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Haines, George Alexander (1931–1994)

by Simon Ville

This article was published online in 2018

George Alexander Haines (1931–1994), businessman, was born on 3 November 1931 in Surry Hills, Sydney, son of New South Wales-born George Alexander Haines, barman, and his Scottish-born wife Janet Hayes Mitchell, née McIntosh. George junior was educated at Fort Street Boys’ High School, Petersham. Having gained his Leaving certificate (1947), he worked as a clerk and studied accountancy by correspondence. In 1955 he joined the chartered accountancy firm of M. W. Fishwick & Co. based in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Three years later, on 27 February, at the Methodist Church, Rabaul, he married Elizabeth Gloyienne Kenward, a clerk, whose father worked for Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd.

Back in Sydney by 1960, Haines gained his first senior appointment, as chief accountant with Miller’s Brewery Pty Ltd, under the direction of Harry Alce. During the mid-1960s Haines moved into the hotel and leisure industries, rising to become general manager of Travelodge Australia Ltd. In 1977 Alce, then managing director of Tooth & Co. Ltd, employed Haines as its finance manager. Tooth faced serious problems with industrial unrest and outdated breweries. However, it was the Trade Practices Act 1974 that undermined its business model by outlawing ‘exclusive dealing.’ The company had relied heavily upon its ownership of more than seven hundred ‘tied’ hotels, which were leased to individual operators on the condition of purchasing their beer solely from Tooth. In 1980 Haines succeeded Alce as managing director. He was determined to reinvigorate the struggling company through reforming labour practices and rationalising its plants. Waverley brewery at Moore Park was closed and the Broadway brewery modernised with new equipment. He also pursued diversification as a strategy, including an abortive attempt to acquire the estate agent L. J. Hooker Ltd to gain access to its property management expertise. In 1986 he was appointed AM.

Haines was soon embroiled in the corporate excesses of the 1980s. The businessman John Spalvins exploited Tooth’s faltering share price to acquire the company as part of the Adsteam Group in 1981. Tooth’s brewing assets were sold in 1983 to John Elliott’s Carlton and United Breweries Ltd, but Haines was retained to become managing director of Tooth’s remaining business. Adsteam, originally established as the shipping enterprise, Adelaide Steamship Company, had become a conglomerate by the 1980s distinguished by complex cross-ownership and high levels of debt. Driven by the hubris of the period that Spalvins typified, poor investment decisions (particularly in Bell Resources Pty Ltd and Industrial Equity Ltd) led to an unprecedented loss of $1.35 billion in the 1990–91 financial year and the collapse of the group. In July 1991 Spalvins’s role in the company was terminated.

At the height of that boom and bust era, Haines rose to national prominence as the person tasked with restructuring Adsteam. In May 1991 the banks, more than one hundred of which were creditors, had appointed him as group managing director to oversee the sell-off and reorganisation of the failed conglomerate. The careful and experienced Haines—tall, quietly spoken, and slightly stooped in appearance—cut a very different figure from the new entrepreneurs, such as Spalvins, Elliott, Alan Bond, and Robert Holmes à Court, with their corporate-raider mentality. Haines is generally judged as making the best of a bad situation in reshaping Adsteam. Selling companies from the group to pay off the banks was highly problematic in light of the diminished share values in the recession of the early 1990s. His ability to persuade the banks to postpone the sale of the food retailer Woolworths Ltd until July 1993 secured $2.45 billion from the largest public float at the time, which raised $650 million more than had been expected in the previous year. Overall, he reduced Adsteam’s debt from approximately $7 billion to less than $2 billion.

Described as a person of ‘determination and … personal courage’ (McIlwraith 1994, 23), Haines drew on these qualities when negotiating corporate sales and handling angry investors. His business and personal skills were also put to good effect in sports administration as a director (1985-94) of New South Wales Rugby League Ltd and chair of its finance and salary payments committees. He supported the Balmain rugby league club and earlier in life had been an enthusiastic sportsman, playing soccer and captaining (1969-70) the Collaroy Plateau Cricket Club. In July 1993, having helped to resurrect the big end of town, he retired from Adsteam. He continued as a director of several of the remaining subsidiary companies. After a three-year illness he died on 24 March 1994 in the Sacred Heart Hospice, Darlinghurst, and was cremated. His wife, and their son and two daughters, survived him.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Clarke, Frank, Graeme Dean, and Kyle Oliver. Corporate Collapse: Accounting, Regulatory and Ethical Failure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003
  • Fleming, Grant, David Merrett, and Simon Ville. The Big End of Town: Big Business and Corporate Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004
  • McIlwraith, Ian. ‘Haines Kept Fleet from Foundering.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1994, 23
  • Sykes, Trevor. The Bold Riders: Behind Australia's Corporate Collapses. St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1994
  • Westfield, Mark. ‘The Man Who Saved the Banks over Adsteam.’ Australian, 30 March 1994, 15

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Citation details

Simon Ville, 'Haines, George Alexander (1931–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/haines-george-alexander-27550/text34953, published online 2018, accessed online 21 September 2019.

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