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40 Under 40 winner of the day: Tom Steer


With a strong business background and more than 13 years’ experience in a wide range of executive roles, Tom Steer is helping to create more opportunities for South Australians through online learning.


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In the last two years, Steer has led the start-up and rapid growth of UniSA Online—the online education arm of the University of South Australia.

The 37-year-old executive director of UniSA Online oversees a team of more than 100 staff.

Steer helped rebrand and redesign the education experience for online students, from initial inquiry through to enrolment, teaching and graduation.

UniSA Online primarily targets busy adults who need to juggle work, life and family commitments, and provides a suite of career-focused online degrees so that students can integrate study with busy lives and pursue their career goals.

Before joining the university in 2017, Steer spent 13 years at Hewlett Packard Enterprises (HPE) in both Australia and the UK, where he was chief of staff and program director.

Steer returned to Adelaide in 2014 to establish a strategic partnership between HPE and the University of South Australia. This involved co-developing a new four-year honours degree program that incorporates a 12-month paid internship at HPE.

Steer has a Master’s Degree in Business Information Systems from UniSA and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

In June, he was named in InDaily’s 40 Under 40, which recognises the best and brightest young business people in South Australia.

What is the single most important lesson you have learnt in your business career so far?

Success doesn’t come from you being the hero – it’s not sustainable or scalable.

Pride yourself on your ability to build great teams. Focus your energy on bringing together talented people who complement each other, working towards a clear vision with a great culture. Once you can do that, it’s self-perpetuating as high performers like working with others who make them better, and then act as a magnet for other high performers.

Once you’ve been part of a great team you can’t accept anything less.

What do you believe are the strengths of doing business in South Australia?

There’s a high level of collaboration between government, industry and universities in SA which is really healthy.

Our business leaders are generally very accessible, down-to-earth and generous with their time. Reputation and relationships are everything in a city the size of Adelaide so you don’t tend to get the egos and game- playing that can exist in other places.

There’s a lot of talent around who love living in Adelaide due to the lifestyle and they’re always looking for opportunities to progress their careers but stay in the state.

What do you believe are the weak points of conducting business in South Australia?

Doing business in SA can feel quite isolated due to the lack of large companies that have a significant presence here. With only one of Australia’s top 50 companies headquartered in SA and very few multinationals with their Australian headquarters here, most of the key decision-makers in the Australian business community live and work interstate.

There can also be a risk-averse culture and high comfort level in SA due to the large proportion of the workforce employed in the public sector, and a lack of staff turnover in the private sector due to the small number of large employers.

Do you see your future in South Australia? 

I see my future in SA as I love the lifestyle and I’m optimistic about the state’s future.

I see South Australia as having all the right conditions for growth: affordability, education, infrastructure and standard of living. I’m sure we’ll reach a tipping point where the benefits of living and working in SA will no longer be such a well-held secret and we’ll be able to attract significant investment from interstate and overseas.

I love working for UniSA as we’re continually growing and the collaborations with industry locally and globally present exciting opportunities.

How can the state encourage more of its young leaders to stay?

Young professionals don’t just want a job, they want a future. They want to work on exciting and challenging projects, have some variety in their roles and plenty of scope for career progression.

I think supporting the start-up ecosystem is an important initiative which will help entrepreneurs to stay and create new jobs here, but not everyone is suited to working in a start-up.

We need to bend over backwards to attract more large organisations to SA who can create thousands of highly skilled jobs and generate the pipeline of our future business leaders.

To see the full list of 40 winners go here.

InDaily is profiling each of the winners – go here to read more.

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