A new era for Canberra business: Interview with Robyn Hendry

Nic Crowther
Mon 28 Nov

Over the last 18 months, the Canberra Business Chamber has established itself as the peak body for business in the national capital.

This is in no small part to the efforts of Robyn Hendry. The CEO is largely responsible for raising the profile of the body, and has been instrumental in determining its direction through Destination 2030 – the Chamber’s roadmap for Canberra over the next 15 years.

Over the course of an hour, The Shaker discussed the shifts in the Chamber, the opportunities for local business, and some of the innovations that are promoting Canberra across the world.


2016 has seen a lot of disruption and change. How has it been for the Chamber?

It’s been a good year – but certainly a formative year. Watching the unified organisation find its feet has been interesting

The Chamber comes from mature parentage – The ACT Chamber of Commerce and the Canberra Business Council – but we’re quite new. We inherited a lot of the good work they were doing, but this year it’s felt as though we’ve become our own thing… and that’s because we’ve effectively started from scratch.


After more than two years, the merger has certainly been a success. The brand and activities of the Chamber are getting great exposure.

It’s been great. But there was plenty that needed to be done in the background.

As good as it was to merge the previous bodies, we needed to make a few retrenchments, streamline some systems and use the common resources to fill a lot of the gaps that couldn’t be covered by the previous Council and Chamber.

Another big challenge this year was the dual election year. Late last year we pulled together nine task forces with 380 business to help define the direction for Canberra over the next 15 years – the result of which is our Destination 2030 framework. Because of almost 15,000 hours of work across almost every industry in Canberra, we’ve got an amazing document that we have used to benchmark the policies of the parties – both at an ACT and Federal level.

Not only did we have to work to ensure that the priorities of the Chamber were recognised by our potential leaders, but we needed to work hard to ensure that Canberra business was not adversely affected by the campaigns – With the Federal election kicking off way back in May, and the ACT election not happening until October.


What’s been the most pleasant surprise from the experience so far?

I think it’s this change in attitude. We’re doing things that we wouldn’t have ever imagined in the past. A startling number has come to my attention recently, and that is that in 2015, exports from the ACT grew by 16%. That’s amazing, and shows that we’ve got some great momentum.

The other surprise is how Canberra is integrating with the region. If you look in a 100km radius from the ACT there is active participation across the border into the local economy. Nearby NSW businesses recognise the opportunities that the ACT presents – and don’t see the border as an issue.


That’s been a definite shift – especially as the economic activity of Canberra has grown so quickly.

It’s very different. In the old days, we resented the region for taking spots in schools or the beds in the hospital. That' doesn't matter anymore. We've moved on, and that shift is changing the way we do business and building plenty of opportunities for anyone keen to test the market.

The same thoughts are happening for our Exporters Awards (which feed into the national awards night). There are plenty of businesses with a NSW postcode that aren’t interested in being part of their state’s process… they see Canberra as the logical jurisdiction to enter their business because that’s the place they might be most actively engaged.



From a macro-economic point of view, the US election result seems to have everyone staring like a deer in the headlights. What are the next moves for government and peak bodies such as yours?

Well, change is the new norm, it seems.

It might be the case that our economic focus on Asia ceases to be in alignment with the United States. That’s okay – in fact, it may simply lead to more opportunities for Australian business.

Also, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we cease doing business with the US. We have plenty to offer both markets – and often the products are somewhat different.


Destination 2030 highlights resilience as one of its pillars

It does, and it is certainly important that we respond to change in a positive manner, and have the tools available to manage any of the risks that come because of that change.

Liveability – another important part of the document – is a high priority. It’s one of our key selling points as a place to do business. We need to continue to develop and promote that.


Click here to read Part II of our interview with Robyn Hendry.