Rob Laurence (BSc (ADFA) ‘92, MBT ‘07) grew up in Melbourne and graduated from the University College, UNSW (Australian Defence Force Academy) in 1992. After a further year studying at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Rob was commissioned into the Army Aviation Corp as a pilot.
During his 15 year career in the Army, he flew Black Hawk helicopters and saw overseas service in East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, as well as support to the Sydney Olympics. After a ground position as an Air Safety Investigator, Rob left the military and moved to Northern California, where he started a second career in the high tech industry.
He is currently a senior new product program manager at Cypress Semiconductor, where he manages the development of the next generation of high speed memories.
What did you want to be as a child?
As any kid growing up, I went through different phases. One year I wanted to be a fireman, followed by a dentist, and then playing wing for the Essendon Football Club. However, towards the end of my high school years I had made the decision that I wanted to be an Army helicopter pilot.
What did you enjoy most about being a pilot?
My most enjoyable experiences as a pilot was helping people. I spent a couple of months providing drought relief in PNG and Indonesia in 1997/8, and the personal satisfaction of providing aid to people in need is difficult to describe.
What is the greatest lesson your learnt while in the military?
It is difficult to pinpoint one specific lesson. The military gives responsibility early. I learnt very early about the importance of leadership. It also develops a very keen sense of duty, honesty, integrity and ethics; traits that are important in life.
When did you decide it was time for a new career outside of the army?
My decision to leave the Australian Army was influenced by my family. Being a pilot, I spent a lot of time away from home, which was great before I was married. With a young daughter, I was very apprehensive about spending time away. I thoroughly enjoy being a father and being faced with extended periods away from my family, I made the difficult decision to change careers. Many of my peers have been able to successfully manage a career in the military and a family, but I found it difficult. We have since added two more daughters to our family and definitely have our hands full.
Why did you choose to study an MBT?
I started the MBT program even before I decided to leave the military. I believe that continually learning is an important part of life. I also knew that one day I would be leaving the military, and I was looking for a program that allowed me to aid that transition. The MBT program was a perfect fit as it allowed me to study remotely, have access to an excellent academic and support staff, and provided a great foundation for developing an understanding of business.
What do you enjoy most about life in America?
Did you find it easy to settle in? I am fortunate to live in Silicon Valley. Many great tech firms are founded and headquartered in the Valley, and the start-up culture ensures that the business scene is continually evolving. Also, the climate and people’s attitudes in the San Francisco Bay are similar to Australia, so the transition was a little easier. My accent is both a source of pride (people love the way I say certain words) and a source of frustration when people find it difficult to understand me. It is amazing to discover the open acceptance of Australians by Americans, and I have found that my military experience is an asset that is desirable by many US firms.
What are the major challenges of your current role?
By far, the biggest challenge is managing a diverse team. I manage a team that has many different skills; from integrated circuit design to manufacturing; from marketing to high tech process engineering. The learning curve is steep and it has been a challenge to find the balance of technical knowledge and business acumen. I also manage a global team and I am acutely aware of the importance of balancing cultural differences. Success in the global marketplace relies upon this. But the biggest challenge is to motivate the team towards the successful completion of the current project. I have found that the leadership experience that I gained in the Army combined with the business education from the MBT program has allowed me to be successful in this endeavour.