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Jackie Taranto never intended to stay long in Australia when she arrived with a few hundred dollars in her bank account and a vague idea of going fruit picking in 1987. But the weather was better than home in Vancouver, Canada, and she wasn’t all that keen to return to teaching, having discovered she wasn’t well suited to that profession.
“We didn’t have any credit cards, so we needed cash upfront for whatever we wanted to do, which meant going where there was work,” Taranto says. Over a year she worked her way from the then sleepy town of Port Douglas in far north Queensland, where she worked on Christopher Skase’s Mirage resort which was then under construction; then across to Perth; and finally, back to Sydney, with just $6 in her pocket and a vague idea that she’d find some couch space with an old friend.
Three decades on and Taranto runs the largest offshoot of the CeBIT technology showcase – the world’s biggest tech shows – and says her backpacking days gave her a vast capacity to find solutions to problems others might abandon.
“It was the darkest time of the tech crash when I was approached by [German-based exhibitions organiser] Deutsche Messe to set up CeBIT in Australia and New Zealand,” Taranto says. “At the time, there were eight or 10 other tech shows held in Australia and they were all struggling, but this was the biggest tech show in the world, so I knew I could make it work if I could find the right people.”
Taranto spent the first two years getting an intimate inside knowledge of CeBIT globally and the unique culture of Deutsche Messe, a partly government-owned entity that was launched to help boost the German economy after the Second World War.
“The German business model is to take a very long-term, considered view when they invest,” Taranto says.
Before she could launch CeBIT in Australia, she realised she needed to apply this culture to the Australian business community, and particularly government departments and agencies, which are the largest consumers of enterprise software and hardware systems locally. The main problem was that there were many tech shows that focused on the vendors’ message, but didn’t give a view of technology within a larger context.
“The thing about CeBIT is that it brings together the technology vendors, as well as high-profile users, industry leaders, and analysts,” Taranto says. “The idea is to give participants the opportunity to see the complete technology offering and not just one aspect.”
By targeting the biggest purchasers of IT in Australia, and using some of CeBIT’s global partnerships, Taranto launched the first CeBIT Australia show in 2002. It had 15,000 visitors.
Now celebrating its 10th year, CeBIT Australia will be held in Sydney in May and is expected to attract more than 30,000 visitors, including senior government ministers, thanks to a key partner-country program between Germany and Australia.