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Dunshea, Eric Ernest (1906–1972)

by John Edwards

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Eric Ernest Dunshea (1906-1972), by Wolfgang Sievers

Eric Ernest Dunshea (1906-1972), by Wolfgang Sievers

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24862553

Eric Ernest Dunshea (1906-1972), businessman, was born on 8 April 1906 at Petersham, Sydney, sixth child of Frederick Albert Dunshea, an advertising agent from New Zealand, and his native-born wife Emma, née Gazzard. Eric later recalled of his childhood at Summer Hill: 'We were not what you would call a wealthy family, rather you could say we were a little below average'. He attributed his ambition, persistence, ethical outlook and energy to three influences. One was his mother, 'a wonderful person with a strong sense of responsibility'. Another was the businessman (Sir) Hugh Dixson who told young Dunshea: 'You should never be satisfied with the second best'. The third was Joshua 1:9 ('Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest'), a text which he first saw in a dentist's waiting-room as a child and which he still carried folded in his wallet half a century later. Completing his education at Katoomba High School, at age 17 he joined the Perdriau Rubber Co. Ltd as a junior clerk, and studied accounting and finance at night. On 5 October 1929 he married a stenographer Ursula Harbron Mill at the Baptist Church, Chatswood, where her father was minister.

In 1929 Perdriau was acquired by the Dunlop Rubber Co. of Australasia Ltd. Dunshea, who had headed the statistical department in Sydney, was sent next year to the Melbourne head office of Dunlop-Perdriau Rubber Co. Ltd to direct the introduction of punched-card accounting, sales analysis and budgetary control; six years later he was promoted again to head a suppliers' department and in 1944 he was made company secretary. In 1951 he became a director of the group and by 1960 was 'right hand man' to the general manager, (Sir) Robert Blackwood. When Blackwood stepped down in 1966, Dunshea was appointed chief general manager and chief executive of Dunlop Rubber Australia Ltd, one of the country's five biggest manufacturing firms. In 1968 he replaced Sir Daniel McVey as chairman of the board and ruled the company as a benevolent despot.

With his appointment as general manager, Dunshea began a remarkable business transformation. Almost immediately he commenced a programme of company takeovers which surprised, then astonished and finally frightened his own board of directors, and which in a few years doubled Dunlop's turnover and capital, increased the number of employees to 20,000 and diversified the tyre company into textiles, footwear and industrial products. The peak of his success was March 1970 when he was able to report that new acquisitions were earning 9.5 per cent on their gross assets, compared with half that rate on the old lines of tyres, conveyor belts and sporting goods. By late 1971, however, general economic growth had declined and Dunlop found itself with very large debts. In later years some of Dunshea's takeover decisions and the pace of his expansion were criticized, but the combination of high debt, layoffs and corporate reconstruction which followed him in the early 1970s was on a minor scale compared with the miscalculations in other corporations in the 1980s.

Solidly built, with a reddish-tinged complexion, soft skin, grey eyelashes and a fringe of white hair, Dunshea spoke with a rasping voice. During his long career he was president of the Productivity Promotion Council of Australia, foundation chairman of the Australian Rubber Manufacturers' Association, and a councillor of the Australian Institute of Management and of the Australian Industries Development Association. Apart from business, his interests included classical music and photography. He was chairman (1952-72) of the council of Carey Baptist Grammar School, Kew, where enrolments expanded from 500 to 1200. Although a religious man, Dunshea was neither sanctimonious nor a regular churchgoer, and was liberal in his outlook. Active in welfare, he was director of the Australian Neurological Foundation and of the Karana home for the aged, and a trustee of the National Youth Council.

After completing forty-eight years with Perdriau and Dunlop, Dunshea died of cancer on 16 April 1972 in Melbourne and was cremated. He was survived by his wife, daughter, and three of his four sons. His estate was sworn for probate at $295,329.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Sayers, By Courage and Faith (Melb, 1973)
  • G. Blainey, Jumping Over the Wheel (Syd, 1993)
  • Australian Financial Review, 29 Apr 1971
  • Age (Melbourne), 17 Apr 1972
  • Canberra Times, 17 Apr 1972
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Apr 1972
  • biographical notes supplied by Mr J. McClean, archivist for Pacific Dunlop Ltd, Melbourne
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Edwards, 'Dunshea, Eric Ernest (1906–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dunshea-eric-ernest-10074/text17773, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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