A new era for Canberra business: Interview with Robyn Hendry - Part II

Nic Crowther
Mon 28 Nov

Click here to read Part I of our interview with Robyn Hendry


We’re somewhat well-insulated here, but there’s certainly a global lurch towards isolation and protectionism…

But Australia doesn’t play in that space. We’ve always been good at managing our place in the world, and for a long-time have succeeded in getting ourselves to the fore of international bodies and think tanks that provide a platform for what Australia has to say.

The alliance with the US will survive, but there is no doubt that it will be tested in the coming year. I’m confident not too much will change because of statements from President-elect Trump.

There are plenty of other countries jealous of our position in Asia and the way that we seem to easily deal with Asian cultures and engage in trade. It’s certainly an advantage for Australian business and there is plenty of opportunity.


The Wellington trade mission has been delayed. What iare the other international strategies for the Chamber?

We’re doing a few, and we’ve been really deliberate in signing our MOUs – one with Singapore one with Wellington, and another with HMAS Canberra.



What? The ship?

Absolutely.  It’s been great!

If you think about it, our navy ships travel the world - so there’s opportunity for a great branding exercise when the ship turns up in port. We’ve now got a whole lot of produce for the crew being sourced from the Canberra region and we’ve hosted dinners on the ship when it moors in Sydney Harbour. Shaw Vineyards have designed a wine for them, and it’s a unique way to showcase what we’ve got happening here in the ACT.

HMAS Canberra will go to Singapore, (hopefully) Wellington and plenty of others. It’s amazing. The ship is 13 stories high, and we cover it with 20m banners that promote Canberra, as it sets to sail around the world. It’s exciting!


Where do you think Canberra business sells itself short?

I don’t think that we necessarily sell ourselves short, but some businesses do miss out on simple opportunities.

We have done some great work with the manager of China section for Austrade. The key take-away for the Chamber was that if you are a business that is involved in any sort of retail, you should have an online store as part of your business plan.

I mean, you might be doing well in Canberra, or you might have customers living interstate, but from the very first moment of your business you should be thinking about the pace of your product in the global market. The huge shifts in spending from bricks-and-mortar retail to digital is there for everyone to see and, as we all know, the potential is endless.

China is the obvious example of making sure you have a digital strategy. If you don’t know what Ali Baba is, get out there and do your research. If you can sell to people in Sydney, then you can sell around the world. It’s the same philosophy and skill set.



What are we missing? Apple, Zara, Costco and Ikea. These give Canberrans a sense of scale, but there is so much happening locally. How can we better communicate the local business wins?

I think we assume that Canberrans – particularly those in the public sector - are unaware of what is happening in the private sector, however I’m not so sure. Once they stop to think about what is happening around them – when they see New Acton or Braddon – they recognise the energy that comes about because of economic activity.

They see that the city has its mojo. We’ve thought a lot about this, and it is our view that the centenary had a lot to do with the way we perceive our city only a few years later. Somewhere - among all the celebrations – it is the Chamber’s view that Canberrans decided that we could be proud of ourselves and our place.

We no longer consider ourselves the best-kept-secret. Now we’re actively promoting the lifestyle here – it’s easy to get around, access to other places is tremendous and we don’t necessarily feel the need to justify ourselves to outsiders.

My daughter is a classic example. She’s done a gap year in Buenos Aries and next year is heading off to Trinity College in Dublin. The thing is, between those trips she’s very happy to be in Canberra. The lifestyle is good, there’s plenty to do and it’s relatively easy to pick up some casual employment.


What’s got you most excited about the next couple of years?

Working through the five pillars of Destination 2030 will be interesting. To a degree we don’t know where this will lead us, but as the economy shifts it will provide great guidance.

A great example is how the tourism industry is adapting to the arrival of international flights. While there are immediate opportunities to be realised, we can advise business as to how to align their strategies with our core pillars – liveability, international, connected, agile and resilient – and ensure that the industry response provides long-term benefits.


[Canberra Business Chamber]