Joanne Cooper comes from a family of innovators and inventions. Notably, she’s the daughter of Australian IT pioneer, Tom Cooper, who  introduced the revolutionary US Osborne portable computer into the Australian market.

In her own right, Cooper is leading the charge today in the world of ethical data sharing and personal data stewardship as the CEO and founder of Australian Data Exchange.

And like her father, she has a “strong sense of patronage towards Australian innovation and ways to showcase our country as a technology innovator.”

Immersed in technology for many years, Cooper says it opened her eyes to how the Internet and the rampant use of personal data access started to embody some bad or unethical data practices where basic ethics, security and human rights were being violated.

Determined to change all of that, she’s on a mission to design products that elevate and automate data protections, compliance, and safe personal data sharing practices in a privacy-centric and consented manner.

Stories Ink caught up with Cooper to discuss her early years, her inspirations and aspirations, as well as her “data for good” mission sitting at the helm of the Australian Data Exchange.

Growing up, what did you want to be?

I grew up fast in a very entrepreneurial family and I guess just naturally I expected to be part of the family business. Joining the company at an impressionable age of fifteen (after a short stint at a private business college), introduced me to my first job role in service administration. It was rather mundane, but it gave me baseline communication skills, and lucky for me the PC era was afoot where I saw and quickly grasped the opportunity to weave my way into computer sales, which I loved. 

I recall working in the PC showroom on weekends and people queuing to speak to me as they felt less embarrassed asking basic computer questions to a younger person. I learnt quickly how to communicate technical things in easy terms, which made me a remarkably successful salesperson.  I never forgot that lesson of being able to communicate the complex in simple terms rather than bamboozling people with jargon, especially now developing products.

Notably, you’re the daughter of Australian IT pioneer, Tom Cooper, who introduced the revolutionary US Osborne portable computer into the Australian market. What’s it like coming from such an innovative line of thinkers?

For me, it meant significant self-driven technical and operational learning, as I knew I would be held highly accountable in all I did as I represented my father by default. I was also given a lot of responsibility from a young age, which at times felt like an unfair burden – much of this I didn’t  actually appreciate until a decade later. Those responsibilities were easily traded off by being fast tracked into an abundant tech industry wrapped in international travel with access to a series of notable thought leaders and working alongside some of the most dynamic people from all around the world.   

I was very much wide-eyed on such a privileged career pathway in a nascent personal computer industry that was all go, go, go with dazzling trade shows, prestigious product launches and constant technology training. It soon became quite normal for me to be progressively caught in the spin cycle to keep pace with an industry rapidly evolving whilst I also became a highly skilled and dependable asset for my father.

What were some of your first and most memorable jobs?

Being assigned to manage the company’s Queensland PC factory in the mid 1980’s was memorable. I relocated to Queensland at the age of twenty-one, which was very empowering as was the requirement to liaise with the State Government on areas involving industrial development. During this phase, like my father, I started to form my own strong sense of patronage towards Australian innovation and ways to showcase our country as a technology innovator.

How did your path take you into your current role: CEO and founder of Australian Data Exchange?

My entire career has been in tech, so I have strong situational awareness on how technologies work together and can be applied to meet user needs or craft better services. This helped me recognise how the Internet and the rampant use of personal data access started to embody some bad or unethical data practices whereas basic ethics, security and human rights were being violated.  Knowing that children and the vulnerable in our society were most at risk as connected citizens, I felt the need as a technology steward to step up and introduce or design products that would elevate and automate data protections, compliance, and safe data sharing practices in a privacy-centric and consented manner.

Can you highlight your main responsibilities in that role?

As industry leaders shift the market towards a new Internet model – whereas consumers have more control of how their information is accessed and used to drive more trusted and tailored value exchanges – my role involves advocacy, policy consultations, product development, sales strategy, and operational functions. As Australian Data Exchange grows, I will be able to pull back on some of the operational, sales and governance tasks and fall back into a more strategic role.

What do you love about your current job, and what’s your big vision for the role?

Being at the leading edge of tech as a change agent driving new consumer-centric platforms that distill ethics, trust and secure data exchanges, critical for the growth of our data economy, it does require a rather large dose of bravery and grit. Yet leadership provides the privilege to be at the helm, curating new industry models and working amongst the most exemplary minds that share the same level of “data for good” philosophies core to maintaining our global democracy. The big vision is consumer empowerment as individuals come to realise the value and power of their data.

What are some of your big milestones/achievements in your career so far?

Personally, I’ve enjoyed quite a few big wins that most around me thought not possible at those points in time, whether that was a multi-million dollar sale, or curating new platform services, growing a division, or just mentoring others for success.  What I feel has always been important career wise is a good start and stronger finish. I like to finish projects, so not giving up and doubling down when projects or programs get tough has always served me well.

Today, you’re providing personal data stewardship through trusted consumer-centric and ethical data sharing? How did you become involved in such a worthy pursuit: To empower data rights for consumers? 

As life would have it, I got married rather late at 39 and was thrilled to become a mother at 40; however, sadly my husband passed away suddenly when I was 43.  That was a massive life jolt which made me confront the fact that I was now not only my child’s nurturer but her primary protector.  Something inside me just clicked and demanded me to protect her through the best skills I had, which happens to sit in technology. This is what ultimately drove me to where I am today to protect society from cyber threats, surveillance technologies and data misuse through unconscionable personal profiling. My career in tech gave me the right assets I needed to be a “data for good” steward and fight for consumers, children and those within our society who don’t know how to fend for their data rights both online or offline.

How would you describe yourself?

Passionate, dedicated, resilient and kind.

What’s a fun fact or something people don’t know about you?

When I was 15 you would find a set of roller skates fused to my feet. My parents also owned the local skating rink.

What’s the term leadership mean to you – and what type of leader are you?

As a leader you shouldn’t ask of others what you’re not prepared to do yourself. That said, I’m about empowering those around me to form a team representing a kaleidoscope of age, gender and cultures with rich skill sets that are interwoven towards achieving our collective mission and conquering global goals.

What are the top trends to affect the data landscape today, and into the future?

Obviously from the work we do in Privacy and Consent plays a big part within data facilitation platforms, which automates legislation seamlessly on the fly. Outside of secure data sharing, AI and ethics has my attention and also my concerns. Questions need to be asked as to who is programming and governing AI and machine learning frameworks or interpreting the outcomes. With such a slant towards male coders, as a female it’s very concerning as to how all these algorithms are structured and measured in a transparent way.

As a female role model, what advice or lessons learned can you offer?

Surround yourself with people with the same level of ambition and passion so that you can draw from them and make sure your self-belief can rise above the adverse commentary you’ll experience. 

What are your top priorities for the next 12 months?

Getting digi.me’s platform accredited for the Australian Consumer Rights regime and enabling the market with ethical, permissioned and privacy-centric personal data to ignite the data economy.  Also to further develop our own Opt In and Opt Out “Consent as a Service” IP as privacy legislation goes mainstream globally.

What do you do outside the world of data and privacy? 

I’m quite consumed by this global privacy giant that’s awakening. This is extremely exciting as it’s key for our own data rights, democracy and restoring trust in our connected society. The results will expand a new trillion dollar personal data economy that will be full of hyper-personalised services that means more attuned, richer digital experiences for all. Outside of work my daughter gets all my spare time.

What are some of your passions in life? Favourite things?

Hanging out with my now teenage daughter and travelling locally or abroad. We love to explore and enjoy new cultural adventures, and as I have travelled extensively, I want to ensure she too can appreciate the world and experience various ways of life to open her mind.

How has the world of data changed/evolved since you first entered the profession?

When I started in the PC era it was in a fast cycle, but today this feels tenfold as it has fragmented into so many aligned verticals such as cyber, AI, IoT, robotics and machine learning, just to name a few.  As data threads and weaves through – and is the life blood of so many of these genres – keeping pace is increasingly challenging so you need to stay focused on your primary interests to remain a subject level expert.

You were an MD at a very young age, 18. What are your most valuable lessons learned as an entrepreneur?

When I started, I was a sponge in every aspect of the tech sector. Now in these later stages of my career, I aim to  jettison some of the industry’s traditional views in order to be open minded enough to embrace, adopt and harness new models as a leader. I think the most valuable lesson is being broad-minded so you’re always seeking and learning, and then to be fully accountable for whatever path you decide to take.

And finally, what do you wish to achieve moving forward?

The continued building the foundations of data democracy within our digital society. Our freedoms, privacy – and now data rights – must be preserved and are most definitely worth fighting for.

Do you know of a worthy ‘Close-Up’ contender? Get in touch with Jennifer at jennifer@storiesink.com.au to get the story captured.