FOR a self confessed “media tart”, keeping relatively quiet over the past few months while he takes in the lay of the land has been particularly hard for Malcolm Jackman, the new Chief Executive of Defence SA.
With the future submarine program still up in the air and the capabilities of ASC hitting the headlines, he admits it is a difficult time, but ultimately believes all the media attention – good and bad – has worked in favour of South Australia’s defence industry.
“I think perversely, it plays into our hands. The reality is the Future Submarine project was seen as a very South Australian issue and the rest of the country didn’t know all that much about it. All of a sudden, it has rightly become a national issue putting the Abbott Government under the spotlight and drawing this nation-building opportunity to everybody’s attention,” he says. “From my point of view, it’s been quite good in opening up the debate.”
Taking over the reins of Defence SA in August 2014, Jackman is no stranger to the media spotlight or South Australia as he spent five years here as the CEO of Elders, overseeing the tumultuous transformation of the rural services group.
Returning to South Australia after a year of “semi retirement” in Sydney, he has been quick to pick up on the issues facing the defence industry. Not that he ever really lost touch, after spending his early career as an officer in the Royal New Zealand Navy, retiring as a Lieutenant Commander.
“I haven’t struggled to keep up with the issues, but the acronyms are mind blowing,” he laughs.
On a more serious note, he says that while the future submarines attract the headlines, they are not the only focus for him.
“The submarines are important and we shouldn’t get sidetracked by that, but we also do not want the success of South Australia – the Defence State – defined solely by future submarines. We are about much more than that.
“South Australia is home to a critical mass of world-class industry delivering many of Defence’s largest most complex projects – the Air Warfare Destroyers, submarine sustainment, Orion aircraft maintenance, Jindalee radar network to name just a few.
“Plus we have a large Defence presence resident in the State, with thousands of Air Force, Army and DSTO personnel based at RAAF Edinburgh. The new P8s and Tritons will also be based there.
“The South Australian Government is committed to partnering with defence, industry and academia to build on these strong foundations.”
Jackman adds that “big banner” items firmly in the State’s sights include the future frigate program, Land 400 project and opportunities in the cyber, systems, science and technology areas.
Securing strong linkages with the three universities is also vital to ensure graduates have the necessary skills to support the needs of Defence in the future.
With a BSc in pure mathematics and a BCom in accounting from Auckland University, Jackman knows from first hand experience how far the right skill set can take you in life.
Following his service in the Royal New Zealand Navy, he joined the staffing services and recruitment industry in 1984. He held down a number of corporate roles in his birthplace of New Zealand, as well as North America, Asia, Europe and Australia.
They included CEO of Manpower Australia and New Zealand, as well as CEO of Coates Hire, where he oversaw a period of rapid and sustained growth as the company consolidated its position in the Australian equipment rental market while rationalising its overseas operations.
Jackman’s association with South Australia started when he was appointed CEO of Futuris Corporation, that changed its name to Elders Limited in 2009. During his tenure he initiated a significant business restructure, transforming it into one of Australia’s largest agribusinesses.
“Elders was unbelievably difficult and complex, so if you can manage that you can manage just about anything,” he says. When he departed in 2013, he returned to Sydney to “play golf, drink the wine I bought in South Australia and drive my boat.”
Some may have thought he had rocks in his head when he opted out of such a relaxing lifestyle to take the hot seat in an industry that is experiencing its share of difficulties at the moment.
“After a year of semi retirement, I realised it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. While it is a challenging time, when you have my depth of experience and age, I think I have the skill set that is pretty applicable to this job.”
Besides looking forward to the challenges of the job, Jackman is also excited about being able to reactivate friendships formed in South Australia, overseeing the building of a new house with his wife… and of course, there’s the golf and wine to be enjoyed.
Whatever comes before him, his larger than life character will pretty much ensure he won’t be staying quiet for too long.
When the time’s right, he’ll be out front and centre singing the virtues of his adopted Defence State.