Little more than tracks designed for horses and carts dotted Western Australia’s road network in the early 20th century. At the end of the First World War in 1918 there were 2538 vehicles on WA roads, a number that soared to 25,270 less than a decade later in 1927. By 1936 there were more than 56,500 motor vehicles in WA.

The call for a local organisation to facilitate safer roads first came in 1905 when an avid group of motoring enthusiasts formed an automobile club. Its objectives included signposting roads, encouraging local authorities to improve road surfaces, pushing for lower driving speeds and creating maps to aid motorists.

Over a century and 950,000 members later, the Royal Automobile Club of WA (RAC WA) has become an integral thread in the fabric of WA, with its business spanning motoring, insurance, finance, travel, tourism, resorts, retirement and home services.

WA is now home to 20 per cent of all roads in Australia and 2.6 million light vehicles, which amounts to approximately one vehicle per person.

Unlike your daily commute, RAC WA’s journey doesn’t have an end destination, as it continues to grow and adapt to the needs of the community.

Over 1000 employees stand behind the trusted name and alongside RAC WA Group Chief Executive Officer Terry Agnew FAIM since his appointment in August 1998.

Born and raised in rural South Australia, Mr Agnew said education was an important part of his upbringing – a passion fostered by his school teacher father. He studied an engineering degree at The University of Adelaide before entering the professional workforce.

Proceeding to explore an eclectic range of executive roles across private and public companies, member organisations and government organisations, including positions at the Insurance Commission of WA, the West Coast Eagles Football Club, CEOs for Gender Equity, the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Australian Institute of Engineers, as well as a past President of AIM WA, Mr Agnew’s journey is one defined by a desire to learn, grow and be inspired, something he likens to a deck of cards.

Mr Agnew said he believed you couldn’t influence the cards you were dealt in life, but could control how you played them.

As the leader of a 112-year-old organisation, Mr Agnew said his role was about supporting, motivating and enlisting a group of people to be instrumental on the journey towards success.

“We want to ensure we’re making a difference and ensure RAC WA is providing leadership in WA,” he said.

“We want to make WA a better place.”

DEALING WITH A BAD HAND

Speaking at an AIM WA Inspirational Leader Series breakfast, Mr Agnew said while success precipitated significant reward, it wasn’t always straightforward.

“In 1987 I was made redundant – my third child was only six months old,” he said.

“We had to get on with it. In our working lives there will be times when we’ve missed a target, a project has failed, is late or has overrun. How do you use that and what do you learn from it? How do you take yourself up from the next level?

“Whenever I’m fronting something, whether it be a board position or other jobs, I can say OK, I didn’t do well here – how do I change that and do better next time?

“You only learn by making mistakes. You only learn to walk by falling over. You only learn to ride your bike by falling off.

“Commit to this lifetime of continual learning because your initial qualification is just the ticket to the game.”

Mr Agnew cited an unsuccessful job interview as one of his many learning experiences.

“I remember I bombed an interview a bit over 20 years ago,” he said.

“The partner of the search firm gave me some fair and objective feedback. I then took that on-board and have used it ever since.

“There will always be stuff coming through, the good and bad. You have to be able to reconcile that and use it to improve. Keep learning and growing, and if you don’t want to do that, don’t ask the question.”

COMING UP TRUMPS

August 2016 saw an Australian first hit the streets of South Perth in the form of the RAC WA Intellibus, an innovative mode of transportation that explores the possibilities of driverless vehicle technology.

Since then more than 3400 people have ridden the Intellibus, which has covered over 3300km in its travels. A roadmap of changes are on the horizon to enable this technology to become a naturalised part of WA’s transport system in the future.

RAC WA also continues its sponsorship of two rescue helicopters, managed by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services. Over 5500 missions have been flown and hundreds of lives have been saved.

Mr Agnew said the organisation was driven to make WA a safer place to be.

“If Western Australia’s road safety record was simply average, we would save 50 lives a year, just by being average,” Mr Agnew said.

“That motivates us to get out there and lobby, champion, push and shove to get change to save those 50 lives a year.”

This is the thinking behind RAC WA’s Elephant in the Wheatbelt campaign, which continues to shed light on the ongoing implications of road trauma in regional WA, where more than 60 per cent of WA’s road fatalities tragically
occurred in 2016.

At the last state election RAC WA adopted the slogan ‘Give Me Time,’ which was all about giving time back to the average Western Australian by lowering congestion on the roads.

Mr Agnew said RAC WA was motivated to make WA better through its campaigns and programs.

“At the moment congestion is robbing people of personal time with their families. What can we do to change that?” he said.

“We look at environmental sustainability and how Australia has to eventually get on the bus in terms of lowering greenhouse gas emissions. How can RAC WA have an impact on that, for the better of WA?”

This desire to innovative and improve is what drives RAC WA’s investment in an electric highway, a mode of safe, sustainable and efficient travel intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars.

This will feature in 12 locations in Perth and the South West, with publicly accessible and fastcharging
electric vehicle stations.

In an ever-changing world, where reducing emissions and lessening our environmental footprint is more important than ever, how does a leader deal with ambiguity on the road ahead?

“In any leadership situation, no matter what it is, you need to be energetic, and sometimes that can be hard,” Mr Agnew said.

“You need to be an optimist, but not a blind optimist. You need to see there is some way of getting through a big challenge.

“People have got to see success and the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s the leader’s role to make sure they see that. It’s got to be realistic, but someone has got to lead people and let them see there’s a future.

“You will not be a successful leader if you don’t have trust and integrity. If you’ve got that, it’s almost a ticket to the game. If not, don’t bother.

“I encourage people to choose the employer they work for, to choose to demonstrate leadership in whatever role they’re in and to play the deck of cards they’ve been dealt.”

Sandra Argese is a Journalist at The West Australian Newspapers and is a writer for 'Leader', AIM WA's magazine for members.