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Driving strategic innovation with Kirsten Rose

Kirsten Rose

Kirsten Rose is the Head of Low Emission Technology at the world-leading resources company BHP in Australia. She joined BHP’s Global Technology Strategy and Innovation Team in 2016. Rose’s professional career has spanned over 25 years in a variety of industries and general management roles in the US, UK, and Australia.

In September of last year, Rose was awarded a Chief Executive Women (CEW) scholarship to attend the week-long program, Driving Strategic Innovation: Achieving High Performance Throughout the Value Chain, at MIT Sloan Executive Education. The scholarship is part of the CEW Scholars program, which aims to provide talented Australian women the opportunity to take their careers to the next level by supporting executive education at internationally acclaimed business schools.

Rose shared some of her thoughts and takeaways from the program with us.

What was your initial reaction on being awarded the CEW Scholarship?
I was thrilled and humbled to be awarded the Chief Executive Women (CEW) scholarship. I have long admired the work and advocacy of CEW in Australia and the support they provide for women in leadership across all sectors and industries. Providing scholarship opportunities helps women like me build relevant skills and knowledge, which contributes to building both gender
diversity and diversity of thought in senior leadership.

It was a huge honour to be selected from a competitive field of qualified women across Australia. The subject of the course, driving strategic innovation, is a passion of mine, and I valued the opportunity to learn the latest academic thinking from MIT's Sloan School of Management, one of the top-rated business schools in the world.

What were your key takeaways from the course at MIT?

Kirsten Rose at DSI with peers

The course was great validation that our approach at BHP is on the forefront of how large corporates—particularly business-to-business and upstream businesses—are approaching innovation and R&D. However, it was also an important reminder that we can't be complacent or rely solely on incremental improvement and BAU [business as usual]. We must continue to invest in innovation to create sustainable competitive advantage for the future.

My key takeaways from the course were:

  • All competitive advantage is temporary. Companies like GM, Intel, and Nokia have dominated their respective industries, only to be dethroned by initially unrecognisable competitors. For big incumbents, recognising that advantage is temporary is key to innovation strategy —so how does BHP continue to invest in the "core" while placing educated bets on what may be next?
  • Innovation creates value either by improving operational cost, or by expanding demand. Commodity businesses like BHP often excel at the former, but at maturity this delivers diminishing returns - at which point the focus may need to shift to the less comfortable area of customer differentiation.
  • Innovation culture is the result of a series of managerial choices, and achieving an innovative culture requires teams to have a base of psychological safety. To create big change, people need to feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. Embedding a "safe to speak up" culture will help BHP achieve better innovation outcomes.

Would you recommend this opportunity to other women in Australia?
Absolutely! I recommend everyone pursue opportunities like this one, even if you think you're a long shot for success—the experience of applying and interviewing was valuable learning in itself.

One of the great things about the course was that it provided the opportunity to apply leading-edge thinking and experience from outside mining and resources to our business challenges within BHP. I think it's easy to become comfortable with an internal focus, so it was great to stretch my thinking through external thought leadership.

Opportunities like the CEW scholarship build knowledge and credibility, both of which are important tools in the toolbox for women, many of whom still experience unconscious bias in the workplace. We simply must expand the pool of leadership-ready women in technology and innovation, where divergent thinking and diversity of experience lead to more innovative outcomes.

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Learn more about Driving Strategic Innovation: Achieving High Performance Throughout the Value Chain.

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