AFR Magazine’s hotly anticipated Power issue, out on Friday, October 2, includes lists of the key players across six industry sectors. Here are Australia’s five most powerful people in technology.
Dizzying valuations and fresh-faced billionaires are just the start of the growing power of Australia’s tech titans. COVID-19-era appetite for digital transformation has seen private investors scramble to get on board the runaway success at Canva, while public money has poured into Afterpay as it crashed through a $25 billion valuation with a 97 per cent annual revenue rise.
All the while Australia’s standout tech star Atlassian has motored on, as the world looks to its experts to keep business rolling amid chaos. Atlassian’s co-founders, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, become more statesmanlike with every passing year.
Meanwhile the power of tech leaders rises as it becomes more obvious that it is tech prowess that offers the most feasible chance of jobs and GDP growth once the world emerges from survival mode.
Aside from all that, the global tech realm has become a virtual battleground for US-China tensions, and regulators have gotten really serious about curtailing the market dominance of the prevailing online platforms – Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook.
1. Mike Cannon-Brookes & Scott Farquhar
At times it seems like the co-founders and co-CEOs of Atlassian are the local technology sector. Aside from the unique achievement of running a global tech empire from Australia, and increasing its value notably throughout the pandemic to $US42.8 billion, the pair are at the forefront of almost every effort to boost the local industry and fund the next generation of companies.
Cannon-Brookes’ Grok Ventures and Farquhar’s Skip Capital have invested prolifically in new start-ups throughout the year, and Cannon-Brookes was named as chairman of one of Australia’s largest VC funds, Blackbird Ventures. The pair also signed off on a landmark office tower development in Sydney, which – as the world’s tallest hybrid timber building – will become one of the city’s most recognisable constructions.
Cannon-Brookes has said the new building will still be needed despite Atlassian instituting a new policy allowing its staff to work from anywhere in the world permanently.
2. Melanie Perkins
Private company valuations don’t come any more eye-watering than the $8.7 billion on Perkins’ eight-year-old design software platform Canva, but her escalating wealth is not what makes her so influential. Perkins’ continuing success is effectively bankrolling the next wave of tech dreamers.
In 2020 the status of Canva and Perkins has been cemented as the figurehead of the current wave of local start-ups. After Perkins’ company closed a fresh $87.2 million funding round in June, it became clear that her success had effectively guaranteed that the nascent local venture capital funds could class themselves as successes and keep on raising.
At Blackbird Ventures, for example, its initial $3 million investment in Canva from its first $29 million fund is now worth more than $200 million. Its valuation has paid back the whole fund more than six times over with just one investment.
3. Sam Sicilia
The Hostplus chief investment officer is the most influential figure behind the scenes in the tech sector.
Hostplus, under Sicilia’s influence, has become the most significant backer of start-ups in Australia, having committed $1.7 billion to venture capital companies, with money also flowing to eight other funds including Square Peg, Blackbird Ventures, AirTree Ventures and Carthona Capital.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, VCs have managed to close huge new funds with the backing of institutional money. At Square Peg, Sicilia made Hostplus the biggest investor in a new $350 million raise, and his ongoing advocacy of using super-fund money to back risky start-ups has encouraged other funds to loosen their purse strings.
4. Rod Sims
As chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Sims has become one of the world’s most influential regulators as he attempts to mitigate the impact of global tech companies on media businesses and other unfortunate companies that cross their paths.
The release of his draft code of conduct to govern the relationship between Google, Facebook and Australian media companies drew international praise and elicited a response from Google that was so strong, it showed even the biggest companies fear the global ramifications of his ideas.
Sims’ influence will grow should his plan to tackle the likes of Google again on antitrust grounds be realised.
5. Melanie Silva
The managing director of Google Australia and New Zealand is in the process of ensuring that the government does not forget just how powerful Google is in shaping the online world.
Since the launch of the ACCC’s new media code of conduct to force Google and Facebook to pay for the news they display, Silva has not taken a backward step in her company’s corner, fighting against bipartisan political opposition and a media industry keen to extract as much as possible from its coffers.
Silva has threatened to curtail or restrict some of Google’s most popular free services – such as YouTube – if she does not get her way in negotiations over the new rules of engagement.
Paul Smith edits the technology section and has been a leading writer on the sector for almost 20 years. He covers big tech, how businesses are using technology, fast growing start-ups, telecommunications and n