Working paper

Leadership for innovation – why manufacturing has a future in Australia

23 Sep 2014

In this paper, business leaders discuss the leadership styles they have used to ensure their companies are manufacturing success stories, and then these experiences are analysed to outline the leadership needs for innovation in Australia.


With dire predictions about the future of manufacturing in Australia, we should remember that manufacturing has been an important contributor to national development. There was a thriving manufacturing industry up to 1945, sufficient to supply most domestic needs. Post-war, new industries flourished and a golden era of manufacturing followed. By the late 1950s manufacturing accounted for 29% of Australia’s GDP.

By the 1960s, growth and productivity was faltering and manufacturing had begun to stagnate. Today, manufacturing accounts for less than 10% of Australia’s GDP, the lowest level since early colonial times. This is due, in large part, to global economic changes and the economic processes of comparative advantage.

However, the innovative spirit that drove previous successes remains and a new generation of leaders and enterprises has emerged. Two of these innovative leaders presented case studies of their firms at a Swinburne Leadership Dialogue in June 2014.

Richard Simpson of Furnace Engineering and Robert Wilson of the Wilson Transformer Company discussed the leadership styles and approaches they have used to ensure their companies are – and remain – national manufacturing success stories. Scott Thompson-Whiteside of Swinburne University of Technology then analyses their experiences to outline the leadership needs for innovation in Australia.

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