Livingstone was born in Nairobi, Kenya, to British parents. After a period back in Britain, the family moved to Australia in 1960.
Livingstone graduated (with honours) from Macquarie University with a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting. In 1992, she attended the international Programme for Executive Development in Switzerland and was awarded the title of the Eisenhower Exchange Foundation Fellow for Australia in 1999.
Her skills have earned her several awards, including The Chartered Accountant in Business Award in 2003, a Centenary Medal "for service to Australian society in business leadership", and she became an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2008, "for service to the development of Australian science, technology and innovation policies, to the business sector through leadership and management roles and as a contributor to professional organisations".
After finishing her degree in 1977, Livingstone joined the accountancy firm of Price Waterhouse, working in both Sydney and London. She then held several accounting and management roles at Nucleus Ltd, finally reaching the position of Chief Executive, Finance, before being made the CEO of one of its subsidiaries, Cochlear Pty Limited, in 1994. A year later she floated the company for $125m on the Australian Stock Exchange. Cochlear is best known for its work with its "bionic ears", and by the time she resigned from her position in 2000, they were being exported to more than 50 countries around the globe.
Livingstone has been an independent voting director of the Macquarie Bank and the Macquarie Group and a director of Future Directions International. She remains a non-executive director of WorleyParsons and a member of the Business/Industry/Higher Education Collaboration Committee.
Previously, she was the CSIRO chair from 2001–2006, director for the Sydney Institute from 1998 to 2005, director of the Rural Press Foundation, chair and director of the Australian Business Foundation from 2000 to 2005, and the chair of Telstra from 2009 to 2016.
On 22 January 2008, it was announced that Livingstone would be a member of the panel conducting the review of Australia's national innovation system.
In March 2014 she was elected president of the Business Council of Australia for a two-year term, replacing Tony Shepherd. She was succeeded by Grant King in November, 2016.
In 2014 she was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (FAA).
In December 2015, Livingstone was announced as the successor to Prof Vicki Sara as the Chancellor of the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). She officially became the Chancellor of UTS on 1 December 2016.
Livingstone replaced David Turner as chairman of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in January 2017.
Livingstone has been a strong advocate of research and innovation saying:
“The world is looking for solutions and technologies. It is an area in which Australia could take a lead with enormous economic rewards, if we are able to make it our knowledge and technologies that are sought out. "It would produce an innovation yield the likes of which we have never seen before. But it needs to be articulated at the national leadership level, and there needs to be a greater alertness in government and boardrooms to the power of science."