Published Dec 2, 2022
While most people spend their lives avoiding hard problems, Pierre Malou actively seeks them out. His career has been shaped by a desire to take the road less travelled, especially if that road leads to interesting problems to solve. A believer in the power of science and research to better lives, Pierre has chosen to dedicate his decades of business experience to helping university innovators bring their ideas to the world as Head of Operations at Wellington UniVentures.
Hailing from France, Pierre is the first to admit that he has had a privileged start to life. As a graduate of the prestigious French préparatoire system, followed by a Masters of Business, Pierre was moulded for a high-flying career as a titan of industry. Like those before him, Pierre graduated with a strong alumni network and a clear path to success. The only problem was, says Pierre, this well-trodden path was "boring as”.
Instead, Pierre joined a company set on disrupting the building industry. He reflects, “I was surrounded by incredibly smart engineers solving highly technical building problems in innovative ways. Their product was the best, but they had no idea how to sell it.” That was a problem Pierre could solve. He became the go-between property developers fixated on the bottom line and engineers bent on designing the best possible product. As a result, business boomed.
His success meant that, when his company looked to expand into the Asia Pacific market, they sent Pierre to pave the way. He grabbed the opportunity to broaden his horizons both professionally and personally. “I was becoming increasingly aware of my class privilege in France and the impact it had had on my career. I wanted to do something completely on my own.”
Overseas, Pierre was stripped of the privileges he had on his home turf. “Suddenly, I didn’t know the language, the culture, and I didn’t have any social safety net. It took me completely out of my comfort zone.” He loved the challenge. His travels took him to Hong Kong then Australia to scope the market there, and a visit to Sydney changed the course of his life: “I touched down and immediately knew that I never wanted to leave.”
While casting around for a chance to contribute positively to his adopted home in Australia, Pierre became increasingly aware of the looming climate crisis. He began researching how to incorporate environmentally sustainable practises into the building industry where he was working. He had the idea to pre-mount solar panels onto roofing units, rather than installing them after the fact. This innovation made solar energy much more affordable and played a part in Australia’s green energy transition. His inventiveness landed him a new role as National Manager of Bluescope Steel at just 32 years old.
As his career grew, so did his commitment to environmentalism. “For the first time in my life, I bought land and felt a connection to the flora and fauna around me.” In typical Pierre fashion, he had to understand everything he could about his new environment, and promptly enrolled at the University of Sydney to study animal behaviour in his spare time. While there, he gained a reputation among the staff and students for being business-savvy.
When academics from the University sought to launch a biotech company, Regeneus, based on their novel research into stem cells, they approached Pierre to become their Head of Commercialisation. As Regeneus’ first hire, Pierre’s job was to establish a pathway to market.
“With Regeneus, I was discovering research commercialisation from within,” he says. “I realised how much impact research can have when it’s translated into real-world outcomes. Writing a research paper is great, but unless you can use that knowledge to change things, it won’t make any difference to society.”
Pierre thrived in the high stakes start-up environment, working long hours on a low salary. For years, his only rewards were a strong sense of purpose and many opportunities to problem solve. But the risk paid off when the company completed a successful IPO in 2013.
From there, Pierre sought a new challenge as an independent consultant to other innovators wanting to bring their ideas to market. As a pet project, he also launched a sports analytics company, Smart Sports. All this meant he was firmly embedded in Australia’s innovation ecosystem.
However, Pierre’s astuteness in business translated into his personal life, and he couldn’t ignore the threat that his family faced from climate change. “After years on the land, it became obvious that our current living situation would become untenable in 20 years’ time. Fires and droughts were becoming worse and more frequent in our part of Australia. My partner and I worried that our lifelong dream of retiring in the country would be destroyed.”
Seeing the writing on the wall, Pierre began scouting a new place to live, and found Aotearoa. “In my research I came across the concept of kaitiakitanga – guardianship – and I felt like it embodied the way I wanted to live my life.” He moved with his family to Wellington – and in good time too, as their Australian home was destroyed by a bushfire shortly thereafter.
On arriving in Wellington, Pierre was drawn to Wellington UniVentures’ commitment to lift lives everywhere through knowledge. “It was exciting to see my own values reflected in a company so clearly, and I felt that I could help Wellington UniVentures deliver on its vision.”
After meeting CEO Dr Anne Barnett, Pierre promptly accepted a position as Head of Operations. “I was bowled over by Anne’s analytical skills, deep understanding of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and commitment to delivering for New Zealanders.”
As Wellington UniVentures’ Head of Operations, and Acting CEO while Dr Anne Barnett is on parental leave, Pierre is grappling with a new problem: how do we develop business models that unleash the maximum potential of deep tech research?
“The complexities of deep tech mean that it takes more time and money to bring to market compared to traditional Software as a Service (SAAS) businesses, where you can expect to see a return of investment in months. Attracting a sustainable source of funding is a key challenge for this sector, but the payoff can be huge both financially and societally.”
With Wellington UniVentures, Pierre is right where he belongs: solving difficult problems for a better world.