John Langoulant – former Pawsey chair

John is well known across government and business, having held a variety of prominent CEO positions for almost 20 years. He now consults to the education, banking and government sectors, and chairs a number of public, corporate and not-for-profit entities. He has been Pawsey’s Chairperson for seven years.

“I’ll take on a Board because it’s a challenge, because it takes me into new areas, and because it’s likely to make a real contribution to diversify the economic base of Western Australia. Pawsey ticked all those boxes for me, and it’s a very significant organisation in terms of the development of science and research across the State. Joining its Board was a very attractive proposition.”

“I have an ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds, who in many instances have competing interests, forming Boards that through the right executive team can create and support good operating environments,” explained John. “I’m a ‘jack of all trades’ really. I didn’t bring any specific skills in HPC to the Pawsey Board, but over the last seven years I’ve developed a real understanding of what is important in this space and what is not.”

John has discovered that the Board of a supercomputing facility is a little different to others: “The level of technical oversight and guidance is higher than you might expect, especially with big developments, like supporting the SKA pathfinder projects. We’ve had to manage relationship issues arising out of technological roadblocks, especially during Pawsey’s startup timeframe.”

“Normally Boards only concern themselves with higher levels of policy and strategy, although we’ve also been fairly successful in that sphere. I’m proud of how we’ve managed all of the relationships within our unincorporated joint venture, especially as the partners are large organisations in their own rights. For example, bringing all of the staff out of the universities and unifying them under the umbrella of CSIRO was a challenge that caused a lot of uncertainty and caution at the time, but it was a smooth transition and materially simplified Pawsey’s employment arrangements.”

“I’m also proud of the action we took in engaging a new Chief Executive at a time where we saw a new direction and strategic focus for Pawsey’s operations. Most recently, I’m particularly pleased that through our efforts, the Commonwealth has recognised the need to safeguard and strengthen Australia’s Tier 1 supercomputing facilities within the national research infrastructure, and has acted to provide the funding base for that.”

While world-class research and supercomputing is ‘business as usual’ for many people around Pawsey, John has a refreshing enthusiasm for its novelty in other arenas. “I love being able to say that I’m the Chair of a supercomputing facility! Given my background, people don’t expect it, and they are intrigued. They always want to know what it involves, and if it’s super-secret science stuff! It’s great in that it gives me a chance to raise awareness across the various sectors that I work in that we do have a supercomputing facility right here in Kensington, doing amazing work.”

John can see that Pawsey and the science communities around it are increasingly recognised as excellent, innovative and progressive. “Australia is seen to be stepping up as a science and research jurisdiction internationally, and we need to reach out to that global community to reinforce where Pawsey and our research collaborators sit in that landscape.”

The challenge will be to consolidate capability and expertise moving forward. Just as astronomers are clustering in Western Australia associated with the SKA project, John is hopeful that more people skilled in HPC disciplines will graduate from Pawsey’s partner institutions, and also be attracted from further afield, to work here in support of Australia’s data-driven research and business interests. “People think the technology is difficult, but amassing and maintaining that human capital in this space will be the most important thing moving forward.”


John Langoulant, Chairman, Pawsey Supercomputing Centre