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Davis, Leslie David (1885–1973)

by John Perkins

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Leslie David Davis (1885-1973), businessman and philanthropist, was born on 10 October 1885 in Sydney, son of native-born parents George Henry Davis, general manager of S. Hoffnung & Co. Ltd, import merchants, and his wife Katie Victoria Eugenie Lydia, née Davis. Leaving Sydney Grammar School at the age of 16, Leslie was employed by Hoffnungs as a junior on five shillings a week and pursued his interest in cabinet-making at night-school. He worked as a country traveller, then as a warehouse-manager in Sydney. On 5 June 1912 he married Daisy Victoria Goldstein in the Great Synagogue.

Elevated to the company's Australian board in 1917, Davis soon joined the London board. In 1936 he became managing director and chairman of the Australian board. Against the opposition of a majority of the directors in London, Davis advocated diversification into local manufacturing to counteract high protectionist tariffs: he achieved limited success in the production of gramophones, custom-moulded plastics and flexible packaging. He was chairman of Tallerman & Co. Pty Ltd (from 1929), Commonwealth Moulding Co. Pty Ltd (from 1935) and the wholesale grocers Davis & Penney Pty Ltd (from 1937).

Having served on several wartime committees established by the Curtin government, in 1959 Davis was nominated to the Consultative Committee on Import Policy by his acquaintance Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies. At the recommendation of the State Labor government, next year Davis was appointed O.B.E. Although politically conservative, in letters to Sydney newspapers he had often criticized policies of the United Australia Party and Liberal governments, especially in relation to fiscal impositions and the size of the federal bureaucracy. He was a member of Lloyd's, London, and president (1955-57) of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce. In the mid-1960s he persuaded the London board to enter the retail hardware business in Australia and chaired Hoffnungs' subsidiary companies, among them B.B.C. Hardware Pty Ltd (following the acquisition of Benjamins Building Centre at Chatswood which provided the initials).

A founding member of the liberal synagogue, Temple Emanuel, Davis was a director (1937-71) and vice-president (1957-65) of Sydney Hospital, and active on the board of the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children. After serving as joint-chairman (1960-63) of the Hospital Contribution Fund of New South Wales, he chaired (until 1970) the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia. He generously supported the Civilian Maimed and Limbless Association.

Devoted to his wife and their two sons, 'L.D.D.' (as he was widely known) played bowls and tennis; he was fond of contract bridge, on which he wrote a pamphlet in the 1940s. He usually spent his lunchtimes over dominoes at the Millions (later Sydney) Club; he also belonged to the University and American National clubs. His gardening activities are commemorated in the variety of dahlia, Finchley, named after his Woollahra home. Survived by his wife and sons, he died on 15 July 1973 at Woollahra and was cremated. Sydney Hospital's audiology unit (opened 1963) bears his name.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 July, 6 Aug 1953, 31 Dec 1960, 9 Nov 1962
  • family papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Perkins, 'Davis, Leslie David (1885–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/davis-leslie-david-9920/text17565, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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