Liam O'Keefe shares his fellowship experience...

17 Dec 2018

In support of the NEW Auto Skills Australia Churchill Fellowship to increase expertise and knowledge for the benefit of the automotive sector and allied industries

Liam O'Keefe


What was your Fellowship topic?

In Australia, we generate around 56 million end of life equivalent passenger tyres every year[1]. The aim of my Fellowship journey was to learn how we can better manage this vast resource in Australia to deliver more productive outcomes for the industry and community. I travelled to the USA, Canada, UK, Belgium, France, Portugal, and India to meet with some of the top practitioners of tyre product stewardship schemes to identify the key characteristics of each and the effectiveness of differing models and approaches. 


What motivated you to apply for a Churchill Fellowship?

Australian stewardship and associated initiatives to manage end of life tyres are quite formative. Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA), the organisation I work for, has only really been operational for around 5 years, so we still have a lot to learn. 

As the Market Development Manager at TSA it’s my job to support the development of markets for Australian tyre derived product (TDP). This is based on the premise that we have no shortage of waste tyres and have adequate infrastructure to process them into secondary products (rubber shred, granules and powder as well as steel) that can be used as an input into new products (roads, explosives, polymers, playgrounds and alike) or processes (tyre derived fuels).

The real challenge with waste tyres is coming up with economically viable products that utilise tyre derived inputs in high enough volumes to consume the vast supply we generate annually whilst competing with existing conventional products both economically and performance-wise. We need to create more market demand for products that utilise Australian tyre derived product through diversified and enhanced markets. 

Many international territories have programs that have been addressing this resource challenge for decades. Therefore, the intent of my Churchill journey was to meet, engage and learn from the best practitioners around the world to better support efforts to improve the environmental, social and economic factors associated with end of life tyre management in Australia. 


How did the Churchill Fellowship benefit you? 

My Churchill journey has been the highlight of my career and one of the best things I have ever done. It gave me great confidence to both learn from and share knowledge with some of the best practitioners in the world and realise that it is possible to be a catalyst in driving significant change, both locally and internationally.

The Fellowship provided an incredible context to analyse where we’re at in the development of initiatives in Australia, and how we can more effectively deliver positive outcomes for the end of life tyre industry and the broader Australian community. 

But as much as the technical information is important, it played a role in connecting me and the Australian sector to a global community. In Australia, we can be isolated, both geographically and in our thinking and approach. The Fellowship connected me and the local sector to a collegiate international community of dedicated people working together on this important global resource issue. I’ve always found that being productive and effective goes hand in hand with being happy and enjoying the people you work with. My Churchill experience has reiterated that to me even more.

My Churchill journey has demonstrated to me that the global waste tyre community we work amongst is full of inspiring, funny, intelligent and dedicated people all working in a common, important area. When faced with such an immense challenge (over 1.5 billion waste tyres around the world annually!), it’s important to have others to lean on and enjoy the challenge with.


How did the knowledge gained from your Churchill Fellowship benefit your work in the automotive sector and /or allied industries?

As I said earlier, the Fellowship has been vital in connecting Australia to a global community. Since I have returned, Tyre Stewardship Australia has hosted world leading experts I met on my journey from the Canadian tyres scheme and the UK Tyre Recovery Association and India.

I have also used my international networks to connect people from all over the world. The global perspective a Churchill Fellowship can create is quite unique, it can help foster relationships and activities not just in Australia – but with communities around the world.


What major achievements or milestones have you reached since going on your Fellowship?

Since I returned in August 2017, I’ve coordinated a study tour to South Africa with 20 road engineers from VicRoads, Transport Main Roads, the Australian Asphalt Pavement Association, road manufacturers and the Australian Roads Research Board to attend a global rubberised road conference and learn from local manufacturing processes. It was an amazing extension to the Fellowship, and we managed to progress a conversation amongst an international cohort that could take years into just a couple of weeks.  It also really legimitised what our organisation does and the extent to which we can drive activity in the local and international scene.


What's next for you?

Australia has come a long way with end of life tyre management – but we still have a long way to go to deliver on industry and community expectations for outcomes associated with end of life tyre management.

The challenge for me now is to contextualise the international lessons I’ve learned into how we operate in Australia and to maintain the vision gained from the Fellowship by engaging others in what I believe is a great opportunity we have in Australia to lead the world in this area.

Given we live in a global economy with international market forces shaping our local economy, I believe we need to shift our practice to be more innovative and use new technology to be more efficient and effective. Across the world, we’re dealing with emerging challenges with ideas and technology that relate to increasingly less relevant modes of doing business. Autonomous vehicles, more distributed business models (i.e. less shop front, more online) and more complex products and wastes means that consumer behaviour and associated utilisation of infrastructure, vehicles and production methods and materials has changed. We have to reassess the tools we use to manage these processes to be flexible enough to move with the times - and expectations of users.

I’d really like to be involved in the next iteration of end of life tyre management to create a global network of specialists that deal with this issue on a global scale, rather than being limited by traditional conceptions of the extent of our markets and associated responsibilities to the community. 


About Liam O’Keefe

Liam O’Keefe is Market Development Manager of Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA). Liam is a recognised industry leader having spent almost 20 years working across the waste and recycling, energy, education and business sectors. He has worked extensively in local and state government, lectured at RMIT University and managed his own business for many years developing innovative sustainably oriented business initiatives in Australia, New Zealand and beyond.  

Read Liam’s Fellowship Report

Read Liam’s Blog

More from Liam on LinkedIn


Auto Skills Australia Churchill Fellowship

In 2019 the new Auto Skills Australia Churchill Fellowship will be offered annually for projects that aim to increase industry expertise and knowledge for the benefit of the automotive sector and allied industries in Australia. Fellowship Applications open on 1 February 2019 and close 30 April 2019.

Find out more about the Auto Skills Australia Churchill Fellowships.

Find out more about how to apply for a Churchill Fellowship.



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