Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Looker, Sir Cecil Thomas (1913–1988)

by John A. Leckey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Sir Cecil Thomas Looker (1913-1988), businessman, was born on 11 April 1913 in Hobart, sixth child of Edward William Looker, a London-born pastry-cook and caterer, and his New Zealand-born wife Martha Fanny, née Smith.  Margaret Looker was his sister.  The family moved to Normanhurst, Sydney, in 1917 after the failure of Looker’s bakery and remained in straitened circumstances.  Matriculating from Fort Street Boys’ High School, Peter—as Cecil was known—took several low-paid jobs that, together with borrowings, financed his study at the University of Sydney (BA, 1936).  In 1937, one of three graduates from New South Wales admitted to the Commonwealth Public Service, he commenced work in the Attorney-General’s Department, Sydney.

Promoted to the Prime Minister’s Department in 1938, Looker moved to Canberra, becoming private secretary to the treasurer, R. G. (Lord) Casey, and then to Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies.  On 19 April 1941 at St John’s Church of England, Camberwell, Melbourne, he married Jean Leslyn Withington, a secretary.  Following Menzies’ defeat in 1941 and the fall of the United Australia Party government, Looker was commissioned in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve on 15 May 1942.  He served as an intelligence staff officer at Navy Office, Melbourne, in Papua (1942-43), and on Guadalcanal (1943-44), and was promoted to lieutenant (1943) and acting lieutenant commander (1945).  His appointment terminated in February 1946.

Looker unsuccessfully sought preselection at two branches of the new Liberal Party of Australia.  When Jean contracted poliomyelitis, he resigned from the public service to remain in Melbourne and care for her.  In 1946 he accepted (Sir) Ian Potter’s invitation to join his stockbroking firm as a clerk.  Knowing little about share trading, but familiar with government finances, he concentrated on developing the government bonds and 'fixed interest' side of the firm.  He was made a partner of Ian Potter and Co. in 1953 (senior partner 1967-76).

In 1955 Looker travelled to Britain to study the London discount market.  On return, he overcame the firm’s reluctance to establish a private short-term money market, suited to managing the increasing flows of liquidity associated with economic growth.  It was not until 1959, however, that he persuaded the Commonwealth (Reserve from 1960) Bank of Australia to act as the lender of last resort.  While advocating greater flexibility in financial trading, he also used his positions as chairman of the Melbourne Stock Exchange (1966-72) and president (1968-71) of the Australian Associated Stock Exchanges to lobby for a unified national stock exchange and regulatory body.  He sought to minimise some of the excesses of the speculative 'Poseidon' investment boom (1969-71).

Looker was chairman of the executive committee for the Duke of Edinburgh Study Conference (1968), of Plessey Pacific Pty Ltd (1970-84) and of the Victorian Economic Development Corporation (1981-83).  He served on many boards, among them those of the Papua New Guinea Development Bank (1967-74) and Ansett Transport Industries Ltd (1971-80), and was president (1975-80) of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria.  With Jean he established a fund for a young Anglican to travel abroad.  As a member (1961-67) of the Carey Grammar School council, he launched a similar program in 1963 to assist its teachers to extend their experience overseas.

Sir Laurence Muir called Looker a pioneer of the short-term money market.  Direct in manner and proud of his self-made progress, Looker was seen by colleagues as a hard man, with a large 'chip on his shoulder'.  From 1966 he relaxed at his grazing property at Woodstock, near Melbourne.  He was knighted in 1969.  Survived by his wife (d.1998), their son and two daughters, Sir Cecil Looker died at Kew on 19 September 1988 and was cremated.  His estate was valued for probate at $2,642,411.

Select Bibliography

  • R. T. Appleyard and C. B. Schedvin (eds.), Australian Financiers, 1988
  • P. Yule, Ian Potter, 2006
  • A. Hodgart, taped interview with Sir Cecil Looker (1975, National Library of Australia)
  • private information

Citation details

John A. Leckey, 'Looker, Sir Cecil Thomas (1913–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/looker-sir-cecil-thomas-14349/text25421, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 August 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017