Former Cochlear CEO joins PLuS Alliance and UNSW

Former Cochlear CEO joins PLuS Alliance and UNSW

The Dean of UNSW Engineering says the appointment of industry leader Professor Christopher Roberts will make Biomedical Engineering a stand-out player among Australian universities and beyond.

After 40 years in the medical device industry, having helped more than 170,000 people through Cochlear’s bionic ear, Professor Christopher Roberts is now leading the charge to grow biomedical engineering’s footprint in Australia and the world, through research and his passionate interest in innovation and entrepreneurship.

I’m excited to be bringing together these three great universities and facilitating the Alliance activities through innovation and entrepreneurship.

Professor Chris Roberts

Professor Roberts has been appointed Joint Professor of the PLuS Alliance, a partnership that aligns research, innovation and the educational strengths of UNSW, King’s College London and Arizona State University to address global challenges. It is the first attempt in Australia to pull together large multinational research programs.

Professor Roberts’ appointment to the PLuS Alliance coincides with his new role at UNSW. “Professor Roberts joining UNSW Engineering is wonderful news,” said the Dean, Professor Mark Hoffman. “To have such a leader who is willing to come and contribute to the university sector and the PluS Alliance is a very exciting development.”

Professor Roberts’ appointment is a catalyst for linking UNSW Engineering and Medicine in complementary areas of expertise between the PLuS Alliance institutions and also for identifying technology gaps for cross-border collaborations, Professor Hoffman said. “Using his experience, high-level advice and networks, he will assist in building teams of engineers and medical professionals to address shortcomings in this field.”

Professor Roberts said becoming a PluS Alliance Professor after 11 years as Cochlear's CEO was a major change of direction. “I’m excited to be bringing together these three great universities and facilitating the Alliance activities through innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said.

His appointment is part of the University’s strategic plan to raise its social and economic impact, and biomedical engineering is a key part of this plan. Professor Hoffman said the Faculty aims to bring UNSW’s Biomedical Engineering to the same level as its Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering, which continues to set world records for solar-cell efficiency, and Quantum Computing.

“Biomedical engineering within Australian universities is, it’s probably fair to say, at a fledgling stage by world standards in terms of size and there are no stand-out players,” Professor Hoffman said. “The Australian biomedical device industry has managed to penetrate some important niches globally with Cochlear a standout example. The research sector within universities is still moving in that direction.

“Professor Roberts’ appointment is one of the first major steps in helping us lead the way.”

While he will be based at UNSW, Professor Roberts will spend significant amounts of time at the partnering universities, particularly in the initial stages, to identify the opportunities for collaboration.

Professor Christopher Roberts

Professor Chris Roberts and Professor Mark Hoffman, Dean of UNSW Engineering, at the 2015 Engineers Australia Awards. Professor Roberts received the

Professor Christopher Roberts has an incredible breadth of experience in the biomedical device industry. He previously led one of the major companies in this area, Cochlear, an Australian-based multinational. He has also had experience in other aspects beyond cochlear devices, covering nephrology, orthopaedics, cardiology, respiratory, sleep medicine and otolaryngology. Each of these areas is characterised as being global and driven by innovation.

From 2004 until 2015, Professor Roberts was the Chief Executive Officer/President of Cochlear Limited, a global market leader in implantable devices, such as cochlear implants, which have significantly improved the lives of the hearing-impaired. In addition to his appointment as a PLuS Alliance Joint Professor, Professor Roberts is a non-executive director of ResMed Inc, having served as Executive Vice-President for ResMed Inc from 1992 until he became CEO of Cochlear Limited.

Professor Roberts is a member of the Jobs NSW Board, NSW Innovation and Productivity Council, Monash University Industry Council of Advisors, University of Technology Sydney Vice-Chancellor’s Industry Advisory Board, UNSW’s Faculty of Medicine Advisory Council, the Health Innovation Advisory Committee (a principal committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council), and a member of the Board of Governors of the Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Institute of Business and Economics at the University of Queensland.

Professor Roberts holds a BE (Honours) in Chemical Engineering (UNSW), an MBA (Macq) and a PhD (UNSW). He has been awarded Honorary Doctor of Science degrees from both Macquarie University and UNSW. He was a recipient of the Charles Copeman Medal from the HR Nicholls Society for service to freedom of employment.  He is a Fellow of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (FAICD) and Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia (FIEAust). In 2015 he was Engineers Australia’s Professional Engineer of the year.

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