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Innovation Australia

GE global vice chair Beth Comstock joins Innovation Australia board

September 21, 2016
Beth Comstock, described by Eric Ries, the Lean Startup guru, as GE’s “secret weapon” is bringing her skills at identifying trends, incubating innovations, forming fast-thinking teams and scaling new models for business to Australia.
She’s the first female vice chair of GE, and is among four other vice chairs advising Jeff Immelt, GE’s global CEO and President. She’s on the board of Nike, and now she’s on our board—the Federal Government’s Innovation Australia board.

Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Greg Hunt today announced the appointment of Comstock, along with Saul Singer, co-author of best seller, Start-Up Nation: The story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, to this peak government advisory body. The aim is to bring international experience and a global perspective to the country’s innovation and science agenda.

Last year, in an interview with The Australian newspaper, Comstock urged the Australian Government to adopt a digital focus and attract expat talent back home to work on solutions to global problems.

“You’re in a region that has an incredible depth of industries that focus on the needs of mankind and the planet,” she said. “Think about the energy sector and the fact we need to think in more energy efficient ways. Energy is being digitised, health is being digitised, look at the great financial sector, agriculture, these are all industries that are starting to digitise and it’s a wide open field.”

Comstock is the principal accelerator of GE’s transformation from an industrial company to a digital industrial company, and she strategises in that wide open field.

Says Geoff Culbert, President and CEO of GE Australia, New Zealand & PNG, “Beth has a track record for being a catalyst for digital innovation and growth—both inside and outside of GE.”
Creating new business models from disruption

Among many achievements in her collectively more than 16 years at the company, she recently brought GE’s legacy lighting business into the digital age.  By combining sensor-enabled LED technology from GE Lighting with data analytics, energy load management, renewable energy technology and energy storage, she created a breakaway startup known as Current, powered by GE.

The significance of Current, which acquired Australian-founded Daintree Networks earlier this year, is that it shows how GE businesses can combine in a service-provider model. Identifying such new business-model opportunities in a company built on process and a GE way of doing business—and turning the company culture to support and learn from innovative practices—is among the talents Comstock brings to the IA board.

IA board chair Bill Ferris and deputy chair, Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel, can expect to respond to both interesting and time-honoured questions from Comstock, who has made an art of the “What if …?”, turning opposition to new approaches into collaborations on pilot projects that may fail, but are more likely to flourish.

At GE, as the vice chair leading Business Innovations, Comstock also oversees GE Ventures, which collaborates with startups in GE industries, such as Healthcare, Energy and Transportation.
Transforming culture to accelerate innovation

The GE Ventures aim is not just to support startups as a financial partner, and to offer access to GE’s global expertise and resources, but to learn from the various startup processes and develop a startup culture within GE. Comstock’s cross pollination of inventive cultures may prove another great score for the board.

Tenure on the Innovation Australia board stretches to 2019, and Comstock will join forces with colleagues such as Scott Farquhar, co-founder and CEO of Atlassian and Maile Carnegie, group executive, Digital Banking at ANZ Bank, to accelerate the Ideas Boom, and develop a culture of innovative agility.

Last year in The Australian Comstock was characteristically straight talking when she said she’d met many Australians in Silicon Valley who would rather be building businesses in Australia. She’ll work hard to help create an environment that lures them home. “I mean,” she said, “Silicon Valley is great, but Australia is awesome.”