Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Deegan, Allen Thomas (1924–1987)

by Ian Carnell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Allen Thomas Deegan (1924-1987), businessman, was born on 29 January 1924 at Drummoyne, Sydney, sixth child of John Michael Deegan, insurance agent, and his wife Elsie Grace, née Adam, both born in New South Wales. Educated at Eastwood and Stanmore Commercial schools, Allen joined Standard Telephones & Cables Pty Ltd in 1939. The 5 ft 4 ins (163 cm), neat and respectful costing clerk, with `nose somewhat flattened’, enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 11 May 1942. He trained as an electrician (later electrical fitter) and served in Australia, New Britain and Borneo, before being discharged as a leading aircraftman in May 1946. Returning to his job at STC, he married Violet May Phillips, a machinist, on 14 December 1946 at the Presbyterian Church, Ryde.

Noted for his business acumen and ability to break complex problems down to a simple set of questions, Deegan rose steadily through STC to become managing director in 1970. Fiercely Australian, he refused to allow his wife to buy other than Australian products, and believed passionately that Australia should develop a strong manufacturing base and should export aggressively. He could be pugnacious in business dealings and lobbying politicians. Although not an engineer, he was alert to the need for research and development and for a highly skilled workforce. His ability to select the right people was a particu­lar strength. He walked the factory floor regularly. Competition in the telecommunications industry was keen, but the STC prospered under Deegan’s forceful leadership. The company produced electronic switchboards, the Commander telephone system for small businesses, wiring harness for the first AUSSAT satellite, and repeaters used in the Australia-New Zealand-Canada coaxial submarine cable project.

An `elder statesman’ in the industry, Deegan was an active member of the Australian Telecommunications Development Association from 1963. Chairman (1980-81) of the Australian Electronics Industry Council, he was also president (1981-84) of the Australian Electronics Industry Association. In the 1970s and 1980s he served on the Metal Trades Industry Association of Australia, the Australia-New Zealand Businessmen’s Council Ltd, and the Chamber of Manufactures of New South Wales. He held directorships in Nationwide Food Service Pty Ltd, Bly’s Industries Pty Ltd and some companies in the telecommunications industry.

Deegan also had several government advisory roles. A member of the Manufacturing Industries Advisory Council (1972-77), he was deputy-convenor of the Multilateral Trade Negotiations Industries Consultative Group (1975-79). He was on the Electronics Industry (1976-81) and the Electrical and Electronics Industries (1981-83) advisory councils. In 1983 he received the Australian World Communications Year award. Next year he retired as managing director of the STC and was appointed AM. He chaired the company from 1977 until his death.

Tennis, golf and surfing were his recreations, but he had little time to indulge in them. Occasional retreats to the family house at Avoca Beach were prized, and the STC donated several boats, one of which bore Deegan’s name, to the Avoca Beach Surf Life Saving Club. Survived by his wife, their daughter and two sons, he died of cardiomyopathy on 17 January 1987 at Darlinghurst and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Murray, Calling the World (1995)
  • Bulletin, 25 Oct 1983, p 123
  • Australian Financial Review, 19 Jan 1987, p 17
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Jan 1987, p 5
  • series A9301, item 64469 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ian Carnell, 'Deegan, Allen Thomas (1924–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/deegan-allen-thomas-12411/text22311, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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