Dr John Best

2017 Alumni Award for Research and Innovation

Vice President and Chief Technical Officer, Thales Australia

Doctor of Philosophy (Mathematics), 1991

Dr John Best is an exemplary research and development (R&D) leader, combining deep scientific insight with a talent for management for the benefit of Australian manufacturing and industry.

John is Vice-President, Chief Technical Officer at Thales Australia, where he provides technological and strategic business leadership across technical strategy, research and development, innovation, engineering process and development, and technical governance. He has steered substantial capability improvements and worked to better align the company’s R&D programs with its broader strategic direction.

He has been the prime mover in a visionary partnership between Thales Australia and the Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC), in which UOW is a key participant. He led an R&D collaboration between the two organisations that contributed to the design and manufacture – in volume, and in Australia – of the Bushmaster, a technologically-advanced wheeled armoured vehicle that has won high trust among its users, including the Australian Army. The quality and economic viability of the production line was underpinned by extensive research, and offered a critical boost to Australian manufacturing at a time when many producers were under great pressure. The project garnered international acclaim, and earned a prestigious Eureka Award in 2013 – a true mark of research excellence and impact.

Critically, John has enhanced Thales’ engagement with the innovation ecosystem – including universities, startups and the company’s supply chain – to foster the development of new technologies and solutions. He was instrumental in the establishment of DMTC, facilitating critical early discussions between Thales, UOW and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO). He remains a director of DMTC and has continued to advocate and champion UOW research within Thales, cementing a strong and enduring collaboration in advanced manufacturing and engineering. He has offered his time and expertise to shape engineering and technology education at leading universities, and is highly regarded in both industry and higher education.

John joined ADI Limited, later to become Thales Australia, in 2003. He led the integration and transformation into an R&D centre of Advanced Systems Pty Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of ADI, and led ADI’s bid to supply the Australian Army with tactical unmanned aerial vehicles. He served as General Manager Strategy across ADI’s Electronic Systems business group and then Chief Technologist, becoming Vice-President, Technology, Research and Development when Thales Australia was formalised.

He spent 15 years with DSTO before joining ADI and Thales, during which time he led and contributed to programs of work in underwater weapon effects modelling, mine warfare operations research, synthetic environments and naval combat systems, including Virtual Ship technologies offering great potential to study and develop new capabilities.

With a lifelong fascination with the discovery of new and often counter-intuitive things, John’s focus in recent years has turned to seeking out and encouraging others’ discoveries and finding innovative ways to translate them into real commercial and societal value. He is energised by the possibilities realised when academia and industry work together to apply new technologies and advances to solving complex problems – not just for Thales’ customers, but for society more broadly.

John holds a UOW PhD in Mathematics, adding to undergraduate studies in theoretical physics and an MBA. He possesses that elusive combination of technical and academic excellence, business acumen and inspiring leadership, and works at the nexus of science, creativity and practical innovation. His career illuminates a pathway for higher degree researchers in theoretical fields of endeavour – often seen as limiting in terms of career choices outside academia – to apply their skills in industry.

Chancellor, Dr John Best’s contribution to research and innovation is exceptional. His readiness to explore opportunities for creative innovation and the strong culture of collaboration he has fostered between industry and academia have continued to enhance Australia’s national capabilities and competitiveness.

It is a privilege to present Dr John Best for the Alumni Award for Research and Innovation.