Podcast interview with Jim Whalley

People of Adelaide

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About the guest

Jim whalley portrait close up

Jim Whalley - South Australian Chief Entrepreneur

"Creating success is about experimentation, and it's trying different things and hoping they work and - when they don't work it's like, 'All right, what did I learn from that? How can I do a bit better?' That's true of test flying an aeroplane. It's true of test flying a business."

From uniformed days as a Royal Australian Air Force fighter pilot to co-founding Adelaide-based Nova Systems - Australia's largest privately owned defence company - and being appointed South Australia's first Chief Entrepreneur in 2018 - Jim Whalley has worn many hats throughout his career.

Right now his focus is firmly set on laying the foundations for a world-leading entrepreneurial environment across the state, where brilliant ideas have every opportunity to become thriving realities, generating commercial and community returns.

In this episode, Jim shares his personal journey to Adelaide, and the opportunity he believes we have here in South Australia to make entrepreneurship, as he puts it, "more accessible and more acceptable, and to have an engagement and support from the community."

Resources

Office of the South Australian Chief Entrepreneur

Future Industries eXchange for Entrepreneurship (FIXE)

Lot Fourteen

Australian Institute for Machine Learning

In February 2020, Nova Group announced the resignation of Greg Hume and its search for a new CEO - further information available on the company's website.

The five South Australian schools selected to provide specialist entrepreneurial education within the public system are: 

  1. Banksia Park International High School
  2. Seaton High School
  3. Heathfield High School
  4. Murray Bridge High School
  5. Mount Gambier High School 

For more information, visit the South Australian Department for Education's website.

Transcript - part 1

The transcript has been automatically transcribed for accessibility purposes; we apologise for any inconsistencies with the recording.

Voiceover: 00:07
Welcome to the Adelaide Living podcast, where we share the stories of the city. Adelaide is a city shaped by stories, those of the traditional owners of the land and about increasingly diverse community. Each story is unique, but what links them is the place of Adelaide, a city designed for life. So join us as we uncover inspiring stories of the people of Adelaide.

Christina Hagger: 00:34
Jim Whalley calls himself 'an accidental entrepreneur' and certainly the former air force fighter pilot didn't dream of startups and innovation hubs while growing up in Melbourne. So let's hear Jim's story. Find out what brought him to Adelaide and how he's helping imaginative minds take their ideas global as South Australia's first Chief Entrepreneur. 

Jim Whalley: 01:09
I spent the best part of my life in the military. Straight out of school in Melbourne. I was off at boarding school, not far from Melbourne. My wife claims that time, from the age of 11 in boarding school and subsequently in the military, that institutionalisation accounts for a lot of my behavioural characteristics. Straight out of school into the (Royal Australian) Air Force Academy down at Point Cook in Victoria. Did two years there. Then they decided to shut down the Air Force Academy and create the Australian Defence Force Academy - so I went there. 

Then I learned to fly with the Air Force in Melbourne and over in Pearce and then subsequently ended up all over the country. Culminated in three years in the Northern Territory at a place called Katherine, and what is the Air Force base at Tindal and then I was selected for test pilot school in the UK. So I went to a place called Boscombe Down, just north of Salisbury in the UK, and I spent a year flying all sorts of weird and wonderful things, which was absolutely fantastic fun. As a result of becoming a test pilot after having been a fighter pilot flying F-18's, I was sent to Edinburgh, to Adelaide, the Air Force base at Edinburgh, to the Aircraft Research and Development Unit - where I ended up as the senior F-18 test pilot, which was great fun doing all sorts of, again, weird and wonderful things with F-18's and occasionally doing things like Clipsal flypass and those sorts of things.

Christina Hagger: 02:31
So you're one of the people who's done those amazing flypasses?

Jim Whalley: 02:34
It was absolutely fantastic fun.

Christina Hagger: 02:35
Do you have time to see a view? Or are you frankly just a little bit busy concentrating?

Jim Whalley: 02:40
You're concentrating on not hitting cranes and skyscrapers.

Christina Hagger: 02:43
Are you that low?

Jim Whalley: 02:44
You're reasonably low, so you're down below the level of the Westpac Building. So you've got to keep an eye out on what you're doing. The Air Force was fortunate enough to have... obviously we get clearances to do things that most other pilots probably can't do, but we're trained for that. That's all part of the job. But anyway, that was great fun and during that period of time I met an Adelaide girl and she obviously, because I was a young, good looking fighter pilot, fell hopelessly in love with me-

Christina Hagger: 03:14
And that's your story.

Jim Whalley: 03:16
.. and pursued me relentlessly. She'll be listening to this later and she'll probably call in. She won't be able to call in after a podcast, will she? It's not talk back. Thank God for that. Anyway, the result of that was that it became a point of choose wife or choose Air Force. And whilst I'd been in the Northern Territory at Tindal, I started doing a Masters' in Business Administration because I thought, if I was ever going to be the Chief of Air Force one day, having an MBA would be useful and they weren't too many fighter pilots that had MBAs. I started doing that. When I came back after I'd done test pilot school, I came back ..

Christina Hagger: 03:46
Where did you do it?

Jim Whalley: 03:47
I did it actually through Deakin, because I was in the Northern Territory. I did it through Open Learning. So started it there, but when I came back, moved over to the University of Adelaide, which I absolutely loved. I think the education I got at the University of Adelaide was second to none, was absolutely brilliant. Just as a slight digression, I think one of the things that we are gifted within this state is just some really, really good tertiary institutions. I've trained in the UK with the Royal Air Force, with people from all over the world. I've spent a fair bit of time at Harvard Business School on an executive education program, and at various institutions and I am very, very pleased to say that the quality of the education I think we get in South Australia, and in Australia more generally, is world class and second to none.

Anyway, did all that. Having met Melinda and her falling in love with me and me having fallen in love with her - she had three kids from her first marriage, so she wasn't going anywhere - so it was choose wife or choose Air Force. I was thinking about what sort of job I was going to do, and I was talking to one of my professors after I graduated. I sort of kept in contact with several of them and still do. I said, 'Look, I'm an Air Force pilot, I'm a test pilot. Which company in Adelaide is going to have the great good fortune to employ me?' He said, 'No-one's going to give you a job.' And I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'All you're capable of doing is dropping bombs on people and shooting aeroplanes out of the sky.' I said, 'Right, thanks.'

I'd done an entrepreneurship course with him. That's another interesting story. But at the end of the course, I'd done it because of one of my study groups had said, 'We should go and do this.' And I said, 'Sure, what sort of ...

Christina Hagger: 05:24
This was through the MBA?

Jim Whalley: 05:26
Yeah, through the MBA. I said to them, 'What's entrepreneurship and how do you spell it?' They said, 'Don't worry, just come and do it with us.' So we did, and the first assignment had been a group assignment and we came up with some great idea about sticking large frozen tubes up the bums of tuna to get them to market in Japan. But the second assignment was an individual assignment. And I went to my professor at the end of it and said, 'Look, I'm in an Air Force uniform as you can see. I'm going to be the Chief of the Air Force one day. Could I just have another Harvard Business School case study because I'm only here because my friends are here. I'm not really an entrepreneur.' And he said, 'No, Jim. I want you to think of something.' I came back the next week and I said, 'Look, professor, I've been trying my hardest, but I still can't think of anything. Just give me another Harvard Business School case study.' He said, 'Jim, you don't get it. It's an entrepreneurship course. Think of a business or fail.' So, I sort of realised that maybe I need to be a little less thick and I wrote a business plan about a company that was providing independent engineering services to defence ..

Christina Hagger: 06:24
And this, I believe, then became the start of Nova ..

Jim Whalley: 06:27
.. of Nova Systems.

Christina Hagger: 06:27
Which you've based in Adelaide.

Jim Whalley: 06:27
Yes. Headquartered here.

Christina Hagger: 06:32
And Nova Systems, if you can encapsulate that whole massive business into..

Jim Whalley: 06:38
A few words. Okay, so, we've got a work force approaching about 700 now. We operate companies in the UK, in Ireland, in Norway, in Singapore, in New Zealand. We have people in Europe, we have people in the US.

Christina Hagger: 06:52
And this is all from an Adelaide HQ?

Jim Whalley: 06:53
All from Adelaide HQ, with offices all over Australia obviously and the rest of the world. Basically we're Australia's largest privately owned defence company. So, despite the incompetence of senior management, the company has done reasonably well.

Christina Hagger: 07:07
I think senior management's done a very good job. So, from there, that background, test pilot, jet fighter and entrepreneur with your own business and MBA, the leap to Chief Entrepreneur?

Jim Whalley: 07:20
Entirely accidental.

Christina Hagger: 07:22
You have referred to yourself as an accidental entrepreneur.

Jim Whalley: 07:25
I am an accidental entrepreneur. It's a good definition. I'm accidentally an entrepreneur because I met an Adelaide girl and I needed a job, not because I wanted to start a business. Now, having said that it worked out reasonably well in the end. All my compatriots who are now at that level of the Air Force, I'm sure will make much better Chiefs of Air Force than I ever would.

It was an accident for me, but a very fortuitous one. I stepped down as CEO of Nova in 2016, mid-2016, and I actually said to the Chief Operating Officer, a guy named Greg Hume who was going to take over from me, I said, Greg, 'Do you want to take over and run the company?' - because I'm still the major shareholder. And he said 'Would love to.' And I said, 'Right, let's plan for you to do that in mid-2016. When you do that, I will leave the country just so people know you are running it and don't think I'm influencing things and I'll step down from the board.' And I did.

So I moved to France and we lived in Paris for six months, sent the kids to school there. It was a good age for them as well, to see something a little bit different. I stepped down from the Board of Nova, so Greg was able to stamp his mark on things. It was a very conscious decision to say to, not only Greg but to the next generation of people in the organisation, that - whilst it's a private company, it's not a family company, it's a meritocracy - I wasn't going to be there forever and that people had a career in the organisation and that they could be CEO of different parts of the business and CEO of the group if they wanted to in the future. I think that sent a really clear message that we want people that had aspirations and wanted careers and were ambitious. And it worked out very well.

Jim Whalley: 09:04
I'm pleased to say that the year I left, we were turning over just under $100 million in mid-2016 and Greg, under his leadership will probably do about $240 million this year, we hope. So, that's been a really, really good decision. Anyway, I came back after six months. Came back and took on a role just doing a couple of days in the company a week - a bit of consulting, a little bit of test flying, a little bit of mentoring. 

I was talking to the Premier (Steven Marshall) in 2018, just after he'd been elected, and he was saying to me, 'Jim, I've got an idea about how we achieve some of the targets we're setting ourselves and increasing our GSP, Gross State Product, by 3 per cent. I think we're doing some really, really good things in technology, innovation and defence and things like space and all those sorts of things.' And I said, 'Premier, I totally agree.' But he said, 'We just don't seem to be able to get the economic benefit out of it.' Which I agreed with as well.

I think this is a problem we've had in Australia and specifically in South Australia that we do some really, really great innovation, some really good technology, but we don't get the commercial returns from it. Part of that conversation was about the fact that innovation plus commercialisation, in very simple terms, equals entrepreneurship. If we're going to create jobs, if we're going to create great companies and if we're going to get economic benefit, we need to be using those innovations and turning them into companies and commercial reality. That was what entrepreneurship was all about.

Christina Hagger: 10:40
And that's where your background slots in perfectly.

Jim Whalley: 10:42
Yeah. Well, to a good degree, I guess. Yes. That was the beginning of the role as Chief Entrepreneur. There was an office of the South Australian Chief Entrepreneur that was already created. We've got a really, really good team. We work in the Department for Innovation and Skills, in DIS, with Minister David Pisoni, who again is a really, really great supporter and obviously great support from the Premier as well.

We've grown from there. We've developed strategies about how we're going to increase entrepreneurship in the state. The great thing is that we're already on the way. There are global scales for South Australia, for Entrepreneurial Cities and bits and pieces like that. We've jumped up several dozen rungs in many of those scales. I think we are getting real visibility of South Australia as a centre for entrepreneurship, not only across the nation but across the world.

I operate and still travel a lot overseas and what's really nice is people talking about Adelaide and South Australia and saying, 'Hey what's going on there? We hear all this stuff about space. You've got the Space Agency there, you've got Australian Institute of Machine Learning, you've got all these really, really great technology institutions and organisations and it sounds like there's some really interesting stuff going on there.' And there is, it's a really, really exciting time I think for the state.

Christina Hagger: 12:04
It is an exciting time and you're right about the recognition. I think I heard you tell the story of the student from New South Wales who said, 'Mum, I've got to leave Sydney.'

Jim Whalley: 12:16
Absolutely.

Christina Hagger: 12:16
Which would have gone across Sydney's usual view of the world, Sydney-centric somewhat, that I have to go to Adelaide because I want to be with space.

Jim Whalley: 12:26
One of the things I really love about space and I was involved with several others in bringing the International Astronautical Conference to Adelaide in 2017 and that's when we started pushing for the creation of the Australian Space Agency. Then when the creation of the agency was announced, then we started pushing towards having it located here in South Australia. The great thing about space is I think it is something that all kids are at one stage or another of their life interested in.

Christina Hagger: 12:56
It's our last frontier.

Jim Whalley: 12:57
Well it's our last frontier and it crosses gender. For some people, the high tech... I love defence, I love aeroplanes and all that, but not all people want to go into the military. There's some great technology there but some people might not be comfortable with service and defence and all sorts of things like that. And I understand that. But space is the great unifier. We all look up at the stars, we all dream about what would it be like to be there. I think in terms of just getting kids involved in STEM and particularly getting girls and boys involved in STEM. We still have an issue with, we've got to get more girls involved in STEM and into things like engineering. I think it's such a great motivator and such a great inspiration to help us achieve that.

Christina Hagger: 13:44
So space is important from an entrepreneurial perspective, but also from an educational perspective.

Jim Whalley: 13:51
Absolutely. And for all our other industries that rely on engineering. I am concerned that we've got the balance wrong in Australia, that we've lost emphasis on STEM.

Christina Hagger: 14:02
And STEM, of course...

Jim Whalley: 14:04
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I am worried that, we need a broad cross section of professionals. We need obviously doctors, we need accountants, we need lawyers, but we need engineers and scientists - because it's going to be the engineers and scientists that solve problems of global warming. They solve problems of security, they solve problems of water, they solve problems of food. They solve many of those problems that the world is being confronted with now. And I think if Australia is going to take a lead in many of those areas and many of those technologies and all sorts of things like that, we have to have a well educated population with skills in those STEM areas.

Christina Hagger: 14:42
STEM areas and the entrepreneurial mindset.

Jim Whalley: 14:45
To actually commercialise them as well. So we need both.

Christina Hagger: 14:48
And also perhaps the social skills to connect?

Jim Whalley: 14:51
Yeah. I think that's an important part of it. There are jokes about engineers, like 'How do you tell a extroverted engineer? 'And it's because he'll look at the other person's shoes. We have those challenges. And I was one of those people. I know people have never heard of a shy fighter pilot, but before I was a fighter pilot, I was quite shy and was very technically focused. I was a super nerd. My favourite shows even nowadays are 'Big Bang Theory' and 'Star Trek'. We need to get people who've got a bit of entrepreneurial spirit together. We've got to commercialise ideas, we've got to create networks and organisations and that needs social skills and that needs leadership and all those sorts of things. And that's what we are trying to create. 

It's one of the strengths of Adelaide as a small city. That strength is that we're big enough that you can get stuff done and that you can get something built or designed or do something like that, but it's also small enough that it is one or two degrees of separation. We should be able to get together and meet people and do things. One of the things that surprised me when I got in the job, and I regard myself as reasonably well connected around Adelaide and I get out and about and meet lots of people, which I really, really enjoy. But one of the things that surprised me is when I was talking to some of these companies that are starting up and doing some really world-class stuff with world class technologies, with all sorts of stuff - that their connections are not as great as they should be and 500 metres down the road is a potential customer they don't know about, a kilometre that way is a potential collaborator they don't know about, 300 meters that way is a potential supplier  they don't know about it.

So I think a lot of this is we've got to get the networks together. We've got to get people mixing and being inspired by each other and feeling there's a comfort zone, because being an entrepreneur is lonely. When you start a business it's actually pretty lonely. I was really fortunate in the support I got from my wife Melinda, who had been in business herself and she dragged me through a lot of the hard things, and my business partner Pete Nikoloff. We had our own little support network, but for a lot of entrepreneurs there is no one and I think when you're doing that job, just having people who are like minded who are going through the same challenges is a really, really positive thing. And that's why we're doing things like Lot Fourteen. It's why we've got things like Tonsley, other places, whether it's in Whyalla or Mount Gambier or whatever, that are where people can go and talk and commercialise and do great things.

Christina Hagger: 17:19
I think you've also mentioned that having some of the best best beer and wine in Australia doesn't hurt.

Jim Whalley: 17:24
One of the things that will be going into the entrepreneurship and innovation centre will be a brewery. I don't think you can socialise without some sort of social lubricant.

Christina Hagger: 17:33
Tell us about that centre.

Jim Whalley: 17:34
Sure. So Lot Fourteen, seven hectares in the middle of the CBD will arguably be ..

Christina Hagger: 17:38
The old RAH (Royal Adelaide Hospital).

Jim Whalley: 17:39
The old RAH site, on the corner of North Terrace and Frome Road, right next to Botanic Gardens. Prime bit of real estate. Beautiful, beautiful piece of real estate. Literally 200 meters from we are here. Will arguably be the largest entrepreneurial neighbourhood in the southern hemisphere and the government through state government, Premier Marshall, through some funding from the City's Deal, half a billion dollars going into the development of that site to make it I think probably the major entrepreneurial precinct in Australia, or neighbourhood in Australia, and as I say, arguably the largest entrepreneurial neighbourhood in the southern hemisphere. Part of a larger entrepreneurial ecosystem, which covers the whole state and my responsibility goes all over the state from Ceduna to Mount Gambier to Coober Pedy. We want the regions involved in all this sort of stuff. And I sit, for example-

Christina Hagger: 18:28
So, you're talking serious connectivity.

Jim Whalley: 18:30 
Absolutely, absolutely. Serious opportunity, too. Serious opportunity. When you talk about space, people say, 'Oh, space, it's just putting stuff up there.' But it's not, it's also, it's agtech. A lot of the agtech innovation is based on space technologies. Whether it's satellite navigation, whether it's timing, whether it's communication systems.

We've already got some great stories of South Australian companies, for example, like Myriota, like Fleet, like Inovor who are building satellites, and they are building satellites that are going to specifically support things like agriculture, forestry - using communication systems that are very economical, that will allow people to use whole lots of centres. This is the whole Internet of Things thing.

So a farmer for example, instead of having to jump on a motorbike or a car and drive four hours to check the water level in a tank where cattle or sheep are, literally will just get an activation on his smartphone saying the water level is going down or it's right where it needs to be. Because there'll be a little, very, very cheap sensor that's going to send a signal to a low earth orbit satellite with very cheap communications data and say 'Hey, water levels are all good. Sleep in this morning.'

Christina Hagger: 19:48
And I guess probably the fires?

Jim Whalley: 19:52
Absolutely. It's those natural disasters where the communications, where the ability, for example, to use thermal imaging from space to see where there are hot spots and potential areas that could cause more fires are going to be applicable. It's also, every one of us is using space in one way or another. I'm sure we've all got a smartphone. How many of you have used Google maps to navigate your way around? For those people, for example, using the Alert SA map in the fires, you are using space because the GPS in your phone, it's giving you a location telling you there is a fire 500 meters away and you need to get out. That is saving people's lives.

Transcript - part 2

Christina Hagger: 20:31
We still though need to strengthen community awareness, don't we, of entrepreneurship?

Jim Whalley: 20:35
You know we've got a strategy called FIXE, which is Future Industries Exchange for Entrepreneurs and there's four components to that strategy and they are to inspire, equip, enable and celebrate. The inspire stuff is just getting people thinking about it. We don't have a strong history of entrepreneurship in Australia. We have a strong history of innovation but people that are in business tend to keep a bit of a lower profile.

Christina Hagger: 20:57
The innovation's coming up with a good idea.

Jim Whalley: 20:59
Yeah.

Christina Hagger: 20:59
The entrepreneurship is commercialising and bringing bucks back to Adelaide and the state.

Jim Whalley: 21:04
Absolutely. And then putting those bucks back into new innovations and new ideas. So hopefully it becomes-

Christina Hagger: 21:09
Onward and upward.

Jim Whalley: 21:10
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. World domination.

Christina Hagger: 21:13
We'll get there.

Jim Whalley: 21:14
We'll get back to world domination in a moment. So the inspired part, the equip is making sure that they've got the skills. The innovator, whether it's a young kid who's developed a program to help her mates with some homework, who might be giving it out thinking, 'How about I charge 50 cents a piece and if I get that 50 cents a pace, I might be able to afford to put that on the App Store or do this or do a bit more development.' So, doing it from kids literally in primary school. It could be your typical Masters' PhD out of one of the universities in biotech or engineering that's come up with a really good idea or development and getting them the skills to go and commercialise it. Or it could be a retired welder from ASC who's decided that, I really loved making stuff and I'm going to make the world's best barbecues and export them from Adelaide. bBut those people might have been working in an environment where they don't know about business. They don't know how to run a business plan. They don't know..

Christina Hagger: 22:08
So, how do they plug into what you're offering?

Jim Whalley: 22:10
They ring our office and they get involved and they come and see, and we run seminars and we say, 'Right, for that young primary school kid, we're going to actually talk to your parents and say, 'Hey, one of our five entrepreneurial high schools, how about we start targeting you at going into one of those entrepreneurial high schools.' So we start to develop that passion.

Christina Hagger: 22:27
So you're infinitely accessible.

Jim Whalley: 22:28
Absolutely, we are. We've got an office of ten and we are all about facilitating. We've got some money to help support stuff but what we are about doing is networking and putting people with the right people and the right connections.

So, if it's the welder from ASC, we might say, 'Hey, you know what, there's some really, really good courses, short courses at University of South Australia or University of Adelaide or Flinders or TAFE on starting up a business. There might be some local government organisations that are doing stuff. Go and talk to these guys and girls and see if they can help you with a short course about helping to write a business plan.' Maybe setting someone up with a mentor or someone that's been in business and just connecting people so that they can turn that passion, that great idea into a commercial outcome.

For the people that have got a Masters' or PhD, maybe it's go and do an MBA. Maybe it's go and do a short course overseas or somewhere else. These are the sorts of things you want to do. So equipping them with the skills, the enabled parties, just making sure we've got the environment. The environment is a positive political environment. It's really nice to say that I deal across politics, and what I've been really, really proud of as a South Australian is that, on the Labor side of politics I've got a lot of support and I think they're positive about what we're trying to do. I've got obviously good support on the Liberal side of politics and I hope across the board we can create an organisation that is valued across the political spectrum. So it's business and entrepreneurship contributing economically, but also contributing to the community.

But the other part of it is, as I say, and this goes back to the whole concept of how do we make entrepreneurship more accessible and more acceptable, and to have an engagement and support from the community. Because I think largely Australians can be a little bit suspicious about people making money or in business, but we want that entrepreneurship to engage with the community. We want people, as part of their businesses that they're starting, to have elements of social responsibility - to think about sustainability, to think about impact, to think about what is the positive effect I can have on the community? And I think if we build that and that becomes a South Australian and an Australian form of entrepreneurship, I think the community will support us.

Christina Hagger: 24:47
It's our own South Australian brand of entrepreneurship.

Jim Whalley: 24:49
I hope so. Yeah. That's certainly what we're trying to do.

Christina Hagger: 24:50
It's not just about self. It's about feeding back into community.

Jim Whalley: 24:54
Absolutely. Absolutely. And for our kids and for our generation. We'll go back to space for example. If we build some great space companies, for example, my son Oscar who might want to go and be involved in space at one stage is not going to come to me at the end of his degree and say, 'Dad, oh look, I really want to get involved in some space stuff. I'll think I'll probably have to move to the United States or move to Europe.' It'll be like, 'Hey, guess what dad? There's a whole lot of stuff going on here. I'm going to stay right here in Adelaide and build a global company or be part of a global organisation that lives in and works in Adelaide and South Australia more generally.'

Christina Hagger: 25:27
It's a very captivating picture. Before I get you onto world domination, can I spin you back to something of, do we need to be a bit more desperate? Because the other story you had, which is a wonderful story of, I think it was your father?

Jim Whalley: 25:42
Yeah.

Christina Hagger: 25:43
That nobody innovates in paradise.

Jim Whalley: 25:46
So it's a really interesting story because I think it's a really good story of Australian innovation and what we can do when we are required to. December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Australia had no fighters. We had P-40 Kitty Hawks on order from the Americans and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, not unreasonably, the Americans say, 'We're really sorry, but we need those aircraft.'

Christina Hagger: 26:06
We had nothing that could fly?

Jim Whalley: 26:08
We had training aircraft, we did not have any fighter aircraft. And the Japanese were coming down the Malay Peninsula and into New Guinea and Australia was really under threat. Singapore fell. Things were not looking good. So December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Australian Government went to the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, based at Fisherman's Bend in Victoria, and said, 'Hey, we need a fighter. Can you do anything?' And they said, 'Oh, we don't know.' And they said, 'Well, think about it quickly.' And they met in January of 1942, literally four weeks later. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation said, 'Look, we think we can do something. We've got this engine that we're building under license. Pratt & Whitney, large 27 litre radial engine. So,we've got an engine, but we think we can design something and build it.' And the Commonwealth said, 'Go ahead.' The government said 'Go ahead' and they did.

Basically that aircraft flew in May of 1942. So, From 'build a fighter' to first flight was less than five months. Now, if you're a student of Industrial History, there were probably less than a dozen nations in the world who could design a fighter aircraft, possibly build it. To do it in that sort of time - and we were a colony of the United Kingdom, a bit of an a colonial outpost - and when we were faced with a real existential threat to our existence, we stepped up and we did something that was absolutely incredible.

In the context of its time, it was like building a satellite or a space shuttle. We had that technical know-how, we had that organisational know-how. This is one of the problems we have, is we don't have any really significant Australian engineering and technology companies anymore. We had that capability. We were the fourth nation in the world to put a satellite into orbit in 1967. All that know-how, all that expertise, I think has - not all disappeared - but a lot of it's gone. I believe we need to take back our place as a technology leader in the world. I think things like the Space Agency, I hope, are the start of that resurgence and the start of us getting our rightful place back.

Christina Hagger: 28:14
Which is a perfect segue. Thank you so much. Because one of the often quoted phrases is, 'You're out for world domination to change the world' How do we do it?

Jim Whalley: 28:24
Nova Systems, my organisation... I'm not sure we put it on the website, but if you talk to anyone who works with me in Nova, we use the term 'world domination'. Whilst it's half joking, it's half serious as well. My view is that we should be creating great Australian technology companies to not only solve our own problems but to solve other nation's problems. Achieving world domination will allow us to basically... When I say world domination, getting to that global level of leadership in technology and engineering and science and all those sorts of things and solving those problems, I think will help Australia be seen as a serious player, global player in the world, more than we are now. I think it will allow us to do serious good in the world. And I think it will allow Australians to be very, very proud and even more proud of their nation and what we do, and to look after Australia's national interests, and maintain our sovereign capabilities and to maintain and improve the lifestyle for us and for our children and hopefully have a positive impact on the rest of the world.

Christina Hagger: 29:35
So we've got the political will. How do we attract more funds here? I mean, how do we open up some of the Adelaide bank accounts?

Jim Whalley: 29:42
Sure. Really good question. Entrepreneurship, innovation plus commercialisation equals entrepreneurship. And the other thing that we need is cash and money. So we've got to build a really strong investment community. That's a large piece of the work we're doing at the moment. 

As an example, Australia has about $2.3 trillion in superannuation and I think we're in the top four superannuation pension funds in the world, far above where we exist in terms of population or GDP rating. I think some of that money... Not all of it, that's there to look after people's pensions. But I'd like to see some of that money going into the startup community, going into scaling businesses up and growing those businesses. If you go to places like the US, if you go to places like Europe, there are significant funds available for companies to start up and grow. In South Australia particularly we have a real issue, because a lot of that wealth and a lot of those funds are concentrated on the East Coast and particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.

Now, South Australia was founded on a basis of entrepreneurship. We are, have been a very, very wealthy state and there are some wealthy institutions, there are wealthy families in South Australia and I'd like to see many of those institutions and those families looking in their own backyard and saying, 'Hey, this money I need to get a positive return on, obviously, but if I've got a choice of a 6 per cent return from something that's in the US or Asia or Europe or I can get a 6 per cent return from my own state at the same sort of risk level, how about I choose my own state and support business and entrepreneurial-ism in our state and maybe give my kids a future here.'

Christina Hagger: 31:38
Sounds excellent. Where do people find that financial front door?

Jim Whalley: 31:42
The financial front door is through our office in parts. We'll put people towards, whether it's the South Australian venture capital fund, we can put them in contact with some of the banks who are looking at business loans. We've got a research commercialisation and startup fund, which has got about $28 million which will help a company start up if they've got some ideas and companies that need some support to go and do some other things. There is some funds available there. We are getting VC, venture capital, we're getting private equity. We're trying to get them in to South Australia to start looking at opportunities and building an investment industry here.

There's two things that'll happen here and I want that industry to have a global outlook. So, I want venture capital firms based in South Australia to be looking out at investment opportunities, not only in South Australia but in the East Coast, overseas and all that sort of stuff - and by raising the quality of those investment firms, whether it's venture capital, whether it's private equity, etc I think that will raise the level and skill of our entrepreneurs because they will be exposed to world-class investment strategies and that will help lift their game-

Christina Hagger: 32:48
And their opportunities.

Jim Whalley: 32:49
And this is part of the reason, for example. We've got the five entrepreneurial high schools. Along with that, we're also rolling out entrepreneurial programs within the school system here, across the Catholic schools, across the government schools, across the private schools. Including in state subjects, elements of entrepreneurship within business courses and, and other areas like that.

Christina Hagger: 33:11
You're changing the fabric of the city.

Jim Whalley: 33:13
Well, we're trying to. We're trying to change the fabric of South Australia. This goes across the board. Now, Adelaide is a big part of that because we've got 1.8 million odd people in the state. We've got 1.4 million in Adelaide. This will be a significant part of it. But yeah, I guess we are.

South Australia is fantastic. I've just been over on the York Peninsula for a week, for my holidays. It's one of the most beautiful places in the world down there. But Adelaide, we're regularly on the top 10 most liveable cities in the world along with a few other Australian cities as well. I travel all over the place internationally. I think we live in the best small city in the world. We've got great wine, we've got great food. We've got arts, we've got the Adelaide Festival, we've got the Adelaide Fringe, we've got WOMAdelaide, we've got a whole lot of other things. You can have a coastal lifestyle, you can have a suburban lifestyle with a house with a decent sized garden. You can have a city apartment lifestyle. You can live in the Adelaide Hills. I live in the Adelaide Hills on a property with some sheep and some cattle and it takes me... I drove down to work at Lot Fourteen this morning. It took me 23 minutes to get from Crafers where I live.

Christina Hagger: 34:25
Longer than it would have taken you to fly from Melbourne to do the flypass at the Grand Prix.

Jim Whalley: 34:32
Absolutely. Well not quite, it was about the same time. We have got such a great opportunity here. We're accessible. To get to the airport is easy. Life is good and for people in technology, we've got great institutions. You can have a lifestyle here in this city and in this state that is second to none and it will not cost you what it costs to live in Melbourne or live in Sydney. If you're going to get the same equivalent of housing, for example in Sydney, you're going to have to live probably about two hours from the middle of the CBD.

Christina Hagger: 35:02
And that's an unhealthy commute twice a day.

Jim Whalley: 35:05
It is an unhealthy commute. It's a waste of your time and it's unpleasant. And you're just like, 'How good is it here?'

Christina Hagger: 35:10
Two last questions.

Jim Whalley: 35:11
Sure.

Christina Hagger: 35:11
First one is you've also said it's very important to give people a safe space to fail.

Jim Whalley: 35:16
Absolutely.

Christina Hagger: 35:17
How do they do that? Because entrepreneurship is not easy. It's not linear and it's lonely. How does your office help that?

Jim Whalley: 35:27
Number one is, I talked before about creating a safe space and a place where people are encouraged. Being with other entrepreneurs and seeing other entrepreneurs make mistakes and feeling you're not the only one there, I think is part of it.

When we talk about failure, I prefer to talk about having a go. I use a bit of a, I'll call this a flight test analogy, but - when you are testing a new aeroplane or testing a new piece of equipment, failure is dying. Prefer not to do that. You want to test things and experiment and learn from different things and improve as you do it. I want to create a space where people feel that they can experiment. They don't have to succeed, but learn from their mistakes and not have them be fatal mistakes.

It's a safe place to have a go and it's like the old Edison saying that, 'I've never failed, I've just tried 10,000 ways it didn't work.' And I think we've got to create that sort of attitude. Creating success is about experimentation, and it's trying different things and hoping they work and when they don't work it's like, 'All right, what did I learn from that? How can I do a bit better?' That's true of test flying an aeroplane. It's true of test flying a business.

When I started my own organisation, it literally was, 'Right. I'm a test pilot, and I'm going to run this like a test pilot. This is going to be an experiment. I don't know a lot about it, but we're going to go off in the wild blue yonder and see what we can learn.'

Christina Hagger: 36:49
And you didn't have the entrepreneurial office behind you. But others now do.

Jim Whalley: 36:52
I didn't. And it's even easier now. The great part is, all those entrepreneurs in South Australia will be able to come up with people like Jim Whalley and others and say, 'Tell us all about your screw ups.' We can tell them about them and say, 'Don't make the same mistakes I made.' That's the old wisdom versus experience. Experience is learning from your own mistake and wisdom is learning from the mistakes or screw ups of others. We're here.

Christina Hagger: 37:14
And we all need both. And we've got you. What's in the new decade for Jim Whalley?

Jim Whalley: 37:19
I don't know. I've got another year in this job. Hopefully I won't be sacked for incompetence. There's lots of exciting things. I sit on a few boards. I'm on the Board of the Adelaide Festival. I'm on the Council of Uni SA - which I love doing. I'm on the Board of Australian Naval infrastructure.

I sit on a thing called the Sir Ross and Keith Smith Foundation. We've just had the hundredth anniversary of Sir Ross and Keith Smith flying from London to Australia, which is in itself a great South Australian achievement. Great example of South Australian risk taking, entrepreneurship, spirit...

Christina Hagger: 37:53
Spirit of can do.

Jim Whalley: 37:55
Just a fabulous, fabulous story. We've got other people like Sir Hubert Wilkins, which many of you have probably not heard of, but what can I say?

Christina Hagger: 38:02
I'm a huge fan.

Jim Whalley: 38:03
Yeah? Sir Hubert Wilkins, absolute legend. I think we've got some anniversaries coming up with Sir Hubert Wilkins this year as well.

Christina Hagger: 38:09
Well the museum are making more of him now, rather than just Mawson.

Jim Whalley: 38:12
Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. So, Wilkins was, again, an absolute... If you wrote a book about it, you'd assume it was fiction because of the stories, but it's all true. In my own organisation, we actually have the Wilkins Room as our main boardroom. A great Australian, great South Australian hero and entrepreneur.

So, I think I'm looking forward to continuing to contribute to the state. South Australia has been enormously good to me. As a foreigner, I feel even more grateful for that acceptance and I hope I can continue to contribute and help make South Australia great and do fabulous things and create a great legacy for our kids and future generations.

Christina Hagger: 38:57
That's wonderful. Thank you very much.

Jim Whalley: 38:59
Great to be here. Thank you.

Voiceover: 39:01
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