Professor Murray Gillin AM

Emeritus Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Words by Peter Wilmoth. Reading time: 6 minutes, 31 seconds.

Professor Murray Gillin’s first contact with Swinburne was in 1951 at the Glenferrie Oval, the home ground of the Hawthorn Football Club. A student at the School of Mines in Ballarat in the early 1950s, Murray found himself heading to Melbourne to play baseball and compete in athletics against what was then Swinburne Technical College. Like any sportsperson with a good memory, Murray remembers his team won. He couldn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a six-decade relationship with Swinburne in all its iterations.

Murray watched Swinburne grow from a small technical school in the 1950s to a world-renowned university. ‘Back in the ‘50s it had a good name as one of the outstanding senior technical colleges,’ he says. ‘By the ‘70s, when it became an institute of technology, we were world players in co-operative education.’ He notes that Swinburne has provided three presidents of the World Association of Cooperative Education: Roy Longworth, Bob Davie and himself.

Engineering his career

Murray’s career spans 60 years across a broad spectrum of teaching and research, including engineering, entrepreneurship and innovation. And for many of those years Swinburne was a part of it. In 1957 Murray took his first position at Swinburne Technical College as a part-time lecturer in metallurgy, teaching in converted houses on Burwood Road near John Street. (These were demolished to build an engineering building, which in turn was superseded by the Advanced Technologies Centre.)

After completing his Master of Engineering Science at The University of Melbourne in 1958 and undertaking a position at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories, Murray transferred to the University of Cambridge in the UK to complete his doctoral research on carbon-fibre composites. From 1965 Murray was involved in developing and leading both an inter-laboratory and multidisciplinary team to establish the science and design of carbon-fibre composites in Australia.

In 1989, Murray became an eminent adviser to Advanced Composites CRC (now Advanced Composite Structures Australia based in Port Melbourne) as it worked with aircraft company Hawker De Havilland to develop the technology, engineering design and fabrication processes for a tail assembly for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. ‘We now have a viable aircraft industry in Australia thanks to that research,’ he says.

‘We established ourselves as the premier engineering school in Australia offering a compulsory 12 months’ work-integrated package.’

Murray spent many years working in defence engineering research, including roles as defence research attaché in Washington and head of laboratory programs at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation in Canberra. In 1979, 22 years after he first arrived at Swinburne, he returned as dean of the Faculty of Engineering. ‘I applied for the position with a passionate commitment to giving back my experience through teaching students,’ he says.

He went on to develop Australia’s largest and most successful industry-based learning program. ‘Swinburne, with its strong commitment to work integrated learning, gave me the ideal vehicle to deliver on my promise. We established ourselves as the premier engineering school in Australia offering a compulsory 12 months’ work-integrated package in the four-and-a-half-year degree.’ In recognition of this leadership Murray was elected President of the World Association for Cooperative Education in 1996, holding the role for two years.

Introducing entrepreneurship to engineers

Murray recalls that a major turning point in his career occurred in 1979 when the federal government initiated an enterprise workshop in Melbourne for final-year engineering students. In 1981 Murray was appointed its director. Murray developed the first Graduate Diploma of Entrepreneurial Studies as a jointly taught initiative from engineering and business staff. ‘By linking it with a Graduate Diploma in Management, engineering students could choose to combine these entrepreneurial qualifications with their engineering degree,’ he says.

In 1988 Swinburne’s Academic Board accredited a Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation within the Faculty of Engineering, the first such program in the world. ‘The MEI became the ‘flagship’ of the new university with international recognition,’ Murray says.

‘The MEI became the “flagship” of the new university with international recognition.’

In 1990 Murray was appointed Swinburne’s first professor in entrepreneurship and innovation. At the time, he was the first in Australia. ‘Importantly, I carried this title when I was elected president of the Institution of Engineers Australia in 1992. It was a proud recognition of the standing of the Faculty of Engineering in the university and among engineers at this time,’ he says.

Expanding studies in entrepreneurship and innovation

The re-structuring of the university in 1994 brought many changes, including then vice-chancellor Iain Wallace’s commitment to establish Swinburne University of Technology as a boutique research-intensive institution similar to Caltech, the renowned science and engineering institute in the United States. ‘Entrepreneurship was moved into the new business and arts division, in the words of the vice-chancellor, “to make business more entrepreneurial”,’ Murray says.

In May 1994 Murray negotiated a partnership between Swinburne and accounting firm Ernst & Young to form the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Pty Ltd. ‘We moved all teaching to Ernst & Young offices in the city with rapid growth and significant national and international recognition,’ he says. ‘At the same time we opened teaching centres in Singapore and Israel with the latter program continuing until 2006. An oft-repeated comment from returning senior staff after international travel was, when advising my host that I was from Swinburne, the host responded, “Oh that’s where you have the Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship”.’

‘…when advising my host that I was from Swinburne, the host responded, “Oh that’s where you have the Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship”.’

Murray formally retired from Swinburne in 1998, but he continued teaching and researching entrepreneurship. In 2004 he founded the AGSE Entrepreneurship Research Conference, the Richard Pratt Entrepreneurship Oration and the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, and was elected a By-Fellow at Churchill College Cambridge.

In 2008 he was appointed director of the AGSE, which after a break of several years is relaunching at Swinburne in 2017 under the leadership of Alexander Kaiser with refreshed courses and resources ‘to once again stand on the world stage as an outstanding centre for teaching, research and collaboration with industry’.

A passionate educator

Murray cites as an influence his PhD supervisor in Cambridge, Professor Tony Kelly CBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), who introduced him to carbon-fibre composites and maintained a continuing mentoring role. He says that without the encouragement, counselling and practical support from Professor Wallace, the growth and reputation of entrepreneurship at Swinburne would not have been possible.

Murray has been recognised with Membership of the Order of Australia, two honorary doctorates for this work (one from Swinburne in 2016, the other from Northeastern University in 1997), and gained awards from Australia and overseas for teaching excellence and similar awards for contribution to research. ‘In every case, my affiliation and leadership at Swinburne was highlighted,’ he says.

‘The university gave me the opportunity on both a national and world stage to practise my passion for sharing knowledge and learning.’

He says Swinburne had a reputation for innovation in education which provided the ideal platform to introduce teaching and research in entrepreneurship and innovation. ‘Amazingly, the university gave me the opportunity on both a national and world stage to practise my passion for sharing knowledge and learning. When a student attends subsequent classes of mine and tells me, “Wow I actually applied the learning you shared with me in making my business grow,” giving back takes on a whole new dimension and that includes immense satisfaction.’

Some of Murray’s renowned energy will now be used to ensure the re-launched AGSE re-establishes itself as a premier teaching, research and industry collaborative on the world stage. And 66 years after he played sport against its students, he’s back there teaching the first subject of the new MEI program. ‘At 82,’ he says, ‘I still have much to give.’