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Enabling better global research outcomes in soil, plant & environmental monitoring.

Business Minds interview: Susan Cull

March 7, 2018 3:04 pm

The following article appeared in New England Focus, March 2018.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I was teaching English and History at Wee Waa High School when I met my husband, Peter. Peter was on a mission to improve water use efficiency throughout Australia, we joined forces, I gave up teaching and took on the marketing and operational management of the newly created business. We have one son who lives with his wife in Sydney. We spent 20 years in Narrabri, moving to Armidale in 2000.

What does ICT do?
ICT researches, designs, manufactures and deploys unique world class scientific instrumentation for monitoring water use in plants. We manufacture in Armidale, employ 15 staff locally and export to over 50 countries annually.

How did ICT come into being?
ICT was formed in 1982 growing out of Peter’s PhD study which focused on finding the most appropriate instrument to quantify the application of water to irrigative crops. Based in Narrabri for twenty years, we introduced and marketed quantitative soil moisture monitoring using neutron probes to irrigation farmers, CSIRO scientists, departments of agriculture, environmental government entities and universities. We also supplied our customers with imported scientific instrumentation for monitoring soil, plant and environmental parameters. We realised in 2006 the opportunity was in R & D and manufacturing. Overseas product wasn’t solving the issues that agriculture and forestry for example were experiencing because of increasing temperatures and scarcity of water resource. Soil science instrumentation wasn’t giving our customers the research data that was needed to advance improved crop production outcomes. We determined that we needed to focus on the plant or tree itself and effectively started a 10-year R & D program. The result was the creation of completely unique plant science instrumentation of which the Sap Flow Meter and Psychrometer are our flagship products.
These unique products are now contributing to new global research outcomes including: researching the tallest trees in the world and identifying how they are being affected by climate change; studying the effects of trees dying in the Tundra due to the Tundra permafrost melting; or achieving huge water savings in horticultural crops such as almonds, macadamias, sandalwood, citrus and grapes. ICT International’s instruments are deployed across every possible landscape including environmental and forestry research and management; in agricultural, horticultural and glasshouse production; mine-site rehabilitation and urban forest research.

How do yours and Peter’s roles differ?
Peter manages and leads the scientific R&D product development side of the business, while I lead the business operations with a focus on marketing. We are both involved in managing production.

Why has ICT been so successful?
We backed ourselves, fundamentally understood plant water relations after decades of consulting to farmers to improve their water use efficiencies and hence improve yield outcomes and collaborated with the leading plant scientists around the world. This formula enabled us to develop and commercialise new sensing technology that was focused on solving the real issues our customers face around the world. Our instrumentation is used to research what will work moving forward: whether it is what tree species will thrive in a world of increasing temperature and increasingly scarce water; or how crops will respond as the impact of climate change is felt. We have created new Australian IP, unique Australian product which is exported to 50 countries annually.

What were your biggest challenges starting out?
Learning to trust my own instincts whether it was about people or business strategies. Over time I realised one of my strengths is to never say I can’t, but to say why not and give it a go.

What is your favourite part of running your own business?
There are probably two things. Firstly, I really enjoy thinking creatively and like to join the dots. I believe that framework of thinking carries through to my current role as President of the Armidale Business Chamber. Secondly, I love empowering our staff to take ownership of their roles and contribution to the company.

As a woman in business in a once traditionally male field what qualities have you found the most useful?
Ultimately, it’s about being yourself. You can’t enjoy the confidence of your staff unless you have confidence in yourself. For me intrinsic to that is having a sense of humour. It is part of my DNA both personally and professionally.

What inspires you?
I’m inspired by seeing the beauty in the everyday things around us, in the smile of a child, a beautiful piece of writing, a beautifully designed ad campaign.

What would you advise a business just starting out?
When you run your own business you will experience, pleasure, passion and pain in sometimes equal measure. Don’t go into business unless it’s your absolute heart’s desire and passion. You need commitment to stand strong in the face of that. You cannot be half hearted. You need to strive for excellence every day.

Where to from here?
We continue to research and design new products based on forecasting the research needs of our customers for the future. Recent new projects include working with research institutes and councils to develop successful strategies to grow healthy urban trees for the Smart Cities of the future.

Thank you Susan.