Graduation Address, University of Technology Sydney

03 May 2018

Event: Graduation Address, University of Technology Sydney
Speaker: Jennifer Westacott
Date 3 May 2018

I would like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land we are meeting on today, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respect to their elders past and present.

I acknowledge the Deputy Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and President, Director, Associate Dean of the UTS Business School, Chair of the Academic Board, staff, family, friends and most importantly, you, the graduates.

I would also like to recognise my friend and colleague, your Chancellor Catherine Livingstone.

No other Australian has done more to bring the reality of digital disruption and the opportunities of innovation - to the forefront of our policy and business agendas.

You are joining a business community that is the foundation of prosperity.

Business is overwhelmingly a force for good. It is the engine room of growth in the Australian economy and across Australian communities. 

Whether it’s the local store, the large mining company creating a massive ecosystem across regional Australia, or the technology company driving the new jobs in a more diversified economy.

Business is the ten million of the twelve million working Australians.

It’s the almost six million Australians who own shares in Australian companies.

It’s where their superannuation is invested and their retirement depends on those businesses continuing to grow.

More than three hundred and eighty billion dollars in everyday Australians’ superannuation investments are held in Australian listed companies.

It’s the ecosystem of small, medium and large business that together generate five hundred and fifty-five billion dollars of economic activity, a year.

Business contributes more than seventy billion dollars a year in company taxes that help fund the services we all want and need.

The most recent Giving Australia report shows business gave seventeen-point-five billion dollars in 2015-16, made up of community partnerships, donations and non-commercial sponsorships.

Businesses - big and small - deliver extraordinary outcomes every day.

They create jobs, innovate, export and support thriving communities. Businesses makes things possible, and help create the opportunities that can enable all Australians to reach their full potential.

But you are joining the business community at a time of enormous upheaval.

Business faces the challenges of technology.

The challenges of the empowered consumer.

The challenges of unprecedented connectivity and digitalisation, where business models are undergoing disruption, and change every day.

Companies who fail to adapt to that change and have cultures that resist transformation, will be short-lived.

And, of course we are also under pressure from the consequences of our own conduct.

This has led to serious reputational damage, a crisis of community confidence and real damage to people in the community.

Those who have always been against private enterprise, but rarely have a substitute for it, are emboldened.

They simply don’t - and never have - accepted the legitimacy of business or the vital role we play in society.

Tragically they will potentially unleash a wave of destructive self-defeating policies that will harm the poorest people in the community not the richest.

That’s why as you leave today, you must be the people who drive the types of organisations that will be more resilient, more enduring and build trust and respect across the community.

So, what does that reclaiming of the social licence to operate look like?

Firstly, companies, indeed all organisations, need a true sense of purpose. 

This is a guiding sense of direction. It defines our intentions. It drives why we are in business.

Producing the goods and services that enrich a community, delivering a fairer society and allowing all Australians to thrive is a clear purpose.

Companies with true purpose, not slogans, succeed.

A purpose is not a Return on Equity. A purpose is not a financial target.

Companies that endure:

  • are transparent about the use of their data and the application of their technology;
  • focus on the needs of their customers;
  • build trust with their customers and the community;
  • see shared value as something more than corporate social responsibility;
  • value their employees as assets, not numbers;
  • value their suppliers as partners, not contracts.

Whether you are in a team or ultimately in a leadership role, you must be the person that strives, to ensure your organisation stands for these principles.

But to do that you must think about the person you want to be.

The best advice I can share with you today is to lead a life of purpose in your work and in your life.

People who focus only on position, without a clear sense of purpose and achievement, often fail.  Always ask yourself “What am I doing, why am I doing it and who will benefit?”

Never be the person whose ambition is position.

Never be the person who’s only focus is an organisational chart and where you are on it. I can assure you, you will falter.

Be the person who wants to use a position of authority and influence to make positive change, to get things done.

Think about what you want to influence and the change you want to bring about. Consider not only what you want to achieve but how you will achieve it.

The most valuable member of a board, a team, a government, is the person who says, “What is the right thing to do?”

Don’t dwell on a job title or job specifics.  Consider how best to nurture your skills and capabilities, your values and relationships, through a life that will most likely involve many jobs, some of them unimaginable to us today.

Another piece of advice from my own experiences is to think about what your qualification and capability allow you to give back to the community.

Apply what you have acquired at university to the world of work, and to society.

Purpose is more than just turning up to work each day. Many organisations now have community activities as part of their performance system and that’s a good thing. But it has to be genuine and serious.

So, use the skills you have in the business community for a greater purpose. Be part of community activities, whether it’s a sporting club, whether it’s being a treasurer for a local charity.

Don’t isolate yourself. One of the biggest criticisms business often faces is that it’s out of touch with communities.

I reject that criticism but I do believe we have a responsibility not to sit in glass towers in CBDs and to get out and see the impact of what we’re doing on the ground.

But more importantly to get in touch with the circumstances that many Australians find themselves in.

I chair Mental Health Australia. I chair that because I have a personal interest in this issue.

I chair it because I think it is one of the big issues of our time and I want to bring all of my skills and knowledge to helping that sector come to terms with the challenges they face.

I encourage you to examine roles in public and non-government sectors as much as you weigh up private sector positions.  

For me, it's been the public sector roles I've had that have been among the most challenging and rewarding.

As John F Kennedy told graduates forty-five years ago:

“You have responsibilities, in short, to use your talents for the benefit of the society which helped develop those talents”.


“Of the many special obligations incumbent upon an educated citizen, I would cite three as outstanding: your obligation to the pursuit of learning, your obligation to serve the public, your obligation to uphold the law.’’

But you can’t make any of these contributions without a strong set of values. 

It is paramount your decisions and all that you do should also be consistent with your values.

Values matter.

Ethics, integrity, honesty, courage, compassion and commitment.

Embrace them.

One of the people I admire most is the Queen. She has held fast to a set values that have guided her reign.

Instead of locking her into a rigid way of thinking, she has been able to adapt and change but within a core set of values and principles.

Cultivate the gift of curiosity. The inquiring, questioning mind is the most powerful tool any organisation or team can have. 

And it is the greatest single force behind discovery.

Nourish the art of collaboration.

Catherine and I worked together for three years at the Business Council, knowing that the organisation and its purpose was bigger than us. Knowing that shared success is the best success.

Together we achieved so much more.

Nurture the colleagues and friends you have made at this university.

Not as a contact list but as a network of people who you work with, who you support and who support you.

Trust me, you will find yourself reaching out to those people for expertise, guidance and friendship more often than you can imagine.

And never forget that supportive and caring family relationships will be the most important force for good in your life.

Most importantly, compliment all of these things with what I believe are the most important attributes to have in life - the things that will protect you when something goes wrong, and things do go wrong, the qualities of humility, of courtesy and of integrity.

I want to congratulate you today on all you have achieved and what you will achieve.

I was the first person in my extended family to go to university.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

It changed my life. It gave me a quest for knowledge.

It gave me an inquiring mind. It gave me the capacity for critical thinking and analysis.

It gave me a global perspective which, for a young person from a Housing Commission estate who had never travelled, was nothing short of profound.

But the most important thing I gained from my time at university, was confidence and self-belief.

You too have a world of opportunities before you.

You are the luckiest generation that has ever lived, as is mine, and you are graduating at the most incredible time in human history.

You are here today to celebrate what a truly great society does – it gives back through education, through empowerment.

But we should never take that for granted.

It is possible because we are prosperous, because we can afford it, and because a private enterprise-driven community enables us to share opportunities with all Australians.

If as a society we let go of that fundamental mantle, then that prosperity, that way of life, that freedom, will be under threat.

So, leave today with pride in your achievements.

Leave today with gratitude for the support of the people around you.

Leave today as ambassadors for freedom, as ambassadors for enterprise and as ambassadors for the power of aspiration.

Congratulations and thank you.

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