Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thompson, Leslie James (1888–1982)

by Barrie Dyster

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

Leslie James Thompson (1888-1982), accountant and company director, was born on 5 June 1888 in Sydney, second of five children of Sydney-born parents James Thompson, carpenter, and his wife Eliza Jane, née McNeill. Les attended Hornsby Public School. In 1901-10 he was employed and trained by the accountants James Robertson, Priestley & Co. He was company secretary in 1910-16 to Lukey & Nicklin Ltd, indent merchants and wholesalers in saddlery and saddlers’ ironmongery. On 5 April 1913 at The Tabernacle, Enmore, he married with Church of Christ rites Vera Annie Elizabeth Andrews.

In 1916 Thompson set up in private practice, joining with Jonas Ormonde Holt as Holt & Thompson the following February. He bought out Holt in 1927 but retained the firm’s name. The partners, both members of the Henry George Club, were active in organisations formed to professionalise their occupation. Thompson was a State councillor (1919-22, 1924-27) of the Association of Accountants of Australia. State vice-president (1917-29) of the Australasian Institute of Secretaries, he became the State registrar in 1929, with responsibility for the institute’s course of examinations, and he opened a library and reading room next to his own premises. He remained as registrar in the 1930s and 1940s. He and Holt lobbied through the institute for changes to State company law.

During the 1920s Thompson became secretary of the New South Wales Association of Master Pharmacists. He advocated improved courses in pharmacy and lectured students on business topics. The association merged with the Federated Pharmaceutical Service Guild in 1930. Thompson was State secretary for the guild, for Pharmaceutical Defence Ltd and for the Proprietary Articles Trade Association. For more than half a century the industry turned to him for counsel. He negotiated with the Chifley government on behalf of the guild when the pharmaceutical benefits scheme began, and with each ministry until 1976 when he persuaded the Fraser government to amend the scheme.

Thompson’s firm audited many companies. By the end of the 1920s he was a director of six businesses. In 1926 the Australian Provincial Assurance Association Ltd asked him for an exhaustive report. From then on he advised its board as investment consultant, recommending steady growth and diversification. Deputy-chairman from 1944, he chaired the enterprise from 1951 to 1977. From 1957 he presided over an umbrella group, APA Holdings Ltd, which covered companies offering several kinds of insurance, transactions in the short-term money market, and trusteeship for other bodies’ investments.

In 1935-36 (Sir) William Walkley, the businessman Thompson most admired, had masterminded the float of the Australian Motorists Petrol Co. Ltd (later Ampol Petroleum Ltd), enlisting Thompson first as company secretary, then as auditor. In 1946 he succeeded Alphonso Tewksbury as chairman of the board, retiring from his accountancy firm to concentrate on his portfolio of directorships. He chaired Ampol Exploration Ltd and the tyre-manufacturing company B. F. Goodrich Aust. Pty Ltd. Until 1970 he oversaw vast expansion in Ampol’s activity, with two managing directors only, Walkley and (Sir) Walter Leonard. A man of attentive and prompt deliberation, Thompson was a stabilising and sustaining influence on those around him.

Thompson chaired A. G. Spalding & Bros (Australasia) Pty Ltd, an offshoot of the American maker of tennis racquets for the game of his youth and golf clubs for the game of his middle age. Schweppes Ltd and United Distillers Pty Ltd entrusted their Australian interests to him in the 1950s. The transport company, Brambles Industries Ltd, brought Thompson onto the board in 1959. (Sir) John Marks, a fellow director at Brambles, recruited Thompson to be deputy-chairman of his Delfin Australian Fund when it was floated in 1960. That year Thompson became chairman of Bowling Centres Holdings Ltd. Still serving on fourteen boards in 1971, he led five of them. Thompson celebrated fifty years with APA before he stepped down in the last week of 1977.

Early in the 1960s Thompson helped to found the Institute of Directors, Australian division, and was its second president. Like the earlier professional associations that he nurtured, it existed both to educate its members and to act as their advocate. (Sir) Walter Scott, doyen of Australia’s management consultants, acknowledged Thompson as a forerunner in the field of management instruction. ‘I love people, I like problems, and I like solutions’, Thompson said. From the 1920s he lived at Beecroft. Predeceased (1966) by his wife and survived by their daughter, he died on 19 July 1982 at Hornsby and was cremated with Uniting Church forms.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Simpson, Show Me a Mountain (1961)
  • G. Haines, ‘The Grains and Three Penn’orths of Pharmacy’ (1976)
  • Australian Financial Review, 10 Dec 1959, p 36
  • Ampol Staff News, June 1972, p 6
  • Australian Director, Aug 1973, p 20
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 July 1982, p 11.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Barrie Dyster, 'Thompson, Leslie James (1888–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thompson-leslie-james-15664/text26860, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 26 March 2019.

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

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