Interview: Dr Tom Denniss

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Scientist, Runner & 2014 NSW Australian of the Year Finalist

At the Financial Review Client Choice Awards back in March, I was sitting next to Greg Winnett, Audit Partner from Accru Melbourne. We were chatting away about some of the interesting people we meet “along the way”. He started telling me about his client Dr Tom Denniss and I knew that I wanted to interview him for this newsletter. Having researched Tom’s story, I am somewhat embarrassed that I did not know much about this amazing Australian. Most of us go through life hoping to achieve at least one great thing, well not Tom, why stop at one! Here is just a taste of his amazing achievements to date.

Dr Tom Denniss speaking with Malcolm Ebb

Tell us about where you grew up and your education.

I was born in 1961 in Wollongong, 80 km south of Sydney, Australia and attended Warilla North Primary School and then Lake Illawarra High School. I completed a degree in Mathematics at the University of Wollongong and a Diploma in Education from the University of New South Wales. I also have a PhD in Mathematics and Oceanography, as well as a First-Class Honours degree in Science.

Prior to becoming a long-distance runner, you were a footballer and professional musician.

I played first-grade rugby league for the Warilla-Lake South Gorillas in the NSW South Coast rugby league competition. After being selected in the NSW Country Team in the NSWRL’s annual City versus Country match I retired from the game in late 1982

Tom wrote and performed a lovely tribute song to his late mother which can be viewed on YouTube.

Tell us about your long-distance running.

Although I have now completed a run around the world, I don’t really consider myself to be much of a long-distance runner. I actually started life as a sprinter, having had some moderate success at schoolboy level, including a fairly respectable personal best of 10.90 seconds for 100 metres. What speed I did have served me well on the football field too, but after the age of 21, I craved for longer and less explosive activities – races that took more time and allowed me to savour the event while actually competing. So, I ventured into marathon running (PB of 2:49:14) and graduated to even longer events. I ran a 100 km charity event in 2008 in 9:26:12, and then placed 9th outright in the 2009 Run to the Sun, a 58 km race from sea level to the peak of the Haleakala volcano on Maui, sitting at over 10,000 feet (3,045 m). I followed that race the next month with a 1,000 km run from Melbourne to Sydney on my own, raising money for cancer research. More recently, I won the Icarus Ultrafest 12 hour race in Florida and placed 3rd in the 250 km Big Red Run in the Simpson Desert.

Although I’m not really physiologically suited to long events like running around the world, I did enjoy it and I surprised myself with my ability to survive 622 consecutive days of more than a 42km marathon (26,232 KM). And, if I can do it, I reckon pretty much anyone can, so long as they apply themselves to the task and do enough training to adapt their body to the challenge. If nothing else, I hope my run will inspire others to take on similar challenges.

You are one of the world leaders in the field of wave energy technology.

I have had a keen interest in wave energy technology for over 20 years. In 1997 I founded Energetech in my spare time whilst I was working as an investment banker at Macquarie. I left the bank in 1999 to focus on the development and commercialisation of this form of renewable energy.

In 2005 I was invited by the UN to be a member of the Global Roundtable on Climate Change. In 2006 the wave energy technology I invented was named by the US-based International Academy of Science as one of Ten Most Outstanding Technologies in the World. In 2007, I was the first person to be inducted into the International Ocean Energy Hall of Fame as an ocean energy pioneer, and in 2009, the technology was ranked third by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in its annual list of the Top Ten Renewable Energy Investment Opportunities in the World.

I have also served as the Australian Government’s representative on the International Energy Agency’s Ocean Energy Systems Committee and on the Australian Government’s Advisory Board for the Clean Energy Innovation Centre.

Dr Tom Denniss

What now?

In 2016 I co-founded Wave Swell Energy Ltd.  We have developed a world-leading proprietary technology that converts the energy in ocean waves into clean and emissions-free electricity. This electricity can be transmitted to shore and into the grid or used to power an onboard or shoreline located hydrogen production or desalination facility.

Wave Swell Energy is currently developing a 200KW wave energy project that is intended to be installed in the ocean off the east coast of King Island, between Tasmania and the Australian mainland.

For full information on Tom’s around the world run “The World at My Feet: The Extraordinary Story of the Record-Breaking Fastest Run Around the Earth” by Tom Denniss with Foreword by Peter FitzsimonsAllen & Unwin, 2015

If you would like your firm to be profiled in a future edition, or have a suggestion for an article that you think will be of interest to our readers, please send me an email to

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