David Wright profile
DAVID MYTON talks to DAVID WRIGHT, the new Chief Executive Officer of CMCRC-SIRCA
“I love to solve problems that matter,” says David Wright, the recently appointed CEO of the CMCRC-SIRCA Group. “To look at something important and work it out, then implement a solution. I am challenged by making things happen.”
Wright took up the top job in June following the successful merger with SIRCA, having previously served as Chief Operating Officer and Acting CEO of CMCRC.
“My goal is to continually grow individually, work with people smarter than me and lead other people to grow outside their comfort zone, too, and to achieve my target outcomes with focus and passion,” he says.
He is excited and optimistic about the future of the new-look organisation. “We have had 20 years of success, but that’s not where we are stopping – that’s where we are starting.
“We’re going to make ourselves bigger and better.”
“We have had 20 years of success, but that’s not where we are stopping – that’s where we are starting.”
Growing and building a new enterprise
David Wright was born and raised in Melbourne. He went on to study at Canberra University, graduating with a BCom and LLB, followed by a GDLP from the Australian National University.
His interest in the law saw him being admitted to practise as a barrister and solicitor in the High Court of Australia and the Supreme Court of the ACT.
“In my wider career I have had successful stints as a lawyer – in-house and firm – as a commercial negotiator with two international software companies and as a Investment Manager and Commercialisation Director of a leading technology lab.”
His parents had been involved in businesses for much of their lives and that interest rubbed off on him.
“There’s something about growing and building an enterprise that is really attractive to me, and I’ve always been interested in doing that,” he says.
His career has encompassed academia, telecommunications, IT, government research and start-ups, both in Australia and internationally. He has served in C-suite positions at organisations including Macquarie University, NICTA and T3 Communications.
Along the way he has also founded 10 start-ups – the first at the age of 19 – including the education accessibility not-for-profit Global Access Project, public affairs and investment firm Aqua Ventures (formerly Wright Corporate Group), and the Higher Education Consulting Group.
Learning from experience
The start-up experience has left a lasting impression on Wright.
“It changes your attitude when you actually have to deliver and you’re trying to pay the bill next month,” he says.
“The discipline is an incredible experience for someone learning how to deal with problems.
“You might have very few resources, very little time, and with a start-up you can actually succeed very quickly or you can fail very quickly. Both of those outcomes are a valuable experience.”
By nature a start-up is about change.
“But in every organisation I’ve been involved in, the mandate has been some form of significant change – it can be a response to telecommunications, technology, or research for example,” Wright says.
“Change is a pretty consistent process. I don’t fear it. I love it.”
Wright believes it’s vital to work out an enterprise’s baseline or current state. “You have to identify and understand your evidence base and then look at how you can do better than the current operators.”
“In every organisation I’ve been involved in, the mandate has been some form of significant change.”
“I love what universities do”
One of David Wright’s defining experiences was working as a vice-president of Macquarie University (which is also a partner in the CMCRC Industrial PhD Program).
“I’m here today at CMCRC-SIRCA because I love what universities do – research, teaching and learning, community outreach, expanding our knowledge base, everything.
“I absolutely believe in what they are trying to achieve.”
Wright feels there is a moral element to the work universities undertake.
“It’s not just about making money. You’ve got deliver some value – for students, the research areas, the community.”
Nevertheless, Wright recognises that the university sector is changing and becoming increasingly competitive in the market for international students and as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other means of delivering course online bring in new providers.
“In some aspects universities are beginning to look much more like a corporation,” he says.
However, Australia’s relatively poor performance in the global innovation economy – ranking 20th in the 2018 Global Innovation Index – shows that even after 20 years of delivering mutual benefits to industry and academia, there remains a real need for a collaborative research institution like CMCRC-SIRCA.
Innovation a challenge and opportunity
“You would think that with Australia’s investment in its education, in the environment that’s been created to do things in an innovative capacity, we would do much better than 20th,” he says.
“To me that’s a challenge and an opportunity. There is no reason why we are not in the top group and that’s a thing that drives me every day.
“We’ve got to move up a level and there’s no reason why we can’t – we’re doing ok, but being ok should never be good enough.
“While we are sitting within that lower group other countries are not standing still. They are moving further ahead.”
And that presents opportunities for CMCRC-SIRCA.
Within most of the top ranking innovation economies, he says, there are “a certain set of archetypes – critical success factors, and one of those is around the ability to leverage your university sector into the economy and its companies and businesses”.
And that’s where CMCRC-SIRCA comes into its own in terms of enabling collaborative research.
“There is no reason why we are not in the top group and that’s a thing that drives me every day.”
Creating connections between industry and universities
“Our world-leading Industrial PhD Program creates a standing connection between industry and our universities,” says Wright.
Universities benefit by being able to undertake impactful applied research in addition to their core basis research. Industry benefits from a program that actively grows an organisation’s R&D capability – for the duration of the partnership and beyond.
“Quite often what people do when they want to enhance their R&D is look at who they might outsource that to – but what about their internal capability?”
CMCRC-SIRCA’s Industrial PhD researchers become an integral part of the partner organisation. “They are innovative people trained to do deep R&D, which is going to deliver long-term value,” Wright says.
“Our people aren’t solving short-term goals – they are creating the future for your organisation and how you position yourself. To create the best performing R&D team you need to populate that with the best people. And we have them.”
A deep understanding of data
CMCRC-SIRCA also brings the ability to create value out of data.
“Whether you call data the new oil or gold, economies that manage their data better and utilise them to the greatest advantage will generally perform better.
“The challenge is that the data is exploding in complexity and volume.
“We make it useable and valuable, and enable it to deliver the kind of outcomes that a successful organisation requires. We don’t simply analyse data and then produce a report or a suggested outcome.
“That doesn’t change behaviour, it just gives you some information.
“In contrast, we enable organisations to make valuable changes to their business based on the use of that data so that they are constantly improving.”
Continuing the mission to make markets better
Wright says the new organisation will continue its mission to make markets better.
“Historically we made financial and capital markets better, we have made health markets better, we have made supply and logistics better, and we have made energy markets better – and we’ll keep on doing that.”
The group is also working on improving markets in digital finance and digital currencies, helping to bring about “efficient, fair and transparent markets”.
“We allow those markets to develop and importantly but we allow the people within those markets to develop.”
Wright and his team are now focused on getting the most out of the newly merged organisation.
“We are bringing people together and working hard to develop new and more powerful capability – to get aligned as fast as we can.
“We have common purposes and now we are progressing a common way of working.
“That’s something we are very confident that we’ll do.”
“We are bringing people together and working hard to develop new and more powerful capability.”