Technology as a force for good

How technology can be a force for good

The digital revolution provides an enormous opportunity to improve lives. New York-based Monash alum Greg Baxter is determined to make a difference, working on bridging the digital divide.

Greg Baxter in New York docklands
Baxter's professional goal is to make the world a better place through technology.

Greg Baxter has a professional goal to “make the world a better place through technology”. And, contemplating his career, he articulates three elements needed to achieve this: ‘technical know-how’ is the engine, ‘strategy’ is the map of the route and ‘digital transformation’ is the compass, pointing to his destination.

So, the question is, what are we going to do with this phenomenal capability that’s been unleashed?

His journey began at Monash University, where he completed a Bachelor of Applied Science in IT in 1988. Today he is chief transformation officer for HP Inc in New York.

Reconnecting with Monash in 2016 after an alumni event in New York, the high-flying executive also supports the University’s Global Discovery Program. This sees students visit the Big Apple to meet international industry leaders during a week-long study tour. He also sponsors a Monash mentoring program for women in STEM, reflecting his passion for greater diversity in this field.

Baxter’s CV features some of the world’s biggest companies: IBM, Citi, MetLife and, in 2021, HP. He’s a sought-after speaker on digital strategy, has guest lectured at the University of Oxford, and has served as an independent director of Chatham House, the international think tank.

But the ‘true north’ of his compass is not corporate kudos, but harnessing technology to improve opportunity.

“This is a digital revolution, and we’re creating the future out of the technologies we have today,” he says. “So, the question is, what are we going to do with this phenomenal capability that’s been unleashed? How do we practically apply it to do something worthwhile?”

Technology for social benefit

That question first posed itself to Baxter back at Monash, where he particularly appreciated the applied nature of his degree, along with its emphasis on collaboration.

“The practical application of technology to solve real-world problems was central to the program, and I think that’s shaped my professional purpose and rippled through my entire career,” he says. “So much of the work was done in teams, where you met and iterated frequently, in what we now call an agile way.”

On graduating, Baxter joined IBM as a software engineer and senior project manager, roles in which he acquired foundational technology skills (his ‘engine’). He then moved to London as a partner and board member of Booz & Company, a global management consulting firm, where he focused on strategy (and developed his ‘map’).

Then came the transformation phase, with a relocation to New York and stints as global head of digital at Citi, the international bank, and, from 2017, chief digital officer at MetLife, the global insurer. This phase has served as Baxter’s compass, helping him to establish his ultimate purpose.

“For me, it was firstly about: how does the technology work? And then: what do I want to do with it? And now it’s about questioning the outcomes I want to achieve.

“I think we all have a responsibility to ask, within the context that we operate: how are we going to make a difference, and what does that difference look like?”

HP, the personal computer giant, wants to “close the digital divide”, says Baxter. It’s aiming to “improve the learning, health and economic outcomes of 150 million under-served people by 2030, through the deployment of technology, platforms and learning packs.

“We have the opportunity to do something special with these amazing new technologies. We’re the architects of a future in which the digital revolution changes the established hierarchies and power structures,” he says.

Inclusive technology

Among the ways in which technology can transform lives, Baxter points to the Internet of Things facilitating the early detection of everything from rusty water pipes and faulty car brakes to high blood pressure. He also points to artificial intelligence and its vast range of possibilities – from managing the world’s extensive volume of data, through to, for example, relieving call centre staff of routine tasks and freeing them to engage with customers in uniquely human ways.

Diversity in technology

The new future he envisages is a more inclusive one. “And that includes making sure there’s more diversity in technology itself,” he says. “Because if this is a revolution, the new world order needs to be designed by a representative community of people. So, for me, getting more diversity, particularly women, into STEM and tech is a really high priority.”

The mentoring program at Monash matches students with industry professionals who guide them as they look for work and transition into a career.

Baxter, a member of the University’s Global Leaders Network Advisory Committee in the US and the recipient of a Monash Fellowship, wants to help ensure students have the same educational opportunities he enjoyed. It’s about “giving them the confidence that they can truly achieve the things they dream about”, he says.

Through the Global Discovery Program, he says, “students get to see that there’s a bigger horizon and that they have the capability to participate in that, and there are people who will support them.

“And, in contributing, I get to experience the amazing energy, aspiration and talent of the next generation, which, in turn, inspires me to do more and do better.”