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John Azzolini

For more than 10 years, Tonsley Innovation District has been a leader in innovation for South Australia. To mark Tonsley’s first decade of success, Renewal SA sat down with some of the District’s greatest champions, those who have actively contributed to its collaborative ecosystem and influenced the exemplar incubator it has become. 

Full interview: John Azzolini, Founder, AZZO Automation

What is your connection to this place?

My connection to this place goes back 37 years to 1986 when I was fresh out of school. My parents and my family were working at the Mitsubishi site at Tonsley, and I literally walked in off the street and picked up a job on the production line. I did 10 months and then had the opportunity to gain an electrical apprenticeship with Mitsubishi. 

As I progressed through my career at Mitsubishi it was full of opportunities; there was a lot of variety and certainly career prospects. Through my apprenticeship and then through my time as an electrician and an electrical engineer, I spent almost 15 years down at the Lonsdale engine plant and foundry. 

I was actually in charge of decommissioning a lot of that plant as one of my first projects when I established Azzo.

What does AZZO do and where do you operate?

We’re an end-to-end solution provider for energy management. We can design, we can implement, and then we can support. Our other two offices house our client services team and also our software developers.

We’ve actually got three offices here at Tonsley. We were lucky enough to be involved with the architects at the time, Tridente Architects and Renewal SA, to purpose build this place. 

We also established offices in Ringwood, Victoria six or seven years ago now. We’ve got a team of 20 there. Our software programmers are all over Australia and we opened our US office in New Jersey in 2020. 

What sort of emotion do you get when you walk into Tonsley?

The excitement for me is to have witnessed the transformation of Tonsley firsthand from what was an automotive manufacturing environment to where it is now. 

If someone said, “hey, this is going to be some kind of innovation district”, those words didn’t even exist. Innovation was more like we believed in efficiency; how can we get a product out of here the cheapest we can. It wasn’t really about innovation in those days, but now to see the transformation of the site of what could have been a warehouse or a housing development… I’m super proud every time I drive in here and especially when we have international visitors that come. 

What if Tonsley hadn't happened?

I’ve travelled the world and the saddest thing you can see are derelict buildings or sites where someone says ‘that used to be a hive of activity as a community space that provided work for people’. 

If this had, for example, been converted into a warehouse or have gone derelict it would have been a missed opportunity and I think it would have really dragged the community down. 

Today there is this critical mass of like, “hey, this is something exciting, have you heard about this?” I’m often here on the weekends and kids have parties here, they ride their bikes. Memories are being made here at a community level. That’s really the emotional thing and to me that’s the community glue that really ties us together and what makes it all special.

What is the one word that sums up Tonsley for you?

The one word that sums up Tonsley for me is inspiration. Every time I come here it’s inspiring. Whether there’s a new building going up, whether there’s new tenants coming on, whether there’s new staff, there’s something new every day and that to me is really inspiring.


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