Sliding door moments
Michelle is a talented business professional with an entrepreneurial spirit and a leadership skill for bringing people together to achieve the ‘aspirational state’. With over 25 years of international business experience, she has a passion for technology, people and change.
As Co-Founder and Executive Director at Intelledox - a Canberra-based global software vendor that enables the digitalisation of complex business processes - Michelle has worked on innovative technology transformation projects in countries all around the world.
As well as Co-Founding Intelledox, Michelle started a highly successful technology, communications and logistics company in 1998 – The Communication Link - working on behalf of corporate and government VIPs from around the world. This included arranging official government visits to Australia by Madeleine Albright (US Secretary of State) and William Cohen (US Secretary of Defense), and the management of various Sydney Olympic and Paralympic projects.
Michelle is a past winner in the Telstra and ACT Government’s Businesswoman of the Year Awards, and her business Intelledox is a multiple winner in the Telstra Business Awards, in the AIIA iAwards, in the Australian Exporter of the Year Awards, in both the Deloitte Fast 100 and the BRW’s Fast 100 list, and in the Anthill Cool Company Awards.
"You need to get very comfortable with uncertainty" Michelle Melbourne
I am a Canberra girl born and bred. We have the advantage of living in one of the best cities in the world for lifestyle, we have amazing access to the environment from the mountains to the beach. It is a city best described as a critical mass which has the culture, the arts, the cuisine without the traffic of the other major Australian Cities. It is important for those who are not familiar with Canberra, to understand that if you can be a small start-up technology operating in Canberra and can thrive in the market servicing the Federal government then you are leading the race and can take your business anywhere in the world. In Canberra you are competing for blue chip business against tier 1 contenders within the same market. For you to build something within the Canberra market you have to be able to outperform the tier 1 competitors who have very powerful business development and very powerful business lobbyists. For us this is the gold standard, in the context of technology if you can make it in Canberra you can make it anywhere. For the last 26 years my husband and I have been building our global software technology company out of our nation’s capital. We export our software platform, Infiniti, to just about every country in the world. The platform allows large and complex organisations to drive innovation and change within their organisation, the concept of digital disruption is certainly not one which is new to us given that this is what we have been doing for the last 26 years.
It was one of those sliding doors moments. I was heading off to university to complete a science degree at ANU, which for me seemed like a natural fit given that my nickname amongst friends is “Michelle of a million questions’ given my intense curiosity. My father suggested that I choose some computing electives in my degree as even back in the 80’s at a time where most people did not have home computers; he recognised that one day such skills would be of immense value. My father was a surveyor, heavily involved in mapping which relied on computing power as it was known at the time. He was a pioneer in the industry as a user of computer mapping, he could see that this was the future direction of not only business but of the world. I followed his advice and took first year Computing Science, in a class full of tech-savvy intelligent people.
When I finished university, I planned to go off to do a master’s year in organisational psychology, following the path of becoming a qualified psychologist with an interest in corporate culture. Between finishing university and starting my masters I got a job with a start-up technology company in Sydney, in 1990. It was a corporate training company which was teaching corporations how to take advantage of the Microsoft Office suite. I just lucked into the job, after being invited at the last minute to apply. I hadn’t expected to get the job but the boss took a punt on me despite having interviewed plenty of people who were perfectly experienced and qualified for the role, seeing potential and knowing he could get me at the lowest rate. I only worked at the company for a year but I was thrown so far into the deep end that I left with the belief that I had in knowledge and experience gained five years’ worth. I was 21 years old but he was treating me as an experienced consultant, I was working with executives of large organisations to work on their technology transformation strategies. I found that my interest and study of psychology was what really helped me in my technology career. I could understand how people adapt to change and whether they respond to it as a threat or opportunity, having a deep insight into how technology can transform an organisation. It came to pass that it was much easier for me to be an independent consultant in this space; I left the start-up company to work in Hong Kong helping an Australian company to take advantage of the PC boom, pre-Windows in Asia. The knowledge that I had obtained meant I found myself as a technology expert at the age of 21.
I often get asked about my experience as a woman in the heavily male dominated industry of IT, a dominance which still exists today but was even more apparent earlier in my career. I have never been subject to scrutiny or discrimination based on gender, the software industry I consider my tribe and I believe that they recognise the need they have for me. It is an industry predominantly composed of introverted highly intelligent young men but I have never felt like I have been treated differently based on gender, either positively or negatively, and I recognise how fortunate I have been as this is not the experience of all women unfortunately. I thank the men of the industry that I have come into contact with for helping and embracing me.
Corporations or large and complex organisations are generally the ones who pioneer new technology as they are usually the ones who have the resources and financial backing to do so. For years we have serviced these organisations, but almost 10 years ago I recognised the need to point this technology in a direction that would have a social impact for the greater good. We have been focusing our technology on a range of many different great causes for non-funded or underfunded NPO’s to achieve through digital transformation. It gives us great pleasure to be able to contribute technology to a philanthropy ecosystem, instead of writing a cheque we donate our technology to help an organisation to increase efficiency or market reach. An example of one of the capabilities of our technology in layman’s terms would be the automation of the application process for a government agency, as opposed to filling in a hard copy form we are enabling the agency to apply an intelligent online interview to the applicant which is intelligent enough to permeate through the necessary compliance and regulatory questions, resulting in a positive customer experience. This type of technology can be applied to a range of areas including applications for insurance or mortgages or for a passport. It is about doing good with technology, providing for organisations which aren’t ‘tier 1’ organisations. Put simply we are an advanced algorithmic programme, making the online process the arbitrator.
When you are dealing with these large and complex organisations on a global scale, you pick up some really good disciplines on how to effectively run a project and how to bring along everyone on that project. I was fortunate enough to win a scholarship from the ACT government which funded my attendance of a company director course in 2006, this was specifically a gender based scholarship at a time when they were trying to get more women involved. It was a difficult course as a graduate diploma, my brain was stretched looking at blind balance sheets and determining what sector the company was in and what sort of shape it was in. I learnt new skills, particularly in the financial management area. With these new skills I felt sufficiently equipped to join a board, as soon as you turn up with a new idea and the desire to make a difference people are happy to welcome you on board. I started on a voluntary board, helping the ACT government with the allocation of technology grants, for technology start-ups. I then got seconded to a community board following the Canberra bushfires, advising around the allocation of a fund which had been donated from all of the world. This was interesting not only because it was meaningful but also because I was something new not around technology, it was about human nature and responding to tragedy. I felt with my director experience I then had a lot to offer and got very involved in the Canberra business community. My most recent appoint is now to the Board of the Brumby’s. Although I have always been passionate about rugby, one of the reasons for my appointment is the fact that I am not your typical member in that I bring a global business pedigree in technology innovation and governance. I see this as a new era for the Brumby’s and we are looking forward to the next season.
Advice to former self or others
I think the most important thing to have is a point of difference, if you are going to join a board or get involved in a start-up, you need to have a unique value proposition. It took me a while to work out that you do not want to be like everyone else or think like everyone else. You have to always be asking yourself what am I bringing to this that is different from what everyone else is bringing, and you need to be ruthless in your evaluation of this. If it something that you are passionate about, show up and don’t be afraid to ask a hundred questions.
For me a critical habit has always been achieving a work life balance, I have three beautiful daughters and generally 4 out of 5 days I will get home by the time the girls are home from school. You should not miss out on being available for you children whilst they are growing up, regardless of what gender you are. I also make sure that I take the time to look after myself, for me part of this taking the time to train for and play hockey. I travel with the team for master’s tournaments, it’s something which is a real escape from a very intense job and something which I really yearn for. I am going to the world masters games in Auckland at the end of next month which I am really looking forward to.
My husband and I have been in business together for 26 years and are still going, we are lucky that is has all been able to blend. It is a balance of what the business needs and what your personal life needs, it doesn’t need to be choice between one or the other. We never reach a point of crisis in needing to turn off, we are ying and yang, approaching everything quite differently which creates diversity as well as trust amongst us.
In the context of a start-up technology company which has had to re-invent itself each year for 26 years, I think if you are a pioneering company ‘you need to be very comfortable with uncertainty’. You need to be able trust in your own ability and the ability of your team in an environment which can be unpredictable and which moves rapidly. You need to know that regardless of the challenges that arise, your team will get you to the end goal.
Earlier in my career I read a lot of Richard Branson’s earlier writings which I found really inspirational. I have also read a lot of the leadership scientist Jim Collins’s work including his book Good to Great, I have seen him speak live in Australia which was the equivalent on my Bon Jovi moment. It is an essential read for anyone with an interest in leadership or business management.
You can follow me on Twitter on the handle @ChelleMelbourne or on LinkedIn as Michelle Melbourne. For information about our company Intelledox or our platform Infiniti visit our website intelledox.com