Simon McKeon AO has his fingers in many pies. The 2011 Australian of the Year recipient has held numerous positions across a vast portfolio of fields over his extensive career. He is the chairman of AMP Limited, the recently retired chairman of CSIRO, and the former executive chairman of Macquarie Group. He is a fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, an Australia Day Ambassador for the Victorian Government, and a business ambassador for the Northern Territory. In addition to his corporate life, he is also involved in a variety of charitable organisations, and was the founding patron of the Australian Olympic Sailing Team which won three gold and one silver at the 2012 London Olympics.
Furthermore, Simon has had an association with the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce (AICC) for some time now. A couple of years ago, it was suggested to him that he should think about getting involved in an upcoming AICC Innovation Trade Mission to Israel, or even go one step further and put his hand up to lead one. After pondering over the idea for a while and getting his diary affairs in order, he decided that the time was now right to take up the opportunity. Subsequently, in May this year he led a group of Australian executives around Israel for one week to learn more about the country’s technology, innovation, and entrepreneurial ecosystem. The key purpose of the visit was to explore business and investment opportunities, as well as understand the geopolitics and culture.
Simon says innovation is a vital part of Israeli culture and that it is instilled in children from a young age. They are encouraged to question things, push the boundaries, and challenge ideas before working as one to reach the best possible outcomes. When Australia is looked at in comparison, however, it lags behind on this front.
“We don’t have any shortage of the resources or the education [!in!],” he explains. “We have got all the tools of trade we need, but just as Australia is wonderfully focused and culturally alert in areas such as sport, the reality is that you only have to spend a little while in Israel to know that the area of innovation, which is such a broad-ranging topic, is so important. Without being elitist, the fact is that many people who honestly have very little possibility of ever being a critical part in an innovation system still know how important it is.
“To some extent, out of that place of challenge, pressure, and uncertainty comes a cultural understanding of the importance of innovation—literally injecting human talent into an area of need and coming out with something valuable. It is quite extraordinary seeing it in a place like Israel because it is not a Silicon Valley, which is largely safe and without uncertainty. It is quite the opposite, yet it is in that environment that this extraordinary impact hits you.”