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Surfing the techno wave

DEVELOPING and using technology are the keys to business survival, says Department of Commerce & Trade CEO Richard Muirhead.

Mr Muirhead said WA could not rely on selling commodities.

“At the end of the day you may have no control over those commodity prices, even if you are a leader in their production,” he said.

“You have to carve out unassailable niches. WA companies are very good at that.

“About 60 per cent of the world’s mines use Australian software and the majority of that is developed in WA.”

Mr Muirhead said the department’s mission was to build WA’s economy.

He said its role had changed although the enterprise development, investment attract-ion and export growth focuses remained.

When Mr Muirhead joined the department 13 years ago it was the Technology and Industry Development Corporation. Its role has broadened.

“We’re dealing with major universities, through to indigenous businesses in the far corners of the State through to regional development issues,” he said.

Mr Muirhead said WA was the first State to have science and technology, Aboriginal economic development and regional devel-opment policies.

“Lots of other States have been running to copy them,” he said.

The department administers government-endorsed financial schemes and a vast range of non-financial services such as advising on research and development commercial-isation, providing market intelligence from its 10 overseas offices and working with small WA communities to help them attract businesses.

Mr Muirhead joined the Department after running market research firm Chadwick Martin Consultants.

“It was bought out by Rearck Research. I stayed on for a year running it but became disenfranchised with being an employee after having been the boss,” he said.

Mr Muirhead actually started his working life as a town planner.

“I believe I have a client focus, an understanding of customers needs and meeting them,” he said.

“My town planning background gave me a view of the importance of the big picture, understanding how changing one thing can have ramifications across the whole area.”

Mr Muirhead said government was changing.

“A lot more of our services are being delivered out of government now,” he said.

“Plus there’s a more holistic view now, with a lot of working across departments.”

Mr Muirhead intends to see out his five year contract. He has been CEO for three years.

“In this environment you have to be prepared for change. I may need to change too,” he said.

“My decision to leave the consulting industry was because I felt it was time to move on. I haven’t had that feeling yet.

“I’m still coming to terms with being a CEO. I learn something new every day.”

Besides his work with Commerce & Trade, Mr Muirhead said he had a “true commitment” to his family.

“It was something I was raised with, that commitment,” he said.

“I also have a great interest in surfing. I try and get away every couple of years to somewhere like the Maldives or Sri Lanka.

“The big challenge in the workplace is to avoid burnout and to balance your life.”

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