Evan William Thornley (born 1964), is an Australian entrepreneur. Thornley was founding chair of Per Capita and National Secretary of the Australian Fabian Society. He was a board member of the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Chifley Research Centre, was a founding director of GetUp!. He was a co-founder of LookSmart Ltd - the first Australian high tech company listed on NASDAQ. He is also a co-founder of the Goodstart Consortium - a social enterprise that owns the largest childcare network in the world (formerly called ABC Learning). He was formerly the CEO of Better Place Australia and Global CEO of Better Place LLC, a now-defunct company which intended to supply electric cars and the charging or switching stations to support them.
Thornley served in public office for two years as the Labor member of the Victorian Legislative Council for the Southern Metropolitan Region, and as Parliamentary Secretary to Premiers Bracks and Brumby.
Background and early career
Thornley attended Scotch College, Melbourne and is a graduate of the University of Melbourne. He commenced his university studies in 1983 and served in full-time elected student office as President of the Student Representative Council, and then in the National Union of Students in 1987 and 1988. He completed a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1990, and from 1991 to 1995 he was a consultant at McKinsey and Company, a management consultancy firm.
Elected to the Parliament of Victoria in 2006, he served as Parliamentary Secretary assisting the Premier on the National Reform Agenda and Innovation until his resignation on 31 December 2008. He was the richest member of the Victorian Parliament, with a net worth estimated at $54 million. He is a noted donor to various progressive causes, including the Australian Labor Party. He owns grazing property in western Victoria and four investment properties in Melbourne, Queensland and New South Wales, as well as a residence in Kew.
On 28 December 2008, Thornley announced that he would resign from the Victorian Parliament, despite speculation that he would be chosen to serve as a minister in John Brumby's government. His resignation was received angrily by some Labor colleagues who thought his decision "insulting" and a "disgrace." He had been appointed as the CEO of Australian operations for Better Place, a company promoting electric cars.
A joint sitting of the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council of the Victorian Parliament was required to select a new member to fill the vacancy caused by Thornley's resignation. It was the first casual vacancy to occur since the reform of the Legislative Council in 2006. Under the new rules, which mirror those of the Australian Senate, if the vacating MLC had been elected as a member of a political party, the joint sitting must select a person nominated by that political party. On 30 January 2009, it was announced that Melbourne lawyer Jennifer Huppert had been nominated by the ALP to fill the upper house vacancy.
Having served as the Australian head of Better Place since his resignation from parliament, Thornley was elevated to global CEO of the company following the sacking in October 2012 of its founder and major spokesperson Shai Agassi. However Thornley severed his connection with Better Place only three months later.
Since January 2014 he has been executive chair of Same Business Different Outcome (SBDO), a private equity firm.
Connection to Israel, Judaism
Thornley first went to Israel on a Young Political Leaders' Tour while at University and was part of a pro-Israel group humorously dubbed "the Mossad faction". He led an Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce trade mission to Israel in 2008 and has been a delegate to the Australia Israel Leadership Forum several times. He was Secretary of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel and visited Israel over 30 times during his tenure at Better Place. He was a member of the strategic review panel for the Rabbinical Council of Victoria. Thornley began a formal process of converting to Judaism in 2012 under Rabbi Adam Stein at Kehilat Nitzan, Melbourne's only Conservative synagogue. Thornley formally completed the conversion process on 19 August 2014 and adopted the Hebrew name of "Lev Yonatan".
- Whinnett and Binnie, Ellen and Craig (4 June 2007). "ALP whiz-kid our richest MP". Herald Sun.
- Moncrief, Marc (28 December 2008). "Millionaire Thornley resigns from Parliament". The Age.
- Moncrieff and Ker, Marc and Peter (30 December 2008). "Labor fury at departing MP". The Age.
- Moncrief and Austin, Marc and Paul (21 January 2009). "Thornley: Why I shunned cabinet seat". The Age.
- Information Sheet No.16, Legislative Council (October 2007). "A New Electoral System for Victoria’s Legislative Council". Department of the Legislative Council, Parliament of Victoria.
- Best, Catherine (30 January 2009). "Huppert to replace Thornley as Vic MP". The Age.
- Crook, Andrew (2013-01-30). "Better Place hits a dead end as CEO Evan Thornley abandons electric dreams". smartcompany.com.au. Retrieved 2013-05-27.