DION Weisler and Fiona Geminder have each received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Monash University.
Australian-born, US-based businessman Weisler – who is president and CEO of electronics giant Hewlett Packard (HP), has called on IT graduates to draw inspiration from his grandparents and father who escaped the Nazis.
He urged graduates at a Monash University graduation ceremony on May 23 to use his grandfather’s example and take chances in life.
The Monash alumnus recounted the harrowing story of his grandparents’ experience under Nazi persecution in Vienna in 1938.
His grandfather, arrested by the SS and forced onto a truck bound for a labour camp, saw trucks coming in the other direction, and the condition of the inmates alarmed him.
“They were gaunt, abused, nearly dead,” said Weisler. “He knew that if he went to the labour camp he may not return, so he made a decision. When the truck slowed, he jumped off and ran. They chased him, but he escaped through the woods and returned home.
Later his grandfather, forcibly wearing his yellow star, made a daring journey from Vienna to Hamburg on advice he could buy ship’s tickets to Shanghai there. Locating the shop in question, he bought as many tickets as he could afford, and on returning, gave them to family and friends.
Weisler’s grandparents and his father used their tickets to sail from Trieste to Shanghai, where they sheltered during World War II, before emigrating to Australia.
Lauding his grandfather, Weisler reflected, “The only thing he knew for certain was that inaction would inevitably lead to demise. The same applies to business, to your career, your life. Realise that everything around you will continuously change and you have to adapt to uncomfortable and unplanned situations.”
Born in Australia in 1967, Weisler took heed of his family’s experiences. “I learned that life is not a rehearsal … I learned the importance of making the bold decision,” he said.
Graduating from Monash University with a bachelor’s degree of applied science in computing, he made his name in telecommunications and later became general manager at Telstra.
With more than 25 years’ experience in IT, and having lived in eight countries, Weisler joined HP in 2012, rising to become its president and CEO in 2015. Married with two children, he now lives in California.
HP has close ties with Israel, where it acquired Israeli printing technology pioneer Indigo in 2001, expanding Indigo’s revolutionary innovations in personalised printing into a multi-billion dollar enterprise at Kiryat Gat near Sderot.
Philanthropist and prominent businesswoman, Fiona Geminder, received her Honorary Doctorate from the university in recognition of her exceptional service to the community.
Whether it’s advocating or providing legal services to those who can’t afford them, speaking up for women leaders, or committing to a sustainable future, Geminder has delved into many social causes throughout her time as a business leader.
As a co-owner of Visy, and the youngest daughter of the late Richard Pratt and Jeanne Pratt AC, philanthropy comes as second nature.
Geminder is a director of the Australian Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), and, with her husband, also supports a range of communal organisations, including Jewish Care and the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation (ACJC) at Monash University.
As a businesswoman and a working mother of four, she is also an active supporter of women in business and entrepreneurship, innovation and environmental action.
PETER KOHN AND AARON FETTER