology. Sometimes it was nothing more than re-engineering a process that created less frustration for the customer. So I think that was some of the things we tried to do. I look back on that time. I think we could have gone faster and done it better, but you always learn things, don’t you?
Nick Abrahams: Well, I think people would regard it as having been an incredible success. But you did mention that idea that you came in, and you said you were going to be the agent for the customer. It just reminded me of something that occurred when you became CEO. And this was folklore, which I understand to be true, but you set up an email address. So you said that the customers could email you and contact you directly. And I can remember there were some people in Telstra who I was speaking to, who weren’t super excited about you being sort of the main focus for people having a problem with the service.
David Thodey: That’s exactly right.
Nick Abrahams: But did you actually do that? Did it come to your-
David Thodey: I did.
Nick Abrahams: Okay. Okay.
David Thodey: I did. And in those days, I was probably receiving 60 complaint letters a day.
Nick Abrahams: Wow.
David Thodey: And in the old world, they were being passed off, down the organization. And I insisted on replying to everyone. I mean, you do need to be careful because, if I ended up being the point of escalation for every problem…
Nick Abrahams: Right.
David Thodey: So every time I would reply, I’d say, “Look, thank you very much.” I mean, one is I learnt a lot about the business. But I’d say, “And I’m delighted to introduce you to John, who’s going to fix your problem.” And then I’d make sure John did fix the problem. So I sort of, in effect, delegated it back to where it should have been fixed in the first place. And that did change the culture, but I did sign a lot of letters, I must admit, during it. But sometimes I’d get-
Nick Abrahams: It had a-
David Thodey: Yeah, sorry.
Nick Abrahams: … great effect.
David Thodey: Yeah.
Nick Abrahams: And while we’re on that… Sorry, go on.
David Thodey: No, no. No, no. I could talk about this for a long time, but I thought we should move on.
Nick Abrahams: Continuing on the telco theme, 5G, obviously, has arrived in our lives with great fanfare. Do you think it’s delivering the big… I mean, there’s been a lot of hype around 5G and a lot of urban myth, as well. Do you think we’re enjoying the benefits of 5G yet?
David Thodey: Well, not yet. This is a multifaceted answer. I mean, firstly, do we want faster mobile data speeds with better latency? Of course we do. Sometimes I load down a big file. It still takes a while, depending on what the loading on the network is. Or, if I’m watching a bit of sport on a small screen, it pixelates. So anything that gives speed and improved latency is good.
However, the big challenge with any of these next-generation technologies is how much competitive advantage does it give you in the market? Now, if you can get… because maybe you need to buy Spectrum, as well. Well, it goes with that. If you can get a jump on your competition, I think it can create enormous value for the telco. But if everybody goes there… We expect good mobile communication. We sort of take it for granted, really. But our willingness to pay incrementally for faster speeds or more data is not there. Well, it’s like the roads of Australia. To be able to go on any road, I’ll pay my tolls, but I’m not sure I’m going to give you more money just because it goes faster.
So I think the potential benefits are there for users, but the bigger question is, for the industry, is will they get the return on all the capital they’ve got invested? Because it’s a lot of capital you’ve got to put in.
Nick Abrahams: Yeah. And on that, I guess, with the future of the telco industry… And it’s obviously changing massively. And you see the big data center players are obviously doing incredibly well, whereas the telcos are sort of struggling to monetize certain aspects of their network. And so, what sort of other technologies do you see changing? How do you see IoT and AI and things like that? How do you see that impacting telco?
David Thodey: Well, I mean… Look, all those technologies will have an impact. I mean, first of all, you got to have the two different views. One is for the user. I mean, I think I have an insatiable appetite for more computing power. I want things made simpler and better for me, easier for me. So if that means AI machines and machine learning, as long as I understand generally what they’re doing, then I think the user demand is enormous and that, in the architecture of technology, that there’ll be more edge computing. There’ll be new generations of computers and quantum computing, which, you know, in Sydney, we’re doing a lot, as is Canada and the US. But we’ve got some really [inaudible] quantum computing capability.
Look, I do think intelligent networks, intelligent infrastructure, intelligent houses, et cetera, will become more commonplace. And that would just put more demand on the network. So I don’t see any slowing up of that. Big data and AI, they create enormous opportunities. And then, as that technology is embedded in lots of different systems, it will continue to grow. The question is, can the telcos monetize it? And what is an acceptable return on their capital? And that’s where it gets tricky.
Telstra, many of the telcos were monopolies early on, and now it’s more competitive at an infrastructure level. We’ve re-nationalized the fiber network here in Australia. And that also has created some dynamics that are not… The profit is probably being held more at the infrastructure level than at the retail level. So I think there’s some real challenges, across fixed and mobile, in getting an adequate return on investment. But the demand is just enormous. So it’ll ebb and flow.
But if I come back to the bigger issue, that I think all businesses are trying to work through, is this digitization of the economy of every business. And I think that that is probably only about 30% of the way through. I mean, I look at what’s happening in agriculture or even in law. I mean, the impact of AI. Then I look at the impact in the resources sector, where we’re doing real-time spectroscopic analysis of drill cores as they come out of the ground, not even… sort of looking for trace elements.
AI could cross every industry. So everything has got technology in it. And what it also enables is different business models. And that’s what I think is a really exciting thing. We’re seeing it with, obviously, the Googles and the Amazons, but this is happening at… Every industry has been changed. So I think we’ve got an enormous way to go. I think it creates a richer life. I mean, look at healthcare.
Nick Abrahams: Yeah.
David Thodey: That’s why I just think it’s incredible, from biotech, pharma-tech, all the way through to better diagnostics, intensive acute care, even access to information and diagnostics interning to easier and better diagnosis. Just amazing what’s happening there. And we can do it differently to what has been done before. So I remain incredibly optimistic about the future and technology, but there are the profit pools are moving around a bit, so I just think you ought to be careful in where you invest in how you approach it.
Nick Abrahams: David, we might switch slightly now the conversation, because I’m fascinated by your sort of unique exposure to lots of different kinds of businesses in Australia. You’ve been a great advocate for diversity at senior levels in organization. Based on what you see, how do you think Australia is going with this important issue?
David Thodey: Oh, look, I think in terms of gender diversity, it’s better, but nowhere near where it needs to be, when you look at countries like Sweden or even New Zealand. And look, I got to be clear. I want to be clear. I just think diversity is good business and yes, there’s a ethical, moral view to this, that all people are created equal and it’s ridiculous that anyone is discriminated against, based on gender, race, creed, whatever. What you want is to have access to the very best people. So creating an inclusive culture, a culture that recognizes contribution, that’s what you want and that what is creates uniqueness and differentiation of value. So my commitment to this is very grounded in financial reality, but also there is this ethical or, I don’t know, I hesitate to call it a moral, but just my fundamental belief that I enjoy people from all races and all creeds and I want the very best people around me.
So yeah, I’m very outspoken on it. And I too, like most people, have all these biases and traditions that I think, “Oh, why do I think that?” And so I have to pull myself up, but what I want is an inclusive society that’s open and transparent, that gives people opportunity to excel. That’s what I’m about.
Nick Abrahams: Does that stretch into the idea of having quotas? Do you have a view on that?
David Thodey: Look, in my frustration, yes. Do I think that quotas are the ideal way? No. Because you can create ever in situations, but sometimes we just got to jolt ourselves out of the nice little comfort zone that we find ourselves. So from that stance, if it can jolt the company and the group to think differently than, “I’m okay with it.” But look, ideally what you want is an environment where people are recognized purely on the merits of their contribution and the latent talent, irrespective of all these superficial ways that we describe people.
So, yeah. Am I out there sort of beating the drum, the quotas is the answer? Absolutely not. But if it changes the organization for a moment, then great. Sweden did it for awhile, I think. And there’s no question that it has created a change in that society because, definitely a woman came through. It was a gender quota came through and then that sort of stepped back for a while. But it did create a step change for awhile. But it’s like many things, taken purely in isolation, it could actually have a detrimental effect to it.
Nick Abrahams: The potential for, as an accelerator effect is obviously there.
David Thodey: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
Nick Abrahams: To get that happening… Maybe just as a final wrap up, I guess. I know you’ve obviously been heavily involved in the jobs area in terms of policy and so forth. And I know that you’ve helped out some people who I know who’ve gone to you for career advice and so forth. You’ve been very generous with your time. What do you see as sort of the skills and careers of the future?
David Thodey: That’s a big question, that one. Well, seriously, I look backwards to look forwards. If you go back to 1910s, 1920s, the workforce was fundamentally different. They were worried about automation or automobiles, how the stables were going to go out of business and there would be no more jobs for people. But look, the truth is that our industry, our society changes. And with that, you need different skills. There’s no question that we are in a far more information dominated era. And I think there will be any era of, well, if it’s still around, as we expand into space and so you look out there, that’s going to require a whole lot of different skills. So if I’m sitting here now, who would have thought that there would be even, a data scientist, there never used to be such thing as a data scientist or a quantum computing person, or what’s the… A platform technologist and these are all new-
Nick Abrahams: UX, yeah.
David Thodey: UX. Yeah, exactly. And so I think that that’s going to continue. I think what I encourage people to do is to, you’ve got to look at technology shifts and then keep bringing it back to the reality of humanity and what drives value because technology or new ways of doing is only relevant if that improves someone’s life or we do something differently or we improve the environment. So be focused on the outcome and then look at the means to get there and therefore the skills that you need. So do we need more digital enabled people today? Yes, we do. Any big organization is going to have… You’ve got to have far more people with digital enablement skills. If you look at a doctor today, a doctor, for years has been good at understanding the human body, the GP, but also has to be very good at data management and trending this.
So I think that’s what I would talk about. And look, I would dare say 30% of the jobs that exist today, won’t exist in a decade. But I do believe there will be new jobs and there will be more jobs because we have this incredible ability as a race to continue to adapt and build and create, and that’s what we need to be focused on. Those that grab those opportunities and believe that they can leave the world a better place are the ones that create value for those around them and get recognition and have a satisfied life.
I always think there’s two… Well, not two types because that’s too simplistic. But in all this, there’s those people who face into problems and are able to find opportunity. And then there’s others who are the victims of their circumstance. And I just encourage people, never be a victim of circumstance. Find opportunity in change. Because that’s what creates a satisfied and rich life. So that’s what I talk about. And in that I think careers open up from there.
Nick Abrahams: That is fantastic. Very wise words. Find opportunity and take it. No, it’s great. It’s wonderful for people to hear that. We will have to wrap it up there and let you get back to your day, but just one of the other statements that you made, which I wrote down and I really need to think more about it, but you said people are driven by creating value and being appreciated for it. I think if I look back on your time at Telstra and the folks I knew who were working at Telstra at the time, I think they always felt like that. So, I think that’s a wonderful nugget along with the many others. So thank you very much for your time and over to Douglas.
David Thodey: Thank you.
Douglas Nicol: David, yeah, look, absolutely. Any conversation that can go from deep earth imaging to diversity has got to be a good one and it was a wonderful chat. So thank you so much.
David Thodey: Look, my pleasure, and I wish you and the organization every success. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you both. Take care.
Douglas Nicol: Thank you. And that wraps it up for this episode, Smart Dusters. As usual, there are some links and notes for you to peruse in this episode, in the iTunes program notes. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please rate us on your podcast platform of choice and indeed go crazy and subscribe to Smart Dust.
Thank you to the wonderful content creators at Daresay who produced this podcast. And if you’ve enjoyed today’s chat, you might enjoy hearing from another leader in the tech space. So why not listen to our September, 2019 chat with Paul X. McCarthy about how technology is rewriting the laws of economics. So until next time from me, Douglas Nicol.
Nick Abrahams: And from me, Nick Abrahams, goodbye.
Douglas Nicol: Goodbye.