The ACS Foundation hosted the Legends of Technology lunch and the Australian Legends of Technology presentation in Sydney on Friday 17th November 2023. Over ninety information technology professionals from the past and present attended.
The ACS Foundation had continued a tradition started by the late Max Burnet, a legend himself, who passed away earlier this year. 2023 marked the 30th anniversary since the first lunch that Max organised.
The lunch was indeed a success in 2023. It, of course, started with a toast to Max who would have been embarrassed.
Part of the tradition is to find a speaker that will captivate the audience of their peers and share secrets not for publication.
So, what does a refrigeration technician, muso who repairs guitars, lighting designer connected to the greats of the rock and music industry have to do with worldwide logistics? More about that later!
What makes a “Legend”?
A "legend" typically refers to a person or achievement that is remarkably famous, influential, or distinguished in a particular field. The making of a legend involves a combination of factors:
Exceptional Skill or Talent: Mastery or outstanding ability in a specific area, often surpassing peers and setting new standards.
Impact and Influence: Making significant contributions that leave a lasting impact on a field, culture, or society.
Enduring Legacy: Achievements or qualities that are remembered and celebrated over time, often inspiring future generations.
Unique or Iconic Personality or Style: Distinctive characteristics or ways of doing things that set them apart from others.
Overcoming Challenges: Often, legends have overcome significant obstacles or adversity, adding to their mystique and respect.
Cultural and Historical Context: The societal and historical backdrop can elevate someone's status to legendary, especially if they symbolise or catalyse important cultural or social changes.
“Legends are often a blend of fact and myth, with their stories sometimes embellished over time, enhancing their legendary status”.
Australian Technology Era
Are we entering a new era of Australian technology. The last few decades represent a remarkable period of innovation and growth, driven by a combination of entrepreneurial spirit, government support, and global connectivity. In recent years, Australia has emerged as a significant player in the global technology landscape, known for its advancements in areas like software development, quantum computing, renewable energy technologies, and biomedical research.
Key to this era is the proliferation of startups and tech giants alike. Companies like Atlassian, WiseTech Global, and Canva have become household names, showcasing Australian expertise in software and digital services. Similarly, Australia's involvement in breakthrough research in quantum computing, spearheaded by institutions like the University of New South Wales, places it at the forefront of this cutting-edge technology.
Government policies and investments have also played a crucial role. Initiatives to boost innovation, such as the National Innovation and Science Agenda, along with investment in STEM education, have fostered a conducive environment for technological advancement.
Moreover, the Australian tech sector benefits from its global orientation. With strong ties to both Western and Asian markets, Australian technology companies have capitalised on opportunities to expand internationally, thus contributing significantly to the global tech ecosystem.
The Australian technical era has not only put Australia on the global tech map but has also set a foundation for continued innovation and success.
Legends in Australian Technology
Australians leading in the development of amazing technology is not new. The history of Australian information technology, particularly since the 1950s, is marked by significant contributions and pioneering efforts. Key figures and advancements have shaped this journey, making Australia a notable player in the global tech landscape.
One of the foundational figures in this history is Trevor Pearcey, who led the development of one of the world's first digital computers, the CSIRAC, in the late 1940s. This pioneering effort placed Australia among the earliest entrants into the digital age. The CSIRAC, which stands as the oldest still existing computer, symbolises Australia's early and impactful contributions to global information technology.
As the decades progressed, Australian innovation continued to make its mark. Groundbreaking inventions such as the black box flight recorder, the heart pacemaker, the bionic ear, and ultrasound scanning originated from Australia. In the realm of technology, Australia's invention of WiFi further cemented its status as a hub of innovation and creativity.
Over the years, numerous individuals and technologies have contributed to the growth and vibrancy of Australia's computer industry.
Today, Australia continues to be a cradle of technological innovation, giving rise to leading companies and entrepreneurs in the tech sector.
Meet the Next Legend of Technology
The speaker this year was Richard White, the founder of WiseTech Global, who has had a fascinating and varied career path, characterized by entrepreneurship, innovation, and a deep engagement with technology.
The attendees heard from Richard about how his career had led him to develop the logistics technology that is the core of the WiseTech Global $70+ Billion enterprise.
More importantly he opened the floor to questions. Richard offered his insights into AI, Cyber Security, Legacy Systems, company acquisitions and more. Interestingly he sees that a key issue for Australia is our education system and developing STEM studies. To grow and develop in the new technology era Australia needs skilled people. This is a major focus also for the ACS Foundation. So, it is not a coincidence that Richard has been a strong support of the Foundation and the BIG Day In initiative since its inception.
The 2023 Legend of Technology Award – Richard White
Born and raised in Bexley, Sydney, White grew up in a family with entrepreneurial leanings. His father ran an engineering business, and his mother was involved in direct sales. This environment fostered his interest in music and technology. He initially pursued a career as a refrigeration mechanic, as per his father's wishes, while also nurturing his passion for music, playing in bands and running a guitar repair business.
How it all began
White's career took a significant turn when he ventured into building winch-up lighting stands for the entertainment industry, eventually merging his business with an entertainment electronics company, Jands, in 1982. This experience marked his entry into the field of technology and R&D management, even though he did not have a formal degree. At Jands, he was instrumental in developing a computer lighting board, teaching himself programming and becoming adept at controlling lights with computers.
Getting into IT Business
In the mid-1980s, White sold his share in Jands and bought a computer retailer, Clear Technology. However, he soon realized the limitations of the low-margin, high-volume business model and shifted his focus to consulting, particularly in systems integration. This led him to the freight-forwarding sector, where he identified significant inefficiencies in existing systems. In 1991, amidst financial pressures, he developed a freight forwarding program, laying the groundwork for his future company, Eagle Developments International (EDI), which was later renamed WiseTech Global.
Education is a key to success
White's pursuit of higher education played a critical role in his journey. In 2000, he embarked on a Master's degree in IT management, which significantly influenced the direction of his company. This period marked a strategic shift for EDI, with White focusing on building a global system that integrated various corporate entities and transactions across multiple countries. His vision was to create a holistic, integrated international freight software system, a goal he pursued through intense research, development, and strategic acquisitions.
WiseTech is born
In 2006, White's company, then known as CargoWise EDI, acquired a Chicago-based company with a domestic forwarding product, further expanding its global footprint. The company underwent several name changes, finally becoming WiseTech Global, and in 2016, it was successfully floated on the Australian Securities Exchange. By this time, WiseTech Global had become a significant player in the logistics software industry, providing cloud-based solutions to thousands of companies worldwide.
Throughout his career, White has maintained a focus on innovation, employee welfare, and global impact. He has fostered a workplace culture similar to Google, with a focus on employee well-being and innovation. WiseTech Global is known for its inclusive and supportive work environment, including facilities like a gym, music studio, and flexible working hours. White's personal philosophy centers around creating value beyond monetary terms, emphasizing the importance of building a company that employs great people and contributes positively to the world. His contributions have been recognized with several accolades, including the UTS Alumni Award for professional achievement in 2008.
Currently, Richard White is the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of WiseTech Global, as well as holding CEO positions in various subsidiaries of the company. His past roles include CEO at Clear Group Ltd. and Managing Director at RealWise Holdings Pty Ltd. As of 2023, he has amassed a personal fortune of over $10 billion, reflecting the enormous success and impact of his entrepreneurial ventures.
Burnet’s Carrying on the Tradition
Richard White deservingly and with humility received the 2023 Legends of Technology award presented by Maxina Burnet-Darwin and Lachlan Burnet, Max’s son and daughter.
Feedback from the lunch and the award has been excellent. The countdown to the 2024 Legends of Technology Lunch has started. So see you all there in 2024.
The ACS Foundation
The ACS Foundation runs student developmental programs that are in response to the technology industry needs.
By listening to governments, industry associations, technology companies, education institutions and sponsors in general, we formulate, invest and run programs for the long term benefit of Australia's technology sector.
The ACS Foundation's four broad programs include:
Scholarships: for university students: As determined by our donors, we administer scholarships to university students. Scholarships are financial grants take the form of both academic and demographic grants and 'work integrated learning' (WIL) placements. Students must apply and be assessed against the criteria that is determined for each scholarship.
Foundation Jobs for new IT professionals: Employment arrangements for entry-level technology jobs for a limited time.
The Big Day In for primary and high school students: Where articulate and passionate industry speakers meet with tech-focused school students to forge exciting pre-career connections.
Career Wheel for high school students: A visual representation of tech related jobs to assist high school students in selecting the type of technology career that is best for them.
For more information please contact us.