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Nigel Whitehead at  the AFR Innovation Summit

Global Chief Technology Officer
At the AFR innovation Summit, 29 July 2019, Nigel Whitehead, Chief Technology Officer BAE Systems plc, delivered a keynote speech on ‘the innovation bottom line’.
Thanks for the invitation, I am delighted to be here.
 
Australia has played a major part in my professional and family life. I left Sweden in December 1997 where it was -36 degrees to come to Adelaide with my family where it was +36 degrees.
 
We lived in Australia for 3.5 years, a year in Adelaide and the rest in Newcastle NSW. We toured every state and territory in our spare time. 
 
I was responsible for the development and the build and support of the advanced jet trainer aircraft for the RAAF called the Hawk Lead-in Fighter. We assembled 21 Aircraft of the 33 aircraft in Australia.
 
We built a new factory and maintenance facility at the Newcastle Airport site.  We built an Australian team to assemble and support the aircraft in-service.
 
20 years later, the facility has doubled in size and has continued in its role supporting the RAAF including its new fleet of F-35’s.
 
My daughters became ‘true-blue Aussies’ and to this day support Australia in the Olympics. They benefitted from the Australian education system and the Australian life-style. They learned about the traditional owners and the pines of the Wollemi but not the Tudors and Stewarts. It did them a whole lot of good.
 
Today, I am the Chief Technology Officer at BAE Systems with responsibility for our future technology across this major defence, aerospace and security Company. I also run our engineering, manufacturing and support functions, project management and information management too.
 
The challenge is to understand our context and to innovate if we are to survive and thrive.
 
Those of us who work in Defence are forced to recognise that our Companies only exist if we can offer our customers a decisive advantage – a winning edge for our armed forces.
 
This is the bottom line. This is what delivers strategic advantage to the customer, and hence commercial advantage to the company, and the right returns for shareholders.
 
In doing so it provides our employees with interesting and rewarding work.
 
All three of these stakeholders are critical to ensuring a successful and sustainable business.
 
The history of battle is defined by technological advances:
  • THE LONG-BOW
  • THE MACHINE GUN 
  • THE TANK
  • THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER
  • THE VERTICAL TAKE-OFF FIGHTER AIRCRAFT AND SO ON
No hard set of rules - but here is a recipe that works for us. All of this sounds obvious but it requires great discipline.It starts with recruitment and development of right type of people. Early careers – selection criteria. 
 
Typhoon virtual reality
  • Create the imperative and the spaceClear view of the problem to be solved
  • Develop a vision of the solution
  • Time-bound
  • Bounded Funding Skilled people
  • Multi-functional teams
  • Resourced Development facilitiesInspirational and organised Leaders
  • Collaboration and partnerships we work with our suppliers and partners as part of the team (Providers of powerplant, sensors, manufacturing equipment)
  • Our customers are also part of our most innovative teams 
  • Try stuff – fail fast and fail cheap – succeed and accelerate
  • Reinforce – Company values, TI&B, Chairman’s awards, internal and external communications – part of our DNA
NULKA 
(an active missile decoy that hovers close to a ship and distracts and seduces incoming enemy missiles) 
 
OUR UNMANNED RIGID INFLATABLE BOAT 
(a fast patrol craft – this one is armed)
 
HUNTER CLASS 
(the recently selected choice for the Royal Australian Navy to replace the Anzac- class frigates)
 
HIGH FREQUENCY SURVEILLANCE / JORN 
Jindalee Operational Radar Network
 
THE F-35 
New combat aircraft capability recently introduced into Australian service. 
 
Behind the obvious product innovation, there are always infrastructure and process and people investments.
 
The technology choices that support these changes are also critical for business success.
 
We work constantly to establish new work environments and new approaches to meet performance, cost and schedule imperatives.
 
We can’t just expect innovation to happen – occasionally it does, but to achieve the benefit at a scale that is valuable to the Nation, it has to be seeded and nurtured at a National scale.
 
I know from first-hand experience that the Australian education system is robust and that the Australian workforce is hard working and smart.
 
Australia has a great track record in innovation:
 
  •  Plastic banknotes – we can now take our money everywhere, including the bath
  •  Seatbelts for cars
  •  WiFi
 And in the medical world,
  •  Cochlear implants
  •  The ultrasound scanner
  •  Pacemakers for hearts
Great inventors,
  •  David Unaipon – perpetual motion
  •  David Warren – black box flight recorder 
But I have to ask, has Australia really harvested the credit or full economic value of that innovation throughout the decades?
 
Equally – some stellar start-ups – Atlassian being a great example.
 
There is potential for a whole lot more.
 
For all of us, it may be uncomfortable to let go of the current ways of doing things but business and Industry can show the way and take that leap.
 
The business climate for this to be a success needs to be actively shaped and managed.
 
The education system, Schools, TAFE, Universities, and training providers must work with Industry to match supply to demand and anticipated need.
  •  The infrastructure – communications and transport are key enablers
  •  and the business conditions, largely set by government, also have to be right – tax structures and levels together with incentives do indeed drive business responses  - positive and negative.
Australia has a sound economic platform from which to build its future economic success.
 
I think that it is most likely to be healthy if it is based on the wholesome model of investment in science and engineering and the creation of a skilled and ambitious workforce –
 
These are the key ingredients for innovation and the basis for increased productive output and continued economic success in these most challenging times.
 
Thank you.
  
BAE Systems Australia Ca...