The Towering 10

Meet the high-achieving UTS alumni who’ve become success stories in Australia and abroad. Their inspiring work has enriched numerous fields, including business and entrepreneurship, science, media and more.

Alaina Ammit

Professor Alaina Ammit

Bachelor of Applied Science in Biomedical Science, 1985

UTS Professor of Respiratory Pharmacology and Director, Woolcock Emphysema Centre 

 Professor Alaina Ammit’s research into inflammation in chronic respiratory diseases – particularly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), commonly known as emphysema – has earned her an international reputation for excellence. To date her research has attracted in excess of $6 million in grants and philanthropic funding, and her leadership has been recognised through numerous prestigious appointments including to the Australian Research Council College  of Experts.

She was recruited to UTS in early 2016. Here, Professor Ammit is at the nexus of a transformative partnership consolidating the research efforts of the two organisations.

With currently available anti-inflammatory medications ineffective in treating COPD, her present focus is on partnering with other researchers to develop new, more effective medications with the potential to greatly impact human health.

“We want to improve quality of life for people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” she says.

Erfan Azadi

Erfan Azadi

Bachelor of Architecture, 2002

Architect and Founder, Duck & Shed 

 Erfan Azadi’s approach to architecture is not grounded in dogma or pastiche, but guided by a deep desire to create unique, interesting spaces that enhance people’s lifestyles and interactions.

Azadi cut his teeth working with Philippe Starck and Jade Jagger. In 2012 he founded his London-based architecture and interior design consultancy, Duck & Shed, quickly building a reputation for bespoke residential projects in and around the Royal Borough, including a penthouse fit-out for a Russian oligarch.

In 2015 he made Elle Décor’s list of the top 30 designers in Britain and was shortlisted for the World Interiors News’s Emerging Interior Practice of the Year award.

Azadi’s design hallmark is the luxurious, efficient and ingenious use of spaces; his innovations run to fold-away kitchens, jewellery box-like pods for loft apartments and digitally fabricated staircases.

“I enjoy them all; there is a conciliating point in each project when you get to sit quietly in the space that you created and just soak it all in,” he says.

Hamish Cameron

Hamish Cameron OAM

Bachelor of Laws, 2000; Master of Laws, 2005

Chief Executive Officer, Chief Entertainment Pty Ltd 

“One thing is for certain in this day and age: there is never a dull moment in the media world,” says Hamish Cameron OAM.

Cameron’s contribution to entertainment is immense. He established Sydney’s first and most enduring FM station, Triple M, and introduced Australia’s pioneer multimedia broadcasting operation leading to a world first: the delivery of Internet Protocol TV (IPTV). He has written and produced world-acclaimed music documentaries and arranged morale-boosting entertainment in overseas deployment zones for Australia’s military personnel.

Since 2004 he has led television and digital production company Chief Entertainment, a subsidiary of Telstra. He has delivered some of the nation’s best-loved content, including premium coverage of major sporting and cultural events, and recently guided the development of the company’s new multimillion dollar, world-class studio to extend its capacity for high-end production.

In 2014, Cameron’s indelible contribution was recognised with a Medal of the Order of Australia.

Jo Brigden Jones

Jo Brigden-Jones

Bachelor of Nursing, 2011

Olympic Sprint Kayaker 

For Jo Brigden-Jones, the path to becoming Australia’s fastest female kayaker was paved with hard work and many, many paddling strokes.

“It didn’t happen overnight, and I have had many struggles, setbacks and obstacles to overcome along the way,” she explains. “Going through the hard times makes you appreciate the good times and your achievements even more.”

"Going through the hard times makes you appreciate the good times and your achievements even more."

Coming to sprint kayaking via a talent identification program at age 13, Brigden-Jones has been a major force on the international paddling circuit over the past 10 years. She has claimed victory at many of the sport’s peak events, including the world championships and world cup, and counts representing Australia at the 2012 London Olympic Games among her proudest moments.

Brigden-Jones has showed astonishing determination and resilience to reach the pinnacle of her sport, bouncing back from two shoulder reconstructions and the disappointment of narrowly missing out on selection for Rio 2016. She balances her extensive training commitments with a full-time career as a paramedic and actively inspiring other Australians – particularly young people – to overcome adversity and pursue healthier lifestyles. 

Alice Collins

Alice Collins

Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Media Arts and Production), 2005

Director, Insight Communications 

 For Alice Collins, there is considerable job satisfaction in turning her extensive communication skills to promoting social and community wellbeing.

Collins co-founded Insight Communications in 2008 with her mother, Clare Collins, who is also a UTS alumna. This award-winning agency specialises in providing strategic public relations for not-for-profit clients across the cause, culture, community and health sectors, who are often operating on limited budgets.

Insight Communications has consistently demonstrated the effective, strategic use of public relations for the greater good in areas as diverse as public health, empowerment of disadvantaged women, the environment and child safety. In 2015 Collins and her mother were behind the acclaimed national Where’s William? campaign to support the investigation into the disappearance of three-year-old William Tyrrell, lending their professional expertise and passion to the emotionally challenging operation on a pro bono basis. 

Though Insight Communications has garnered significant national and international recognition for its work, Collins sees these accolades as empowering greater reach for the agency’s social campaigns.

“Knowing that the awareness you generate can have a life-changing and sometimes life-saving impact on those you might never meet is what drives me,” she says.

Ashod Donikian

Dr Ashod Donikian

Bachelor of Engineering Diploma in Engineering Practice, 2003; Graduate Certificate in Research Commercialisation, 2008; Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering, 2010

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Navisens 

As Founder and Chief Executive Officer of technology start-up Navisens, Dr Ashod Donikian is eliminating the often frustrating – and even dangerous – limitations of existing location technologies.

Navisens is a software-only location platform that operates indoors and outdoors without relying on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or GPS. It processes data from inertial sensors found inside mobile devices to provide a 3D navigation solution without the need for costly infrastructure.

Unlike other location technologies, Donikian’s system can function outdoors in dense city blocks, inside buildings, and even underground. The technology’s applications are endless, from helping users navigate shopping malls to improving employee safety in challenging environments.

Since launching in Silicon Valley in 2013, Navisens has attracted the attention of angel investors, venture capitalists and some of the world’s largest tech companies. Last year Donikian raised US$2.6 million in capital seed funding to fuel his ambitious growth plans.

“As an engineer, one of the most rewarding things is building a company with deep technology, and surrounding yourself with a great team and watching them and the company grow,” he says.  

James Devries

James de Vries

Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communications, 1984

Creative Director, Harvard Busienss Review 

 For James de Vries, good design is a seamless confluence of the analytic and the creative, where storytelling and layout bring out the best in each other.

“It’s easy to get swayed into thinking design is science, but we need to keep a very loose hand on the controls and allow for real lateral invention, plus straight-out beauty as well,” he says.

De Vries’s almost 30-year career is characterised by deep experience and innovation in visual communication. In his 18 years co-directing consultancy firm de Luxe & Associates, he was at the helm of a myriad of publishing transformations including major re-designs of the Australian Financial Review, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

In 2009, de Luxe won the contract to re-design the iconic Harvard Business Review (HBR) and embrace emerging digital platforms, beating out some of the US’s top designers. De Vries’ multi-platform, audience-focused strategy paid such dividends that HBR asked him to drive change from within in the new role of Creative Director.

Under his expert guidance, HBR continues to grow in whole new ways – in direct contrast to the downward trends plaguing its competitors.

Norman Laing

Norman Laing

Bachelor of Laws in Australian Indigenous Law 2002; Graduate Certificate in Legal Practice 2003

Partner and Executive Director, Waratah Partners: Lawyers + Consultants 

Norman Laing is currently a partner in Aboriginal-owned and operated law and consultancy firm Waratah Partners and Acting Commissioner in the NSW Land and Environment Court. Throughout his career he has driven meaningful national engagement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, particularly with regard to the criminal justice system and the protection of centuries-old Aboriginal cultural heritage.

"We all have a responsibility to assist and encourage others to change their negative circumstances and use their lived experiences as motivators, not barriers."

In 2008 he was awarded the NSW Law and Justice Foundation Aboriginal Justice Award for his outstanding commitment to improving access to justice for the state’s Aboriginal people.

Laing draws upon personal experience in his vocation to close the gap and empower his people. Since breaking free of a family cycle of disadvantage and crime, he believes that creating change is both an individual and a collective obligation.

“We all have a responsibility to assist and encourage others to change their negative circumstances and use their lived experiences as motivators, not barriers,” he says.

Danielle Gubbay

Danielle Gubbay

Bachelor of Arts (International Business and Trade Law), 2008; Juris Doctor, 2009

Chief Executive, Roses Only 

Roses are a part of so many of life’s meaningful moments, and Danielle Gubbay sees bringing Australia’s most loved online rose delivery brand to the UK as an incredible privilege.

Gubbay is Chief Executive of Roses Only, based in London. The brand’s customer reach is global and the scope of her role is immense – on any given day she might deal with ethical farms in Ecuador, government departments, customers in different time zones and innovation rollouts.

Lured away from a 10-year career in banking and finance, Gubbay was chosen to drive the brand’s global expansion, and she has delivered a monthly growth rate of 20 per cent.

Gubbay says that having a ground-up perspective on how the business works is crucial to her success in the top job.

“I believe in leading by example,” she says. “There is no job that I won’t do to achieve our goals – this includes having to drive a forklift!” 

Lana Hopkins

Lana Hopkins

Bachelor of Business, 2005

Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Mon Purse 

Putting the customer in the driver’s seat made Lana Hopkins a major force in the international luxury leather goods market.
Hopkins founded Mon Purse in 2014, a booming start-up bringing the ‘design your own handbag’ concept online and in-store.

Innovative 3D technology allows the user to simply – and enjoyably – build bags, clutches, or accessories such as passport holders to suit their individual style and needs. With more than 50 million possible combinations and the best in materials and craftsmanship, Mon Purse prides itself on delivering a premium product without the unattainable price tag.

Two years on, Mon Purse enjoys a monthly turnover in excess of $1 million. Building on a Sydney-based retail store and a national presence through Myer, Hopkins set her sights on the US and UK and landed a coveted partnership with two of the world’s most prestigious department stores: Selfridges and Bloomingdales.

Hopkins says the next stage of the company’s exponential growth leverages collaborations with key influencers to bring the Mon Purse experience to consumers across Asia and Europe.

“To create an unforgettable customer experience worldwide, theatre in retail is everything,” she explains.  

Story: Jenifer Waters
Photography: Kevin Cheung
Erfan Azadi – Photo: Supplied
James de Vries – Photo: John von Pamer
Danielle Gubbay – Photo: Nigel Pacquette
Lana Hopkins – Photo: Supplied