Women in Composites – Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director, Composites Australia Inc.

Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director of Composites Australia is one of the eight women featured in the 58 Edition of the Connection magazine whose achievements deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated.

Most would know that Kerryn Caulfield has managed Composites Australia and published the Connection magazine since 2004. The work involved with managing an association requires her to write about products, companies, research outcomes and industry issues. However this edition features inspiring stories on women in composites and Kerryn’s achievements warrant a story of her own.  

Written by Thomas Cameron

Kerryn’s ‘Body of Work’ is worthy of the description ‘prodigious’, meaning extraordinary in ability, output, or strength, as well as marvellous and amazing. In her career, Kerryn has not shied from adventure. She has dived into dumpsters to collect data on charitable donation waste; travelled into military zones in the UAE to assess opportunities for Australian manufactured defence apparel; and interviewed surfing legends about the success of Australian surfing brands. She has contributed to countless industry reviews from Free Trade Agreements to Technology Roadmaps and held a number of Ministerial appointments to advisory and funding committees. Kerryn has managed and headed over 50 offshore missions, 60 conferences and 250 industry technology workshops. She is particularly proud of raising close to $20 million in government grants for industry projects and being involved in committees that raised over $1billion for the TCF&L sector.

Kerryn counts the $6 million Landfill Levy Relief Program she developed and negotiated with the Victorian government to offset the cost of illegal dumping imposed on charity op shops as a personal best. “The program is ongoing in Victoria and elements of it were picked up in states across Australia, all of which benefited charitable recyclers that are so very important to Australian’s.”

Kerryn has also published prodigiously. In her role as CA Executive Director, she has published 58 editions of this Connection magazine and written close to 300 articles on composites and other related topics. Kerryn has also researched and written a profusion of white papers on a range of subjects from industry training to international market development for Australian manufactured goods.

Kerryn grew up in the east of Melbourne, where manufacturing firms once gainfully employed thousands of Victorians, many of who were ‘new’ Australians. “Manufacturing was a worthy career option back then,” recalls Kerryn. “Our neighbours had jobs in factories. My grandfather had a printing works in Little Lonsdale Street and subsequently Fitzroy. My first part-time job at 15 was at the Lusher Road slipper factory. We understood that things had to be made and that factories were productive places full of people who were proud to be making them.”

After graduating from RMIT, Kerryn commenced her professional life developing textile ranges which took her around the world many times to source trends and to work with specialised mills developing fabrics. She became an expert in fibres and the manufacturing processes and production options for apparel, interior and industrial textiles.

Kerryn Caulfield measuring textile waste
Kerryn touring the underside of the Westgate bridge as a guest of VicRoads
Kerryn Caulfield inspecting fibre glass weaving
Kerryn Caulfield inspecting filtration systems within the Wonthaggi desal plant

Then came the early-nineties. After decades of government assistance encouraging Australian firms to become internationally competitive, the Federal Government’s tariff reduction policy came into effect. “Textiles was one of the industries the tariff reduction policy targeted. Under the new policy framework, many time-honoured manufacturing firms, large and small, were deemed to be inefficient and time-worn.” Kerryn recalls. “It gave me an appreciation of the powerful effect of government policies and how deeply they can affect people’s lives”.

A defining career turn came when she was offered a Victorian Government position as a Senior Trade Counsellor at the Australian Chamber of Manufactures, to assist companies expand beyond the domestic market. The large, vertically integrated textile mill, Bradmill Textiles recognised Kerryn’s talents and offered her the position of International Business Manager. During her Bradmill tenure, the company went on to develop an export portfolio of close to $50 million across cotton yarn and denim fabric. The company was recognised as the epitome of local manufacturing excellence and won state and national exports awards. The legacy of both positions is her impressive global network.  

In 1995, Kerryn’s achievements were recognised by the Australian Government Trade Organisation for contributions towards Australia’s export earnings and she was listed in Reeds, Who’s Who of Australian Contemporary Women (1998). She has served on a number of Boards, has mentored women in leadership and management positions and pursues gender equality at Board level.

Weary of travelling overseas, Kerryn subsequently founded her own company to specialise in association management across a number of related industry sectors that were characterised by change and innovation. Her company Apical International has been contracted to Composites Australia since 2005, alongside, the Technical Textiles Association, Charitable Recycling Australia and the Filtration Association amongst others.

Kerryn is humble about her epic career journey and her impressive box seat view of the Australian manufacturing industry that few get to experience. She believes that the success and viability of the local textile and composites industries in the future is linked to innovation, including in technology, products and processes, as well as new business models and frameworks. Most importantly, there needs to be a renewed focus on training and education that ensures the next generation of skilled workers, managers and leaders have the competencies and knowledge to create and capitalise on future business opportunities.