New team, board and advisory council members

Asia Society Australia continues on its growth trajectory

Board update


Asia Society Australia today announced the appointment of new staff, a deputy chair, board directors and advisory councillors, coinciding with the opening of the Asia Society Australia Center in Melbourne, in partnership with the Victorian Government and the ongoing implementation of its 2020 growth strategy.

Doug Ferguson, Chairman of Asia Society Australia said: “Asia Society Australia strives to be the nation’s leading centre for engagement with Asia in the areas of business, policy and society. The new team and the board and advisory council members bring unmatched regional knowledge and experience that will help us achieve our ambition”.

Philipp Ivanov, CEO of Asia Society Australia: “With the opening of the Asia Society Australia Centre in Melbourne, the new team and outstanding new leaders on our board and advisory council, we are in the position to grow our impact and contribute to building a deeper understanding of Asia’s geopolitical and geoeconomic landscape amongst Australia’s leaders and community at large, at a time when our region is at the centre of the historic strategic and economic contest”



Thomas Soem joins as Executive Director (Sydney), and will lead Asia Society Australia in Sydney, focusing on the engagement of existing and new members, national and international funders and partners.

Elena Williams will commence in May as Associate Director (Development) in Melbourne to drive the relationships with our Melbourne corporate members, partners and collaborators, and oversee our education and youth portfolios.

Eloise Dolan will commence in May as Program Officer in Melbourne, and will assist with the delivery of our world-class programming in Victoria



Swati Dave Managing Director and CEO of the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC) takes on the role of Deputy Chair, having served on the board since 2016.

Professor Andrew MacIntyre Senior Pro Vice-Chancellor (Southeast Asia Partnerships), Monash University, based in Melbourne.

Vera Ou-Young Partner and National Chinese Services Group Leader, Deloitte, based in Melbourne.

Nicole Brigg Pro Vice-Chancellor (International), Macquarie University, based in Sydney.



Chris Eccles AO Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victorian Government

Sidney Myer AM Chairman of Myer Family Investments Pty Ltd, and Chairman of the Estate of Sidney Myer

Geoff Culbert Chief Executive Officer, Sydney Airport

Dr Michael Spence AC Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University of Sydney

Charlie Cheng Group Manager, Chinese Segment, The Star Entertainment Group



Thomas Soem

Thomas Soem is an international partnerships and business development specialist with over a decade of experience building successful collaborations between Australia and Asia. He has a background in strategic planning, business development, project design and management, and implementation of cross-sector initiatives and programs with national and global partners in the Asia-Pacific region. Prior to the Asia Society, he was the Head of International Research and Development at the University of Sydney. In this role, he drove international research and capacity-building projects between the University and its partners in Asia, built relationships with external funders, and gave strategic advice on international growth and collaboration opportunities. He identified, designed, bid for and often managed more than 100 projects for the University across the Asia-Pacific region funded by national and international agencies, including the Australian Government, the United Nations System, the European Commission, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. He led University’s submissions to several government consultations and parliamentary senate inquiries including the Asian Century White Paper, and had representative roles with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the Australia-Indonesia Centre. Thomas is a graduate from the University of Oslo, Norway and the University of Sydney where he studied political science, international diplomacy, regional integration and languages.

Elena Williams

Elena Williams joins Asia Society following a decade working in Indonesia in leadership roles across higher education, gender and development sectors. Between 2013 and 2017 Elena served as the Resident Director for The Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies (ACICIS), a non-profit organisation facilitating study programs for secondary and tertiary students in Indonesia. Based between Yogyakarta and Jakarta, Elena led a team of up to 40 Indonesian staff, managed 17 semester-long and short-course study options for over 250 students annually, and oversaw the significant expansion of ACICIS’ in-country operations through the roll-out of the Federal Government’s ‘New Colombo Plan’ scholarship initiative. During this time, Elena tripled ACICIS’ academic and internship offerings, establishing ACICIS today as the leading provider of student mobility programs in Indonesia for Australian students. Prior to this, Elena worked with UN Women’s Jakarta office to implement a whole-of-country Monitoring & Evaluation strategy, and held roles with Oxfam Australia and Reconciliation Australia. Since returning to Australia, Elena has worked as a consultant in roles with AFS Intercultural Programs Australia, The University of Melbourne, and the Victorian Government Department of Education and Training, contributing to the design of its inaugural ‘Victorian Young Leaders to Indonesia’ program in 2018 - 2019. Elena holds a Masters of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development (Gender Studies) from The Australian National University, an Honours degree in Indonesian & Malay Studies from The University of Sydney, and a BA Communications and International Studies (Indonesian) from The University of Technology Sydney. Fluent in Indonesian, Elena volunteers as a ‘Go Global’ Literacy Ambassador with the Asia Education Foundation, as a mentor with the Australia-Indonesia Youth Association, and is a past participant of the Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP, 2007 -2008). Elena serves as a board director with The Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth (CAUSINDY), and in 2018 was appointed as a board member of the DFAT’s Australia-Indonesia Institute.

Eloise Dolan

Eloise Dolan previously worked as the Project Coordinator for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP), a bilateral initiative strengthening Australia-Indonesia relations through cultural and youth exchange. Eloise was responsible for on-ground operations and events in Australia, and worked directly with a variety of corporate, government, and community stakeholders. Eloise is passionate about intercultural learning and youth engagement having served as both a board director and volunteer for AFS Intercultural Programs Australia - a volunteer-run, non-profit, international education organisation. Eloise regularly conducts workshops on cross-cultural communication and global competence for non-profit and corporate audiences. Eloise graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2017 with a Master of International Relations, focussing on China and Southeast Asia. During this time, she also worked at the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet’s International Engagement branch and undertook an internship with Melbourne’s Consular Corps. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Western Australia, majoring in Asian Studies and French language, and has undertaken short-term study abroad experiences at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and CREIPAC in Nouméa, New Caledonia.


Swati Dave

Swati Dave is an experienced senior banking executive and non-executive director with an established track record of successfully leading and growing complex P&L businesses in Australia, the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore. Swati has over 30 years’ banking and finance experience across a number of sectors including infrastructure, energy and utilities, renewable energy and property. She has held senior positions at National Australia Bank, Deutsche Bank, AMP Henderson Global Investors, Bankers Trust and Westpac. Swati currently serves on the boards of State Super and Asia Society Australia. She has served as a former director of Australian Hearing, Great Western Bancorp Inc. (USA) and the NAB Wealth Responsible Entity Boards. Swati holds a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Newcastle and is a Graduate Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees.

Andrew McIntyre

Professor Andrew MacIntyre is responsible for leading the University’s expanding engagement in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia. Prior to joining Monash University, he was Deputy Vice-Chancellor Global Development and Director of the Australian APEC Study Centre at RMIT. Earlier roles include Dean of the College and Director of the Research School of Asia & the Pacific (2008-2014) and founding Director of the Crawford School of Public Policy (2002-2009) at the Australian National University; and Associate Dean at the School of Global Policy & Strategy at the University of California, San Diego (1994-2002). Professor MacIntyre serves as a board member of the Asia Foundation Australia and is Deputy Chair of the Australian Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation (AusPECC). He previously served as a director of the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue and as a consultant to government institutions and companies in Australia, the United States and China, as well as international agencies such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the ASEAN Secretariat. Professor MacIntyre is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and has served on the editorial committees of an array of scholarly journals. He has published widely on Southeast Asian politics, international relations in the Asia-Pacific region and, more recently, enhancing universities. He was the founder of the Australia-Indonesia Governance Research Partnership, and serves on the International Advisory Board of the Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies. He is the recipient of the Japanese Foreign Minister's Commendation for contributions to the promotion of relations between Japan and Australia (2006) and also a recipient of the Presidential Friends of Indonesia award (2010).

Vera Ou-Young

Vera Ou-Young is a Partner at Deloitte and the firm’s National Leader of Chinese Services Group. Vera is an internationally recognized leader in Asian business.  Fluent in seven languages, she is a C-Suite level Asian-Australian relationships specialist, and has built a reputation as an architect of East-West success. To her core, Vera is deeply passionate about fostering the potential in others and guiding them to be highly successful in navigating across business in Asia and Australia. Vera understands what it takes to establish and run a competitive business across Asia and Australia, whether it is restructuring, transforming or growing rapidly into new markets in the region. Even more importantly, she knows how to influence all stakeholders successfully, particularly employees, boards and shareholders. Vera leads Deloitte Australia’s Chinese Services Group. Vera knows that to be successful in Asia ‘one size fits all’ does not work and that one must navigate many nuances. Her ability to gracefully guide clients through this complex process is her trademark. Vera’s extensive cross cultural industry expertise, client relationship building and business development successes is reflected in her roles as a key contributor to a national report on "Australia’s Diaspora Advantage: Realizing the potential for building transnational business networks with Asia". She was a member on the Expert Panel for "Leading in the Asian Century" a National Barometer research project of Diversity Council Australia, which is establishing the first-ever "Australian workforce in the Asian Century" national benchmarks. Clients regularly comment that Vera invests significant time in developing enduring relationships and that it is clear that she thinks deeply about creating opportunities for people. Never satisfied with the status quo, Vera is a personable leader who relishes the opportunity to create legacy and mentor the next generation.

Nicole Brigg

Nicole Brigg has eighteen years’ experience working in the Australian International Education sector. She is currently the Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) at Macquarie University in Sydney, with responsibility for a portfolio that includes international business development, transnational education programs, pathways and scholarships, international relations, student and staff global mobility and international administration. Nicole is the current Chair of the NSW Deputy Vice-Chancellors’ International Committee and is a member of the NSW International Education Advisory Board. She is also Deputy Chair of the Universities Australia Deputy Vice-Chancellors’ International Committee. Previously, Nicole has held roles as Director International at Griffith University, Director of the Griffith English Language Institute and General Manager of Education Queensland International in the State Department of Education. Nicole holds undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Mandarin from the ANU, as well as postgraduate qualifications in Marketing and Business Management from Monash University, and the Australian Company Director’s Diploma. Her passion for international education stems from her own experiences as an international student studying in China at Yunnan University in Kunming and East China Normal University in Shanghai. In 2019, Nicole is an Endeavour Executive Leadership grant recipient, and will be returning to China to further develop her knowledge and understanding.


Chris Eccles

Chris Eccles was appointed Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet in December 2014. As Secretary, Chris leads the department and the Victorian Public Service in advising the Premier and the Government of Victoria. Chris was previously Director-General of the New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet from 2011 to 2014, and Chief Executive of the South Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet from 2009 to 2011. Chris also has previous experience in Victoria's DPC, having held the positions of Deputy Secretary, Sector Improvement Group and later Deputy Secretary, National Reform and Climate Change Group from 2007 to 2009. Prior to joining Victoria's DPC in 2007, Chris worked in a variety of government and private sector senior management positions. He has held leadership roles with the ACT Chief Minister's Department and with the Australian National Training Authority. As an Associate Director with KPMG, Chris headed the national education consulting practice. He subsequently became a foundation Director of the consulting firm, Phillips KPA, which works across all education and training sectors. In 2017, Chris was made an Officer of the Order of Australia ‘for distinguished service to public administration, to innovative policy development and sound governance, and to the delivery of reform in the areas of training, education and disability’. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws from the Australian National University.

Sidney Myer

Sidney Myer AM is the Chairman of Myer Family Investments Pty Ltd, and Chairman of the Estate of Sidney Myer. After 20 years as the CEO of The Yulgilbar Group of Companies, Mr Myer stepped down in 2016 and remains a non-executive director of the Group. He is also a Director of boutique fund manager, Copia Investment Partners, and family office business, Mutual Trust. Mr Myer is an active contributor to, and supporter of, many charitable projects. He is a Director of the Yulgilbar Foundation and a Trustee of The Sidney Myer Fund, which funds initiatives across a wide range of social and community projects in Australia. Mr Myer joined the Board of the National Portrait Gallery Australia in July 2013, and in 2016 was appointed Deputy Chairman and the President of the National Portrait Gallery Foundation. Recently, Mr Myer joined the Advisory Council for the World Mosquito Program and the National Advisory Board of Heads-over-Heels, both not-for-profit organisations. Mr Myer has built diverse global networks across business, government, academia and the arts. He has particular strong associations with Asia, having lived and worked in Malaysia for over four years in the early 1990’s. After 12 years in the role as Chairman of Asialink, Mr Myer retired in December 2016 and was appointed a Life Patron of Asialink in 2017. After a three-year term as a Trustee of Asia Society New York, Mr Myer retired in February 2013 and was appointed to the Asia Society Global Council. Previously, Mr Myer served as Chairman of Zoos Victoria Foundation, Member of the Australia-Thailand Institute and Chairman of the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Ministerial Reference Group.

Geoff Culbert

Geoff Culbert joined Sydney Airport as Chief Executive Officer in January 2018. Having brought with him extensive commercial and operational experience, he has placed a heavy emphasis on working closely and collaboratively with customers, business partners and government. Geoff currently serves on both the World Governing Board and Asia-Pacific Board of the Airports Council International (ACI), the global industry association representing airports around the world. Prior to joining Sydney Airport, Geoff worked for General Electric (GE) in a number of senior global and domestic roles, most recently as the President and Chief Executive of GE Australia and New Zealand & Papua New Guinea. Geoff’s deep international experience, including 10 years living and working in Asia, as well as his broad-based skills and commitment to customer and stakeholder relations, position him well to lead Sydney Airport through its next exciting phase of growth and development.

Dr Michael Spence

Dr Michael Spence has led the University of Sydney as Vice-Chancellor and Principal since 2008 and is the University’s 25th Vice-Chancellor. Established in 1850 as Australia’s first university, Sydney is one of the world’s leading, comprehensive research and teaching institutions, ranked in the top 50 universities in the world. An alumnus of the University of Sydney, Dr Spence has a BA with first-class honours in English, Italian and law. His other languages include Chinese and Korean. Dr Spence holds a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Oxford and previously headed Oxford’s law faculty and its social sciences division. During his time as Vice-Chancellor, the University of Sydney has forged a distinctive new strategy focused on the transformation of undergraduate education, strengthened interdisciplinary research, and improvements to the culture of the institution around core values. Dr Spence has also shaped the University’s international engagement strategy, building close links with partner universities in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and India. Under his leadership the University has opened flagship area studies centres for Southeast Asia and China, and is currently undertaking a major review of its strategies for India and China that will focus on the opportunities for engagement in both regions.

Charlie Cheng

Charlie Cheng is Group Manager, Chinese Segment at The Star Entertainment Group, responsible for strategic engagement with key stakeholders, development of Chinese visitors market capabilities, as well as contributing to The Star’s vision to be Australia’s leading integrated resort company. Charlie has over 25 years of a distinguished international career in Australia, Asia and the US with the Fortune 500 companies. Previously as Head of Government & Industry
Relations and Marketing Director at Huawei Australia, he successfully led strategic marketing initiatives. Prior to that, he held senior positions at Nortel in product marketing across Asia and market development in the US. With deep knowledge of China and extensive international expertise, Charlie brings unique insights on marketing, cross-cultural communications and international business. Charlie earned his Bachelor’s degree from Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, Master of Computer Science from Bond University and MBA from the Macquarie University Graduate School of Management.