2023 King’s Birthday Honours for CBE Alumnus

Ajay Satyan

3 minute read

Ajay Satyan, an alumnus from The Australian National University (ANU) College of Business and Economics (CBE), received the Public Service Medal (PSM) in the 2023 King’s Birthday Honours.

Previously known as the Queen’s Birthday Honours during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the King’s Birthday Honours highlights the exemplary work of citizens in Australia. Ajay was awarded the PSM for his outstanding leadership in heading up the economic support program in Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I always assumed the King’s Birthday Honours were reserved for either famous sportspersons or celebrities, and heads of public agencies,” says Ajay. “I was pleasantly surprised to be recognised with the prestigious PSM.”

As a senior public-sector executive, Ajay has led large, multidisciplinary teams in the delivery of significant government priorities over the last three years, including the COVID-19 economic response and, more recently, the economic response to flood events in Victoria. As a leader from a multicultural background, he prioritises fostering a culture of inclusivity and accountability in his teams.

Before working with the Victorian government, Ajay held various leadership roles in the Australian Government across the Department of the Environment and Energy (now called the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water), and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). He graduated from ANU in 2009 with a Master of Business Administration, majoring in Project Management.

In this interview, Ajay gives an account of his career experiences, and highlights the University's focus on industry-ready graduates.

Q. Congratulations on receiving the prestigious King's Birthday 2023 Honours! How do you feel about this recognition?

As a leader of the Victorian Government’s premier program design and delivery capability, I am humbled and proud to receive this honour, and dedicate it to the many professional and values-driven public servants who gave Australia their very best service during the pandemic and the flood emergencies that followed. I am a firm believer that good teamwork makes the dream work, and I feel proud to lead a diverse, high-performing and citizen-focused public-service team.

Q. Why did you choose to study in Australia at ANU, and what were the highlights of your time at CBE?

I chose ANU because it was Australia’s top university and it offered a rich diversity of courses taught by world-renowned academics, complemented by state-of-the-art libraries and academic-support systems. I have fond memories of the sprawling Acton campus located so close to the city!

While at ANU, I was immersed in learning experiences alongside the most talented domestic and international students. Key highlights of my time at ANU were my project-management coursework, which I greatly enjoyed, along with spending time at the Chifley and Hancock libraries doing research for assignments, and being selected as one of ten students for the inaugural Vice Chancellor’s ANU-UniSA Summer Research Scholarships.

Q. Can you tell us about your career path? What led you to the role you’re in today?

Before I started at ANU, I assumed I’d leave Canberra when I graduated, but the friendships and networks I forged during my time at university and the recognition of ANU credentials resulted in me staying in Canberra for 11 years, experiencing a range of roles that led to significant career development.

While I was studying, I worked for ActewAGL and then moved to the Catholic Education Network to leverage my ANU project-management credentials and deliver on projects funded by the Digital Education Revolution created by Kevin Rudd, who was Prime Minister at the time. I then took on leadership roles at the ATO to deliver the July tax and superannuation releases, before being appointed as the Chief Technology Officer for the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (formerly the Department of the Environment and Energy). I eventually moved to Melbourne in 2017 and have been leading large teams and programs in the Victorian State Government ever since.

Q. How has your ANU experience contributed to your latest recognition and your career progression?

My analytical, systems, and project-management thinking skills were developed in the graduate degrees I completed at ANU. The academic rigour and the need to manage competing university priorities meant I had a head start in the professional world. As a result, I was prepared to lead teams and deliver outcomes to benefit all Australians. 

Most importantly, given ANU is located in Australia’s national capital, the close networks across the Australian Public Service (APS) meant I could quickly develop skills relevant to the APS, which set me up to be effective in the work. These public sector values and ethos have shaped how I worked for the APS and with my team.

Q. You joined ANU as an international student. What advice would you give to other international students on maximising their ANU experience, and pursuing a career in Australia?

As one of the world’s top universities located in our national capital, ANU provides a range of academic and extracurricular career-shaping experiences for any international student considering graduate or postgraduate studies. I am confident that my time at ANU will continue to positively impact my career in the years to come – and the recent King’s Birthday Honours is a testament to this. A degree at ANU is well regarded by Australia’s top companies, as well as government agencies. Graduating from one of our nation’s premier universities will undoubtedly allow students to pursue a career of their choosing in many of the country’s top companies, tech start-ups, and government agencies.