Welcome to a new series that showcases some of Australia’s innovators, movers and shakers in and around ICT.

This week, we talk to Richard White.

On 11 April last year, the company Richard White started 22 years ago in his basement, with the help of four staff and a credit card, officially became a unicorn.

A public listing on the ASX valued WiseTech Global at more than $1 billion, and was the culmination of more than 30 years of work in the tech industry for White.

It was undoubtedly a huge moment, but the entrepreneur was quick to keep things in perspective.

“It was just another event. If you get too hooked up in any one thing you start, your ego will take control,” White said.

But he did allow the 400-plus WiseTech employees to enjoy the moment in the limelight, and brought in old friends The Angels to perform alongside the famed ASX bell.

This was an especially important moment for White, who actually began his career far away from the tech world as a guitarist.

After quickly realising there was little money to be made as a musician, White turned his attention to a guitar repair business and worked with the likes of AC/DC and The Angels. The little company ignited an entrepreneurial spark in White, and his ambition quickly grew beyond it.

“The business went very well but I realised after a few years that it was my two hands doing the work, and I couldn’t scale them,” he said.

So he sold that business and launched a new one creating lighting equipment, which he eventually sold to rival Jands in the 1980s. White became the company’s R&D manager as part of the deal and was exposed to the world of computers for the first time.
After teaching himself coding, the world of computer consulting beckoned, and following a few years of “going around the traps” and working at some tech companies, White eventually found his niche that he would spend the rest of his career working in: technology to improve the logistics industry.

And in 1994, WiseTech was born.

From little things, big things grow

The tech company is now valued at $1.55 billion and is a world-leading provider of cloud-based software for international and domestic logistics industries. Its software acts as the circulatory system for logistics companies and is used by more than 6000 clients across 7000 sites and in 125 countries.

“We came to an industry that was under-provisioned and under-invested in technology, and one that was prepared to live with quite old and legacy systems,” White said.

“We’ve run very hard and driven very complete and very powerful tech solutions into the industry and created a change in the way people perceive commercial advantage.”

By the beginning of the 21st century, WiseTech was leading the way in Australia but had little overseas presence.

It was completing a Masters degree that inspired White to take his company global in 2004, and now WiseTech has offices everywhere from China to the UK, but with its home still in Sydney.

“As we globalised we became bigger and more respected, and we ended up having significant success,” he said.

Having spent more than three decades in the tech industry, White said that having smart and innovative people around him drives him to continue to work hard.

“I’m surrounded by intelligent people and that’s always a pleasure,” he said.

“And creating breakthroughs is quite a lot of fun. Just copying other things is boring, and I’m not at a point in my career or life where doing something boring every day is tolerable. I want to do things that break patterns and make a difference.”

And this has become an increasingly important part of White’s role as CEO of Wisetech across the 20-plus years.

Make it better

“I spend a lot of time with the product teams pushing and tweaking things, and helping people invent. I’m making sure innovation is happening at a high level,” White said.

This constant focus on innovation and being brave enough to make big changes is what makes WiseTech stand out from the pack.

“People buy the product not just because it’s good but because we’re selling the future, not the current,” White said.

“The current is what you get when you sign up, the future is what you get when you stay.”

As a member of the Australian Computer Society for more than 10 years, White regularly participates in, and sponsors, events. This is about giving back to the community that helped pave the way to his success, he said.

“The fact is that being a part of an industry is an important point for collaboration and for feeding back to the industry,” White said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever thought about what the independent value of ACS is, but it’s obviously important and valuable. I’m not there to receive something, I’m there to help. I’m trying to give a little back because I’ve received so much.”

Richard White is a Senior Member of the ACS.