Business Minds with Ingrid Rothe of VIVID Thinking
CEO OF ICT
Introducing Susan Cull, CEO of ICT International. ICT is a multi-award-winning scientiﬁc instrumentation manufacturing and export focused business located in Armidale. ICT received a Highly Commended in the 2014 NSW Business Chambers Export Award and the 2014 Premiers Export Award, won the Regional Development Northern Inland Innovation Award in 2014 and was one of Westpac’s 200 Businesses of Tomorrow in 2017. Susan is also the President of the Armidale Business Chamber.
ell us a little about yourself. I was teaching English and history at Wee Waa High School when I met my husband, Peter. Peter was on a mission to improve water use efficiency throughout Australia; we joined forces, I gave up teaching and took on the marketing and operational management of the newly created business. We have one son, who lives with his wife in Sydney. We spent 20 years in Narrabri, moving to Armidale in 2000. What does ICT do? ICT researches, designs, manufactures and deploys unique world class scientific instrumentation for monitoring water use in plants. We manufacture in Armidale, employ 15 staff locally and export to over 50 countries annually. How did ICT come into being? ICT was formed in 1982, growing out of Peter’s PhD study, which focused on finding the most appropriate instrument to quantify the application of water to irrigative crops. Based in Narrabri for twenty years, we introduced and marketed quantitative soil moisture monitoring using neutron probes to irrigation farmers, CSIRO scientists, departments of agriculture, environmental government entities and universities. We also supplied our customers with imported scientific instrumentation for monitoring soil, plant and environmental parameters. We realised in 2006 the opportunity was in R&D and manufacturing. Overseas product wasn’t solving the issues that agriculture and forestry, for example, were experiencing, because of increasing temperatures and scarcity of water 44 New England focus.
resource. Soil science instrumentation wasn’t Why has ICT been so successful? giving our customers the research data that was We backed ourselves, fundamentally needed to advance improved crop production understood plant water relations after decades of outcomes. We determined that we needed to consulting to farmers to improve their water use focus on the plant or tree itself and effectively efficiencies and hence improve yield outcomes, started a 10-year R&D program. The result was and collaborated with the leading plant scientists the creation of completely unique plant science around the world. This formula enabled us instrumentation of which the Sap Flow Meter to develop and commercialise new sensing and Psychrometer are our flagship products. technology that was focused on solving the real These unique products issues our customers are now contributing face around the world. to new global research Our instrumentation outcomes, including: is used to research researching the tallest what will work moving When you run your trees in the world and forward: whether it is own business, you will identifying how they are what tree species will experience, pleasure, being affected by climate thrive in a world of passion and pain change; studying the increasing temperature in sometimes equal effects of trees dying and increasingly scarce measure. Don’t go into in the Tundra due to water; or how crops business unless it’s your the Tundra permafrost will respond as the absolute heart’s desire. melting; or achieving impact of climate huge water savings in change is felt. horticultural crops such We have created new as almonds, macadamias, Australian IP, unique sandalwood, citrus and grapes. Australian product which is exported to 50 ICT International’s instruments are deployed countries annually. across every possible landscape, including What were your biggest challenges starting environmental and forestry research and out? management; in agricultural, horticultural and Learning to trust my own instincts, whether glasshouse production; mine-site rehabilitation; it was about people or business strategies. Over and urban forest research. time I realised one of my strengths is to never say How do yours and Peter’s roles differ? I can’t, but to say why not and give it a go. Peter manages and leads the scientific R&D What is your favourite part of running your product development side of the business, while own business? I lead the business operations, with a focus on There are probably two things. Firstly, I really marketing. We are both involved in managing enjoy thinking creatively and like to join the production. dots. I believe that framework of thinking carries
through to my current role as President of the Armidale Business Chamber. Secondly, I love empowering our staff to take ownership of their roles and contribution to the company. As a woman in business in a once traditionally male field, what qualities have you found the most useful? Ultimately, it’s about being yourself. You can’t enjoy the confidence of your staff unless you have confidence in yourself. For me, intrinsic to that is having a sense of humour. It is part of my DNA, both personally and professionally. What inspires you? I’m inspired by seeing the beauty in the everyday things around us, in the smile of a child, a beautiful piece of writing, a beautifully designed ad campaign. What would you advise a business just starting out? When you run your own business, you will experience, pleasure, passion and pain in sometimes equal measure. Don’t go into business unless it’s your absolute heart’s desire and passion. You need commitment to stand strong in the face of that. You cannot be half hearted. You need to strive for excellence every day. Where to from here? We continue to research and design new products based on forecasting the research needs of our customers for the future. Recent new projects include working with research institutes and Councils to develop successful strategies to grow healthy urban trees for the Smart Cities of the future. Thanks Susan.