University of Melbourne Magazine

Tech leader: Leonie Valentine

  • Leonie Valentine (BSc 1990) pursued a geology degree at the University because she wanted to travel the world, just like the oil workers she met growing up in her small town in Gippsland, Victoria.

    “I looked at what they did and where they’d been in the world and I saw that as my escape route,” she says.

    But Valentine had other influences, too. Her mother, in particular, had been a Hong Kong bank secretary and one of the city’s first-ever computer operators. “That was back when they were retraining smart secretaries to do punch cards that were used to operate computers,” Valentine says.

    It’s fitting, then, that she would return to her mother’s city as a tech industry leader. Valentine is now the managing director of sales and operations at Google Hong Kong.

    “I love the city,” she says. “And the opportunity to be Google’s managing director means I can actually make a bit of a difference when it comes to promoting digitisation here.”

    She is responsible for driving Google’s strategy in the city and contributing to the company’s role as a major digital presence in the Asia-Pacific. It’s a big job, but Valentine says she didn’t set out to work in the tech industry.

    “I went off to Melbourne University fully intending to become a geologist, join an oil company and then go and see the world,” she says.

    Valentine graduated at the height of the recession in 1990, when geology jobs were scarce, so she took a job in marketing at BP.

    “I didn’t even know what marketing was,” she says with a laugh. “But I was lucky that they would hire generalists and train them.”

    She focused on general business marketing and advertising until 1999, when she joined friends who had started a small internet venture. That opportunity led to 12 years in digital strategy and customer experience for Telstra.

    Valentine eventually accepted a job with the company in Hong Kong, where she now lives with her husband and children. Then Google came calling: Valentine joined as director of customer experience in 2014, and was promoted to managing director in 2016.

    Valentine says she’s passionate about working on ways to integrate technology into the Hong Kong community, such as working with local schools to include coding in the curriculum and raising the profile of women in the tech and business industries.

    “I’m always grateful for doing the science degree first,” she says. “I learned how to approach something from a scientific point of view – how to use data and facts and experiment – landing a job as a marketing trainee allowed me to develop my communication skills and a human point of view. Those two things have applied really well at Google.”


    By Kate Stanton