Startup player to lead CSIRO amid budget troubles

One of Australia's leading technology startup players will be heading up the CSIRO, as Australia's largest science research body grapples with federal government budget cuts.

Managing director of Southern Cross Ventures and co-chairman of Blackbird Ventures Dr Larry Marshall has been appointed as the new CEO of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Marshall's new position, which he will take on in January next year, comes as Australia's largest scientific research agency cuts jobs and sites in the aftermath of more than AU$111 million in funding cuts handed down in the latest federal Budget in May.

The CSIRO's chairman Simon McKeon said that Marshall's role as a technology entrepreneur, along with his experience in the commercialisation of new technology, makes him an appropriate fit for the role, which is being vacated by outgoing CEO Megan Clark, who has been in the role for six years.

"Dr Marshall combines commercial and scientific credentials with extensive global experience, making him the world-class leader we were seeking for CSIRO," said McKeon. "[He] has an impeccable record as a scientist, a technology innovator, and business leader. His wealth of experience in developing and applying science and technology makes him an excellent fit.

"The board is confident that Dr Marshall will lead CSIRO in a manner which ensures that it continues to provide advice of the highest quality to government, as well as provide best-practice collaboration with the private sector," he said.

Marshall will take up his new role in January next year, stepping down from his current position in Silicon Valley with Southern Cross Ventures, the early stage venture capital firm that specialises in creating Australian technology companies and growing them globally in Asia and the United States.

Although he has been based in California for the past 25 years in his capacity as a technology entrepreneur, Marshall has assisted in the backing by Southern Cross Ventures and Blackbird Ventures of local startup stars such as Canva, Coinjar, and Shoes of Prey.

Marshall, who holds 20 patents protecting commercial products, generating over AU$200 million in revenue, is currently also on the boards of Mocana, Quantenna, Wave, Nitero, and Laser Focus World, and serves as chairman of RIO, Crossfiber, and Advance Innovation.

McKeon said that although Marshall's credentials sealed his selection, the hiring process was involved and gruelling.

"The chief executive of CSIRO is probably the most important position in national science administration, so we conducted an extensive global search for an innovative scientist with strong business leadership qualities, and more than 70 candidates were considered," he said.

Clark, who will leave the CEO position in December, will be leaving a somewhat diminished organisation, with more than 500 full-time staff members expected to be cut from its ranks by the end of June next year, and with eight sites shut down, leaving 48 in its national footprint.