Aussie Executives Share Their Biggest Lessons From 2019 – And What To Look Out For In 2020

December 19 2019

As the year comes to a close, we reached out to business executives to share the biggest lessons they have learned from 2019 – and what they’re taking with them into 2020.

Here are the lessons they learned in 2019:

Ronni Kahn AO, CEO & Founder of OzHarvest and Chief Visionary of ForPurposeCo.

OzHarvest’s Ronni Kahn has learned the importance of hiring people based on more than their skill or experience.

“I’m a strong believer in the power of ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” Khan said. “While I have the personal drive to make a change, I’m not an extraordinary person, nor do I need to be. By surrounding myself with magnificent people, OzHarvest and our innovation arm ForPurposeCo have been able to achieve extraordinary things in 2019.

“As a business leader, if your drive and purpose are to be matched or realised, you need to have empowered your team to trust their own ability and act as boldly as you do. For me, this means hiring based beyond just skill or experience. You can learn skills but you can’t teach attitude and generosity. This is a practice I will take with me into the new year and beyond as our ambitions and impact continues to grow.”

Robert Schwarz, Managing Director, Enterprise, Nuance Communications ANZ

Schwarz looked to the future and advised stronger security processes.

“As a leader of a business deeply involved in digital security, it saddens me that 2019 has again seen a large number of local data breaches from brands handling millions of consumers’ details,” Schwarz said. “Australia’s digital world is now at its most dangerous, exposing the population to an unprecedented level of crime in the way of fraud, and should be where efforts from the public and private sectors are directed. I hope 2019 serves as a lesson to organisations that in 2020 they should reacquaint themselves with their broader obligations to consumers.

“I advise they put into place higher standards of security and authentication processes, going beyond PINs and passwords that have become cumbersome for consumers to manage, and child’s play for hackers to bypass.

“Regardless of their size and maturity, all organisations should look at their potential flaws and reach for better standards. Involving at a minimum, two-factor, and ideally three-factor authentication and including biometric technology in the mix is a must in 2020.”

Jeff Olson, Head of Applied AI & Analytics for ANZ, Cognizant

Olson highlighted the need to be “AI-aware”.

“One of the key things we’ve learned in 2019 is that artificial intelligence (AI) is well and truly here ― and it’s having a profound impact on our everyday lives. The stand-out moment was when the world Go champion, Lee Se Dol announced his retirement after conceding to AI. This AI, in particular, learned how to play the game using new techniques called evolutionary AI.

“Evolutionary AI creatively learns by exploring many strategies in parallel. This means it learned new strategies from its experiences rather than being trained by people. The big takeaway here? This evolutionary AI capability is now being used in businesses to help formulate the best possible decision. So what does this mean for those in charge of making critical decisions for their businesses? The reality is that the way we make decisions now may very well become as outmoded as typewriters and fax machines.

“The lesson here is that business leaders need to be AI-aware. To do this, they must embrace data as the source of wisdom and value for their business. They need to ask better questions and expect more ― don’t ask for another report or spreadsheet, ask ‘Why?’ until you understand the root causes.”

Nathan Knight, General Manager ANZ, Lenovo Data Centre Group

Knight sees the value of nurturing all business relationships.

“It may seem obvious, but it is incredibly important to nurture the relationships that are critical to the success of your business,” Knight said. “By collecting diverse feedback at all stages of the product cycle, we’re able to engage customers every step of the way. For any business that wishes to grow with its customers as they scale, investing in your network of partners is crucial. My advice is to take the opportunity in the new year to reassess what you’re bringing to the table in your most important relationships.”

Jason Baden, Regional Vice President, ANZ, F5 Networks

Baden looked back at the impact of the Royal Banking Commission, which he said changed the way consumers felt and viewed their financial institutions.

“This points to the significance placed upon trust and security within the financial sector, which happen to be the two main drivers forming the decisions of today’s consumer,” Baden said.

“We recently conducted a survey that shows 60% of Australians cited security as the biggest concern when banking through an app, whilst 69% would disown an app if its security has been compromised.

“With the banking royal commission making waves across financial services and open banking initiatives inviting further security concerns, banks that put the priorities of their customers ahead of anything else will have a much better chance at building and maintaining trust. Trust is vital as the nation rapidly moves towards digital payments within a cashless economy.”

Pieter Danhieux, CEO and Co-Founder of Secure Code Warrior

Danhieux pointed to the importance of chief information security officers.

“In 2019, we saw a surge of organisations working rapidly to improve their approach to cybersecurity in the software they create. Part of this movement would be in response to increasingly tight legislation around privacy and data security, but the reality is that these days, every company is a software company. And with that comes the responsibility to keep personal data safe, with or without government intervention.

“In 2020, leaders should work closely with CISOs (chief information security officers) to make security synonymous with software quality. Tools alone cannot remove all software vulnerabilities and risk, so ensuring a balance between tools and security intelligence across development and AppSec teams should be something actively accounted for in budgets and strategy.”

Gregg Ostrowski, Regional Chief Technology Officer, AppDynamics

Ostrowski saw greater use of AI in IT operations in 2019.

“Consumers expect elegant, high performing applications that serve their needs which is surpassing the human ability to triage and troubleshoot in a rapid manner. I have learnt that adopting new technology means changing internal ideology and processes to adhere to these rapid advancements, otherwise a business risks being disrupted.”

Ed Harrison, CEO, Isentia

As the CEO of media intelligence company Isentia, Harrison emphasised the need for business leaders to “be prepared”.

“Our experience and data shows, due to the ongoing acceleration of the news cycle, business leaders are on the clock like never before when crisis strikes. We certainly had plenty of examples in 2019 where the public’s trust was breached and companies’ responses were deemed inadequate.

“Our first bit of advice is to be prepared in advance, which means building trust with employees and customers long before a crisis event. Secondly, once a crisis is underway, timely and transparent communications are essential. If you don’t have the answers, be honest about that. Finally, we encourage organisations to not underestimate the role of the CEO in communication, because this is ultimately who people will want to hear from in times of crisis.”

Jaime Nelson, Managing Director Strategy & Marketing Services, Hotwire

For Nelson, “change” is the new normal.

“Throughout 2019, ‘change’ has become the new normal, and my belief is that to be a successful business leader you must allow yourself to be comfortable with uncertainty – don’t fight it. The Australian marketing landscape is evolving quickly, affected by mergers and acquisitions of agencies, decreased consumer and business confidence, as well as global political uncertainty. As such, the way of doing business is shape shifting. With shorter client tenures, agencies have to be nimble and work even faster to build strong relationships to become trusted partners, often providing strategic counsel.”

Nelson also advised business leaders to “work collaboratively with their teams to reach solutions”.

Rory McNeil, Head of Marketing Communications, Brennan IT

The biggest takeaway for McNeil centred around transformation.

“We operate within an industry that’s never static, and Australian tech and business leaders must have the ability to learn, adapt and adopt to new ways of working in order to keep ahead,” he said.

“The biggest topic of 2019 has, once again, been digital transformation and my advice for leaders coming into the new year will be to look past this concept and drop the ‘digital’ bit to instead focus on service transformation. This involves taking a whole-of-business and outcomes-focused approach; starting with the service that you want to provide and then working backwards to determine how you can deliver it. You need to consider much more than just a single technology, but the people, processes and technologies that are needed to create and run it.


Masige, S. (2019, December 16). Aussie executives share their biggest lessons from 2019 - and what to look out for in 2020. Retrieved from