This week on the Defence Connect podcast, former Royal Australian Navy weapons engineer and ATSA Defence Services co-founder Darren Burrowes goes through the ins and outs of starting a successful defence SME and the brand’s expansion into BlueZone Group.
As co-founder of the only start-up company resulting from the $1 billion Minehunter Coastal Project, which saw six Huon Class Minehunter ships constructed for the RAN in Newcastle, Burrowes talks through the company’s beginnings from “two guys and a mobile phone” to its current successes as an innovative leader in through-life support, robotics and electro-mechanical systems.
Enjoy the podcast,
The Defence Connect team.
Listen to previous episodes of the Defence Connect podcast:
Episode 264: PODCAST: News Brief — Defence breathes new life into Collins Class fleet
Episode 263: PODCAST: Glen Ferrarotto, founder of Ironside Recruiting
Episode 262: PODCAST: Land Forces 2021 — Defence Connect’s deputy editor Liam Garman, and news editor Charbel Kadib
Episode 261: PODCAST: The art of the possible — Gabby Costigan, CEO of BAE Systems Australia
Episode 260: INSIGHT: Backing AIC — Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price & shadow minister Matt Keogh
Episode 259: INSIGHT: Responding to new security challenges – John Blaxland, Professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies, ANU
Episode 258: INSIGHT: A blueprint for national resilience — Senator James Paterson
Episode 257: PODCAST: Strengthening the defence ecosystem — Scott Carpendale, VP and MD of Boeing Defence Australia
Episode 256: INSIGHT: The future of air power with Northrop Grumman chief executive Chris Deeble and leading defence science expert Dr Jackie Craig
Episode 255: INSIGHT: Building a future-ready workforce — SA Minister for Innovation and Skills David Pisoni
Phil Tarrant: Good day, everyone, it's Phil Tarrant here, I'm the host of the Defence Connect podcast. Thanks for joining us today. We've got another SME in the studio, as you know for those regular listeners of the Defence Connect podcast we like to fly the flag for the SME sector within defence. It is an integral part of building capability for the ADF and SME's. There is some relatively new ones coming into the defence sector because of opportunities with increased government spending based on the white paper, but there has been SME's in this space for quite some time, who've been driving and developing some really interesting technologies and serving a key purpose in terms of filling some of the voids where the primes don't actually concentrate.
With that in mind we've asked someone to come to studio today who has been serving defence industry both within the navy when he was younger, and now as an SME providing some pretty interesting tech into predominantly the navy now. But I've asked him to come to studio to share his journey in defence, from coming out of uniform and into the commercial sector. But also how that's recently evolved from SME sense in terms of diversification outside of defence type work and the rationale for that. So with that introduction I've got Darren Burrowes in the studio, he is the Engineering Director at ATSA, which is based up in Newcastle. Darren how you going?
Darren Burrowes: Very good Phil, thanks for having us.
Phil Tarrant: It's good to have you here, per my intro I like chatting with SME's you know, I like the passion that SME's have, I understand a lot of the challenges that SME's have. I run an SME, more MNS but, which has a lot more headaches than running a smaller business. I imagine you're sort of in a similar boat mate, so Newcastle base, are you born and bred Newcastle boy?
Darren Burrowes: No.
Phil Tarrant: How did that all work?
Darren Burrowes: I was born in Melbourne, 11 years in the navy, and then two ship building projects, Anzac ship and the Mine Hunter Coastal, and the Mine Hunter Coastal was built in Newcastle. Loved the town so much we started the company to stay there really.
Phil Tarrant: That's it.
Darren Burrowes: So it was me and my partner, Neil Hodges, Neil brings the operational experience from the Royal Navy and I bring the engineering experience from the Royal Australian Navy. We started up that company in 2000, ADSA Defence Services, two guys and a mobile phone. A very big mobile phone at that stage.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah it would have been.
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, and we've since diversified, we're now the Blue Zone Group, and ADSA is just part of what we do.
Phil Tarrant: So you talk about kicking off in 2000 and it feels so long ago, but most people remember the 2000 being the Sydney Olympics, and I was a lot younger then as probably you were as well. So how long coming out of the navy and starting of Blue Zone Group, how big was that gap? Was it straight in or was there a period?
Darren Burrowes: No, I left the navy in 89 and then worked on those two major projects, Anzac ship and Mine Hunter Coastal, so that's where I got a lot of my experience in systems engineering, project management. So it's those lessons out of the big companies that I worked for, trans field on Anzac ship and then ADI who became tallis on Mine Hunter Coastal, taking the lessons learnt from those big companies and how to do things properly in defence, and applying the best of breed I guess into a small company is what we've always been about.
Phil Tarrant: When did you work out that you could have built a nice career within those major primes and be doing something very different today I imagine, when did you work out, you know I'm going to do this thing myself, and give it a crack at? How did it happen?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, I guess we could always see that there was a faster way to do things, in an SME you've got certain advantages, you're closer to the customer, you're closer to the decision makers, you are the decision maker so you can move a lot faster. It's that innovation I guess that attracted me and my partner to the field. There was the SAAB Double Eagle mine disposal system on the Mine Hunter Coastal and we picked up the project to support that, the in-service support for that for SAAB. That was the beginning of our company, so we started as a service company, which is a great paradigm to have as a company, you only get one chance to get service right. You might think your steaks well done, and I might think mine is underdone but we can both agree if the waiter service is bad, so service is really where we started, and that whole culture is throughout the company.
Phil Tarrant: So take me to that first day when you and Neil sat there and went, "Okay, we're in business for ourselves now." What did you do? What was that; ...
Darren Burrowes: Well we were back on the tools, that was the most dangerous period in the company's growth I guess, you've got to do everything.
Phil Tarrant: So you went back in and just straight onto these programmes, and projects working away, selling your time mainly I imagine back then?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, we were finding, maintaining, repairing the system right from the get go, training navy, so the system was still being delivered, the ships were still being delivered. We were providing the training, we were service partners for SAAB Underwater Systems, so we became their arms and legs in Australia, in that period.
Phil Tarrant: So SAAB service partners so you would look after the SAAB products integration into these programmes and service of them, so you guys oversaw that and fixed them if they went wrong, is that pretty much how it worked?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, we oversaw the delivery into the Mine Hunter Coastal programme of that underwater system, the mine disposal system, and ran all the trials and got sign off from the customer and supported that system through the whole acquisition process. Then we established the in-service support capability, and that didn't exist in Australia, so completely boot strap funded from our own income from the repairs. We funded the development of our whole workshop facility and funded the growth of the company to create what I think is a sovereign industry capability for underwater vehicle maintenance that's remotely operated vehicles like the Double Eagle and Autonomous underwater vehicles that will be entering service soon with navy. So we've built that capability, we're very passionate about it obviously, from the ground up, starting off with the Mine Hunter Coastal project.
Phil Tarrant: The relationship with SAAB today versus back then, how's it changed?
Darren Burrowes: It hasn't changed much, it's a brilliant relationship, we've got a 10 page agreement, we never refer to it, we solve things over the phone or by email, or in person. It's a really brilliant relationship, and it's been a win win, which is always been part of our story, we've been able to provide the on the ground support right here in Australia. They've gone on in their head office back in Sweden to design much better systems and the next generation of systems, knowing that we were looking after the customer completely here in Australia. It's been a win for the customer, navy's had fast, active, passionate support, and we've designed mods and upgrades for navy here in Australia. It's been a win for the company that we've built, starting off with two people and growing to 38 people now in Newcastle, Melbourne and Perth.
Phil Tarrant: It's a good story.
Darren Burrowes: Yeah it is, yeah.
Phil Tarrant: I guess you sort of act as a bit of a translator, sort of in the middle there between SAAB and the customer to get these products in service and working and delivering value?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, sometimes there's that need to explain what the local situation, conditions in Australia's oceans are very harsh, navy wants to operate it in a different way, we provide that translation and understanding of what the customer wants. We've seen innovations that we've developed and SAAB's taken a look at them and said, "That's a good idea, we can use that for our other customers." So that's back into the global supply chain, it's about finding your place in the value chain I guess, and if you can see the value and create it, so we started off as doing technical and repairs and then we moved into doing engineering and product development. We've slowly built up a very capable specialised engineering team for underwater technology.
Phil Tarrant: Do you think if you and Neil didn't have inservice pedigree, actually being in the navy, that you wouldn't be able to do this, or do as effectively? Is that a key thing?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, it definitely helps, our visions always been clear, we want the equipment working at sea, that's it. We empower everyone in the company to make that happen, the service in our workshop, we aim for error space levels, I don't claim to be there but we want everything working correctly when it leaves the ship. Navy has limited opportunities to maintain and repair this equipment once it gets to sea, so if it fails it's a mission failure, the ship turns around and comes back. So we're very conscious of making sure that we service very high levels.
Phil Tarrant: So you've got to get it right.
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: There's a lot of time and expense in operational risk associated with these things not working.
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, that's right and doing maintenance on the ship is very difficult, they don't really have a location to do that.
Phil Tarrant: How hands on do you get with the seamen who are operating this equipment? Is that a close relationship you have with them, to up skill and educate?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, we do work down on the ships, maintenance and repair at Waterhen, and so our technicians work with their technicians all the time and we work with them to ensure that the systems working as best it can. For some time we ran the maintainer training in our workshop at Newcastle and that was a very good relationship, so we had navy maintainers in our workshop. The engineers would give the theory part I guess, and the navy technicians would work with our technicians side by side on the equipment, it was a very good way to build that knowledge into the navy.
Phil Tarrant: If you can go back to 2000 when you guys first kicked this off, what do you wish you knew back then, that you know now, that would have made your life a bit easier?
Darren Burrowes: Oh, I can't really say, we've made some mistakes along the way. I guess we needed to believe in ourselves more I guess, when you start a big project like this you tend to, if somebody says you need special tools, you go, well we must need those special tools and you buy those special tools. You discover later that you could have made those special tools, for example things like that yeah. It's small stuff, but in general; ...
Phil Tarrant: No sort of wholesale issues or problems that you had to sort of overcome?
Darren Burrowes: No, not really. You know we've learnt a lot on the way, and we've got better and better at the maintenance but that's been the innovation we've provided, building that inservice support capability and we aim to be globally best at it. We know we are 'cause SAAB has since asked us to quote on projects for other navies to build the support capability in other places in the world. So yeah we're good at it and we aim to keep getting better.
Phil Tarrant: That's good, and your message for SME's, for someone that's been in the business now for 17 odd years, what do SME's need to do to number one get really good partnerships like you have with SAAB. But number two make sure you deliver to the customer always, because you don't get many chances.
Darren Burrowes: No, you don't, yeah you've got to have a strong focus on the end customer and really know what you're doing. Know that you're best in the world at it, and have an economic engine, you need to be able to make payroll every week. So you need to be doing something that the customer wants, finding that niche.
Phil Tarrant: When you look into the future within your business from the defence orientated work that you pick up, how much feasibility or how much confidence do you have that you're going to be paying those bills moving forward? Do you have a long pipeline of work head of you? Or you thinking about the next big programme?
Darren Burrowes: Well the MineHunter Coastal life of type extension, that's just been announced of the phase one pass. Yeah that is a big part of our, that's the biggest thing on our horizon and ensuring that we offer the system that navy wants into that upgrade, Mine warfare will always be with us, it's the poor cousin of naval warfare, there's no doubt about that, but it appears in every conflict. Sometimes the lessons have to be re learnt, you know wherever there's shallow water and narrow passages, there ideal places for mine warfare, landings in China and Korea were held up in the Korean war by mine warfare. It is a recurring theme, we currently have arguably the best in the world Mine Hunters, arguably the best in the world mine disposal system, so we're starting from a great base and I want to see Australia have that capability into the future, and we're part of that.
Phil Tarrant: So the nature of that warfare, has it fundamentally changed, or in the way in which navies operate within those environments has changed also over the last 50 years since the lands in Korea? Is it changed that much? How's the technology evolving with it?
Darren Burrowes: Well mines can be very smart now, so they can be very hard to defeat. It is a, if somebodies laid mines or claims to have laid mines, the only way to go out there to find out is to go out there and look, and that's very expensive. It's a classic asymmetric weapon, and mine hunting, and mine warfare becomes about confidence. How confident are you that you've cleared that area before you sail ships over it?
Phil Tarrant: It's a big deal.
Darren Burrowes: It is a big deal, it's a very big deal, and it's constantly coming back, and we need to be practised at it and ensure that the war fighters have the best possible tools in their hands.
Phil Tarrant: How do you think being ex Navy but now within the industry, how well do you think Australia's equipped to be a leader in this field? Would you say they were ahead of the curb? Or have we got some way to go?
Darren Burrowes: Well, we're coming off a great base, I think we should be leaders in this field because the future is about robotics, unmanned, underwater vehicles of all types, which are really the technology was just seeing that improved in leaps and bounds. They're at the point now where they can be used for search operations, Australia has huge claims over maritime resources, in fact we claim more sea area than the land area of our continent. It seems to be if you're going to go around claiming that stuff, in the defence sense you need to be doing surveillance, who's there, what are they doing, should they be doing that? Robotics, uninhabited systems, both are service vehicles, underwater vehicles and aerial vehicles are all part of that future. An ideal technology for Australia to invest in as a small defence force that needs a leading edge in technology, yes that is our future.
Phil Tarrant: The kit that we were able to get our hands on via SAAB and through you guys, and it's delivering what we need to do in order to fight this new type of anti mine warfare.
Darren Burrowes: It is.
Phil Tarrant: Now, yeah.
Darren Burrowes: Innovative systems like the Liquid Robotics Wave Glider, driven by wave power that can stay at sea for periods of up to a year.
Phil Tarrant: So how does that work, can you explain that to me? It's intriguing.
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, it's hard on a podcast, but basically the energy at the wave surface is captured by the surface unit and transferred to the sub unit below and that drags the surface unit through the water. So it's completely wave powered, and you don't need many waves at all to move it. It doesn't move fast, about two knots but it can stay at sea for a long time. So it's ubiquitous, persistent, ocean sensing and very hard for anybody who doesn't know where to look to find it. Very difficult, it's like finding a surf board in the ocean.
Phil Tarrant: We now have these sort of operating out there, doing what they do?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, navies operating eight of those and they acquired those in 2011 through us, and again we've repeated the Double Eagle model and built the support programme. We just did the exact same thing, we said, "Look you need a proper support programme for this." We built it together with the customer, which is Maritime Rangers in Navy, and they're very happy with the performance of those vehicles. But I think they're just at the start of the curve of what they can be used for, there's many things, only limited by the imagination in some ways. So as part of the sub surface to space con activity that we'll see in the ocean in the future.
Phil Tarrant: So sort of 10, 20 years ahead then, what are we going to see? Where's the tech heading, because it's evolving in leaps and bounds and some very smart sort of boffins around coming out with some great concepts to harness the energy of waves, to keep something perpetually moving. So what can we expect to see?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, I expect you can see wave gliders for example deployed in picket line applications, wherever we want to sense where something’s moving. If a force is lodged on a beach, they could be deployed guarding an approach. They'll be providing connectivity between the underwater vehicles doing the search, and satellites in the sky, and providing more or less a digital ocean. Enhancing what the ship knows about what's going on, which can only be at one place at one time.
Phil Tarrant: What do are you doing as a business so you guys can make sure that you're ahead of the curve in understanding what tech is available, how can it be developed within the Australian context, and really relaying that information into the customer, into the navy so they're abreast and aware of it. It must be quite an ongoing task for you guys to be up there and on it?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, it's a constant conversation, I mean we're constantly training our people at all levels, and sending them to overseas shows and understanding what other people are doing with this kind of tech. In engineering keeping ahead of all the developments across the electronic engineering field. One thing that we do, because we're in offshore oil and gas, and we're in water infrastructure and we're in oceanographic, so we look at what works in offshore oil and gas. How might that work in defence? Is there a lesson to be learned there into defence, and vice versa. If defence does it this way, what might offshore oil and gas customers use that technology for? So we're seeing that technology come through across the whole spectrum of underwater technology.
Phil Tarrant: I want to have a quick chat about you guys moving outside of the native room of yours, which is defence into oil and gases and other markets. But before I do that, what's your feelings, your sentiments towards the current state of play within defence industry? So there's an obvious amount of spending going into it right now, some major programmes underway, particularly in the naval sector, which is probably good for you guys. How do you see the market right now, compared to a couple of decades that you've been in this game? Is it a good market to be in defence?
Darren Burrowes: Well yeah, I certainly think the pendulum has swung back to more Australian industry involvement, which is how we got our start during the Mine Hunter Coastal programme, there was a strong drive for Australian industry, capability I think it was called then. SAAB to their credit took that seriously, the systems were built here in Sydney, and that enabled that technician to technician, engineer to engineer collaboration, which allowed us to get our start, 'cause we could see how that equipment was built. So I really applaud the swing back to Australian industry becoming much more involved, and allowing Australian industry to build that capability during the decision process, that enables us to do the in-service support. So yeah very exciting to get involved in the new programmes coming.
Phil Tarrant: It is and your partner Neil, told a New South Wales Parliamentary hearing about the challenges, difficulties facing SME's. What do you think you've particularly encountered as a business that may have been a hind erous or a hurdle, or something that you might have been easier to navigate should these things not be in place? Is there anything in particular there?
Darren Burrowes: Well I think you know schedule is king, Eema used to say that, but it still is, I don't know why people forget that, if for the year of decision is 2017, the decision should be made in 2017, otherwise everybody in industry is waiting. That hurts SME's a lot, we still need to make payroll every month.
Phil Tarrant: Do you think New South Wales defence is doing enough to support you and your business as you try and grow and evolve?
Darren Burrowes: New South Wales has so many natural advantages in defence, and we just need to see more of that. Not just natural advantages like Sydney harbour, and the engineering capability up at Newcastle where I'm from, but all the education in the universities, the majority is here in New South Wales. Its intellectual talent that's going to drive the defence forces of the future. Newcastle's a very exciting place itself at the moment, we've got a world leading engineering faculty in the university there, we've got a start up capture, culture happening with the university and a start up incubator called 1804. We've got Tafe re-locating their skills point for advanced manufacturing and robotics into Newcastle. So there's a history of engineering in that town from the VHV day, and I think that can be the future for Newcastle, smart manufacturing. Defence is a huge buyer of technology, if defence buys local we can part of the suppliers to that.
Phil Tarrant: Are you having much trouble getting these smart people coming out of Newcastle uni to come and join an organisation like yours? I'd imagine you're probably quite an attractive employer because you probably doing the stuff that they want to do.
Darren Burrowes: I think so. Yeah, I think we are yeah. It's exciting stuff, robotics in the ocean, encapsulates so many types of engineering and in some ways it harder than deep space. The communication parts are very long with acoustics, the materials have to be all correct. Corrosion is a constant issue, unlike deep space we have to also cope with pressure, so intense pressures at depth in the ocean. So it's very interesting from an engineering point of view.
Phil Tarrant: From your point of view, what is it about the work that you really enjoy?
Darren Burrowes: Well I love the engineering still, and the projects, although I'm not hands on, but exciting to see the engineers working on things. I like getting things right, and seeing the customer happy for sure.
Phil Tarrant: Is customer by in large quite happy?
Darren Burrowes: I think so.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah. That's a good place to be, right?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah.
Phil Tarrant: You're in a business service.
Darren Burrowes: Yeah that's right.
Phil Tarrant: So talk me through this I guess the organic development of your business sort of outside of your traditional domain of defence. What's been the rational for that? Is it chasing new programmes, or looking for scale?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, well we always knew we were a one trick pony, so we were very conscious of being in that niche, we liked the niche but we saw that, that might be challenged one day. So we had a number of attempts to move out of that, we tried our own product development, that's very expensive, the time lines very long. We've tried commercialization with various universities and other research organisations but we didn't find a fit there. In the end we did an acquisition of a company called UVS, Underwater Video Systems, originally a sales organisation who had the Melbourne and Perth offices and the exposure to the offshore oil and gas industry. A very interesting company in their own rights, started in 1973 selling the first remotely operated vehicles to the Bass Strait and sending their technicians for training on new technology at that time micro-processes. They'd followed the offshore oil and gas business from where it started in the Bass Strait in Victoria to Perth in Western Australia, and we still have a very solid business over there with that.
That's been a great match, UVS providing a very broad sales capability to a large number of customers, and ADSA the original company providing a strong service culture, and we brought them together under the Blue Zone brand now and that's the way we'll be moving forward in the future, which really says everything about us and where we work.
Phil Tarrant: So is your idea to sort of park or retire the ADSA brand and just be known as Blue Zone moving forward? Is that the objective?
Darren Burrowes: Pretty much, I mean it's still part of our history, which we're very proud of but Blue Zone makes more sense now for the combined company.
Phil Tarrant: Do you get frustrated not growing as fast as you'd like to grow? Considering that the type of work that you're in and the necessity or the scope of it, obviously choosing different markets to move within to, to get that growth. But what could you do to grow faster do you think?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, it's not a retail industry, you can't offer specials to drive growth, it's a be to be industry. Many of our customers are very sophisticated, they know exactly what they want, but that's the great pleasure about the industry too, you're dealing with very smart people. People in defence are interested about the security of our country, there's a higher goal there. People doing oceanography are interested about the health of the oceans, so there's a higher goal there. The equipment we make serves all that, the equipment we supply and support serves all that. We found growth in bringing more service capability to Australia, that's not easy, sometimes global OEMC see it as losing part of their rice bowl, and even when they agree to it getting the information out of them cannot be straightforward.
So you need to be a very smart company to do that, and we've achieved that on a number of systems, so building more capability for service industry is great for Australian customers. Australian customers hate their equipment going offshore, both because of the cost and the delay, and you just lose sight of the repair cycle. Yeah bringing service to Australia has been part of our growth where it makes sense.
Phil Tarrant: In terms of navigating the sales process with defence, with the customer, your recommendations for other SME's in this space, obviously patience is key, and understanding where the investment is being allocated, and making sure you have those propositions. But any recommendations for other SME's to navigate the defence sales process more effectively?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah it's patience and networking I suppose, like a lot of your other guests have said, it does take a while to land those big fish.
Phil Tarrant: But keep at it and get it.
Darren Burrowes: Keep at it, yeah and get it. Get the right advisors.
Phil Tarrant: Looking at the relationship you have with your partner, Neil, he's ex Royal Navy, you're ex Australian Navy, is it fundamentally the same thing? Is it like culturally, do you guys see the world different ways, based on your experience through your respective arms as in service in different nations?
Darren Burrowes: Look an engineers never going to agree with an operational guy. No, we do see things very much the same, and not to be trite but we're in the same boat. We see that, we come from that background, everyone's in a ship, everyone's as important as the next guy. The guy dipping the oils as important as the guy navigating in a lot of ways, we see that. You fight together, you win together. That's the way we've run the company, yeah we've taken that culture into the company I guess.
Phil Tarrant: How would you sort of explain the culture of the business if I was to head up the Newcastle and have a chat with some of your guys and girls up there. How would they explain you guys as leaders, but how would they explain the company how it's sort of evolving in the defence environment?
Darren Burrowes: Well I think it's an open culture, we try and communicate as much as possible, all the ideas are not at the top. We're working on building the team, educating the team constantly. The growth is going to come through people as they get better educated I think, and have fun along the way too. Do things right, but we can stop and celebrate successes.
Phil Tarrant: You've got to have fun as well, you work a lot, yeah. How do you sort of celebrate your successes? I always ask this question, 'cause everyone, it's quite funny you ask a CEO of a prime how they celebrate successes you get an extremely different response to an SME. The SME is a lot more family orientated, a lot more closer and collaborative. How do you guys sort of celebrate when you guys land a nice big project?
Darren Burrowes: Well every month we have the barbecue line, and if we hit our targets and are above the barbecue line then we have a barbecue.
Phil Tarrant: The barbecue line yeah.
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, so communication, we're doing it on all sites, yeah, so that's our constant focus on, that's our 20 mile march as Jim Collins would say. Getting those results every month.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah, and how do you keep your energy levels up to, leading always has its challenge, so you know you have your good months, bad months, good days, bad days. What do you do personally to sort of keep yourself 100% and sort of firing all cylinders?
Darren Burrowes: Anything starting with s, swimming, skiing, cycling.
Phil Tarrant: Sounds alright. Well you're quite fortunate up in Newcastle, there's plenty, you can’t do skiing but you know.
Darren Burrowes: That's right.
Phil Tarrant: I flew over the ski fields the other day and it just reminds you how big Australia is and how much little snow we have. It's a tiny little blip, we got some white stuff but I've enjoyed the chat Darren. It's quite a usual path for people to leave services and potentially join defence industry, but I've had a lot of conversations recently with people coming out of navy, army or air force who have gone and created some really good SME's and very much a backbone to our defence industry capabilities these days. So it's good to see that this is working.
Darren Burrowes: Yeah.
Phil Tarrant: Are you guys taking people out of defence? Do you see it as a nice sort of way you can grow your business, to be a source of potential employment?
Darren Burrowes: We hire for culture, and if the culture fits then they're the people we bring on. Yeah, but not so much targeting defence yeah. Just touching on your point about start ups, I think as a nation with the spend into defence, defence being a huge high technology buyer, we've got to look for start ups out of every one of the projects that we start. If there is true technology transfer where are the start ups that we should be expecting start ups out of the big projects coming through. That can be in the country and be selling overseas.
Phil Tarrant: Are you getting involved in that incubation hub that you mentioned up in Newcastle?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, I'm involved in that, and we've done some angel investing on our own, reinvesting money into tech start ups. Some with a defence focus, yeah, so we're putting our money where our mouth is in terms of that. We want to see that tech succeed, that intellectual property, that intellectual endeavours the future.
Phil Tarrant: Do you think we've got good enough connectivity between academia, start ups, SME's and primes and even the government, do you think everyone's doing enough to really cultivate this talent? Or you think it's a long way to go for us?
Darren Burrowes: There's a way to go, I mean it's getting better but as long as academics are judged on published papers, that's a completely different paradigm to what industry wants out of academia. So we need to make that better, yeah. Need to connect that better, Newcastle as a regional town got a real chance to get that right with the great university there, so I think we can do it there.
Phil Tarrant: So we're going to start seeing more from the Hunter region, the defence hub moving forward you think?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, I think so.
Phil Tarrant: It's already quite well known as a hub for defence, you've got Hunter and stuff up there, and it does some good work.
Darren Burrowes: Tellus announcing the reopening of the Mine Hunter site for small ship repairs. So that's great, you know it's a natural facility, you've got to take advantage of your natural advantages, and it's a great engineering port. It's a great infrastructure there for ship maintenance and repair. Yeah William Town and Cigna Army.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah, and do you think the current population of Newcastle, Hunter region is sufficient enough to sustain a lot of growth within defence industry there, or are we going to have to attract people from other parts of Australia into Newcastle?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, and I think they'll come, 'cause the quality of life's just so good up there. Housings cheaper so, yeah it's a great regional town.
Phil Tarrant: Is there much buzz around the place with obviously F35's getting stationed up in William Town, I've had a look at the facilities up there and it's absolutely madness. I know most tradies in Newcastle work on base at the moment trying to get this stuff built, but does Newcastle know that there's stuff going on and the prospects are bright because of the defence industry?
Darren Burrowes: Well the people who are connected with defence definitely know, yeah in terms of the town, maybe they need more exposure to that. Certainly I know when I visit San Diego for example, you know that the navy is a big employer in San Diego. You know it, you know when a ships sailing and when a ships returning, because you'll see the signs everywhere. So you know that's kind of a different paradigm, much bigger, but it could be like that.
Phil Tarrant: Well it could be, and I haven't really spoken to anyone within government up here, the local government, but I think there's great prospects to fly the flag better for Newcastle so. It's great you can come on and do that.
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, happy too.
Phil Tarrant: Great prospects and yeah enjoyed the chat Darren, quite interested and intrigued by the tech, sort of development with underwater robotics and unmanned systems, and the role it can play. I didn't know that we claim more sea area than land area, and we're a pretty big continent, right?
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, that's right.
Phil Tarrant: It's a lot of ocean to cover for a very small comparatively population and a navy, which isn't exactly massive. So I know we've got some really good aircraft now that can help patrol our frontiers. We obviously have drawn radar, which is pretty smart but we need to look under as well.
Darren Burrowes: Yeah, that's right.
Phil Tarrant: It's really good, nice, thanks for coming in mate, it was really good. If people want to find out more about you guys how do they do that? What's your website?
Darren Burrowes: They can hit up our website, www.bluezonegroup.com.au