Susan Wilson

Director

Susan has a recognised profile building national innovation capacity and capability from organisational to ecosystem levels, leveraging insights from a public and private sector career across industry, government and research.

Building on an international, cross-functional executive career in start-up to multinational companies across the agri-food, health, biotechnology and manufacturing sectors, her work has extended across academia, Federal and International Government portfolios in governance and C-suite operations; building innovation capability in precinct development, strategic commercial partnerships, workforce skills, commercialisation, entrepreneurialism, trade and investment.

Her governance and advisory appointments have spanned statutory authorities, public unlisted, private and NFP companies. Highlights include oversight of the $10B Federal Government Innovation portfolio and the National Innovation & Science Agenda as a founding NED of Innovation & Science Australia, Agrifutures Australia Emerging Industries Panel, the Deakin University Institute for Frontier Materials board, Start-Up Muster, Innovation & Business Skills Australia and the Central Coast Medical Precinct Taskforce. She is the Founder & Managing Director of her 5th career start-up, corporate design thinking consultancy Bounce Partners.

Susan holds qualifications in Science (Macquarie; Biotechnology), Business Administration (MBA, Macquarie Graduate School of Management; Strategy & Marketing), Design Thinking (IDEO) and corporate governance (Australian Institute of Company Directors). Her interests include innovation governance, innovation culture and the future of work.

What boards do you currently sit on?

Innovation & Business Skills Australia, Australian Training Products and Advisory Boards – Start up Muster and Agrifutures Australia Emerging Industries Panel (Deputy Chair).

When and why did you decide to become a director?

It wasn’t part of the career plan until I saw an advertised opportunity to join the board of a Federal Government statutory authority, Innovation Australia, in 2013. It was an amazing fit for my diverse experience and served a purpose that I was passionate about. I just decided to put my hand up and try.

What are your short and medium-term board aspirations?

I want to keep building my board skills through more experience on private entity boards, particularly ASX - listed and pre-IPO boards. I am also interested in deep tech companies, be they start-up or scale-up entities.

Outline your career background.

It’s a diverse mix of industry, research and government experience. It’s international; working for offshore governments and multinational companies serving European, Asian, Pacific and North American markets. And also multisector and cross functional. To me, my career has been about getting exposure to as much experience as I can, within the scope of a defined interest in innovation and facilitating economic growth and development, be that at a company or a wider system level.

Touch on the challenges and hurdles that have presented themselves, either being on or getting onto a board, and how you overcame them?

Well, I don’t think I’m your typical story – I was fortunate to be appointed to the first board role I applied for. But, I did find building on that first NED success to be challenging – it’s a very competitive scene and it’s not always clear what nomination committees and chairs are looking for, despite the background research done to prepare. I would say that my prospects really improved once I undertook formal governance qualifications – it demonstrated my commitment to building a board career and gave me more confidence in my decision making as a board director. Networking and perseverance are also really important. 

Are there any directors/leaders you look up to? Why?

Gail Kelly and Catherine Livingstone – remarkable success stories from careers forged in times when diversity wasn’t discussed. True trailblazers for the women that have followed. Oh, and am quite pleased that we now have Ita at the helm of the ABC.

Have you had mentors and sponsors and how have they helped you in your career? 

Yes, there have been a couple – both female, both amazing women with stellar careers – but in a way, I wish there had been more – both male and female. I don’t know if that was because of generational or other factors, but because of the difficulty in navigating through my career without always having someone around who encouraged, coached and helped open opportunities, I’ve made it my mission to do that for others. I’ve been mentoring senior execs since 1999. It’s also particularly important to do this in our regional areas, which I currently undertake with amazing female talent in the Central Coast and Hunter regions, NSW.

What is the diversity (gender & other) like on your boards?  If you sit on a mix of diverse and non-diverse boards, what differences have you noticed? 

It’s improving. Most boards I sit on are nearly equal, or equal in gender mix. However, there’s still a job to do to elevate more women into chair roles. Like they say, it’s a journey of change – but we’re certainly on it. 

How did WOB help you in your journey to the boardroom?

WOB have been really accessible and great with advice around making the transition to a board career and with individual advice around applying for specific board roles.  It’s a terrific service and a membership that I highly value.

Any tips for women starting out in their career?

Seek new and broadening career experiences regularly, be open to all new opportunities and put your hand up even when you don’t think you can tick all the boxes!