Think HBR

Let's Talk with Gunilla Burrowes

1. In a few words tell us about your current role.
I am “living the dream” actively involved in being a part of the revitalisation of Newcastle as a centre for innovation and start-up businesses. As Chair of Eighteen04 Incorporated I am excited to work with start-up businesses every day. Our first challenge is to make a permanent home for ourselves and we have been very fortunate to find a historic building on the TAFE Campus at Hamilton which we will renovate with the assistance of a grant from Jobs for NSW. We have a queue of innovative companies ready to join us and we are looking forward to creating great things in CleanTech and SmartCity business.
In my other work, I co-founded a consultancy “Gender Matters” and we consult throughout Australia to many organisations including universities and large engineering organisations. Our work is focussed on my lifelong passion to support gender equity in business, particularly in engineering and other science and technology dominated workplaces. Technology is a strong driver of the age that we live in and the changes in our society and workplaces – my vision is to see an equal contribution by all genders in the future world that we make. My calling has been to work in strategic governance and have contributed at board level in several volunteer boards including Engineers Australia, and Engineers Media and I continue at Australian Science Innovation (ASI). With ASI I have had the privilege and honour to support selection and training of Australia’s science Olympians and meet with Nobel laureates and scientists from around the world.
2. How have you reached this point in your professional life?
In many ways, my professional life has come full-circle as when I studied Electrical Engineering at UNSW my focus was on renewable energy (wind power) and then my first job was at BP Solar which was one of the first manufacturers of solar panels. Now we see enormous changes in the way that we will generate, distribute and use energy and many of these are driven by solar energy which has reached a tipping point in Australia with solar installations quadrupling between 2011 and 2016. I have always had an interest in start-ups, innovation and Angel investing and now all the lessons I have learned can contribute to the start-up ecosystem in Newcastle in a very exciting and challenging time for our energy future. As an engineer I embrace and create change, and this has not only impacted my professional ‘technical’ career but also as a female engineer, and my parallel career in gender equity. I want to see more women take up the opportunities that engineering and science careers offer and thus have worked with primary schools to corporate boardrooms to effect change.
This is a very complex problem and we all need to understand and take responsibility if we want to see equal rights and opportunities for all. Gender Matter’s focus is to facilitate and support women and men to change the systems that are holding women and some men back.
3. When you’re not at work, where can we find you?
My life-long passion has been food and cooking ever since I learnt to cook for my family in my teenage years. I miss having a young family at home to cook for and am always keen to have friends and family over for big dinners. I continue to practice my mother’s Swedish recipes and enjoy foods from all over the world. On the weekend, you will normally find me rowing, cycling or at the cinema and on holidays skiing or swimming. This year I will complete a third “Swimtrek”, swimming with a group between and around the islands in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Croatia.
4. Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration all around me. Everyone I meet inspires me in some way, as we are all unique. I have found much of my inspiration and motivation from my family. Firstly from my parents who were brave enough to allow me to make decisions for myself from an early age and being such interesting and generous people and to my husband and children who challenge me to be the best I can be and amaze me every day with their thinking and achievements. I have also had many mentors and teachers in my life that have given of their time and experience and I am very appreciative of everything that they have taught me.
5. What advice would you give to someone just starting out in your field?
Find the reason why. It is the hardest question to answer but when you have the answer you have a powerful motivator for getting through the tough times that come with any profession, job or calling. I think it is essential to have a love of learning and to have a growth mindset that helps develop resilience. An important instrument in this is to learn to reframe negative situations so that they become positive opportunities for development. The advice that I wished I had been given as a young professional would be to ask for
what you want. Don’t assume the motivations of others or their lack
of action relating to your career.
6. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
My early primary school was in Fiji where I spent five years living in Suva when my family who moved there for work. We had an idyllic lifestyle on “Nagumo Point”, surrounded by water on three sides with swimming, coral reefs and fishing for entertainment in the days before TV arrived in Fiji. In my gap year, I travelled and stayed in Sweden, the home of my mother. While I was there I learnt Swedish in a school for immigrants and met many people who were traumatised by the war in the Middle East at that time. It affected me deeply and I realised in a very real way how lucky we are in Australia for our freedoms from oppression, aggression and our opportunities to live in peace.
7. How would you like to see the Hunter evolve over the next decade?
The Hunter will be a major centre for CleanTech and Smart Cities for SE Asia and I am very excited about our future and Eighteen04’s role in it. We have the luxury of only a few hours travel from the global centre of Sydney and the advantage of a “Goldilocks” city that is small enough to get to know each other quite well personally and care about each other, but big enough to have a marketplace for products and services. The Hunter of the future will be a place of high-tech, innovative companies with satisfying jobs worked by people with an enviable lifestyle. We will be creators, manufacturers and makers. My family and I came to the Hunter in 1994 and we liked the city so much we started our company, The BlueZone Group, to stay here – now I would like to see the same opportunity for many other people.
8. What’s your favourite Hunter restaurant/café/bar?
That’s a hard one, because we are so lucky to have so many good ones. From my Swedish background, I love smorgasbords and I love to trust the chef, so degustation’s are a favourite at Subo or sharing at Talulah. But I also love simple healthy rustic meals that are cooked from the heart.
9. Do you have a favourite sport or team?
St Petersham Rugby Union Football Club – my son’s team! And the Wallabies.
10. What’s the best line from a film you’ve ever heard?
“Did your mother not like you?” Kelly McGillis (Charlie) to Tom Cruise (Maverick) Top Gun 1986