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Segal, Sidney Leopold (1913–1999)

by Robert Porter

This article was published online in 2022

Sidney Leopold Segal (1913–1999), company director and mining executive, was born on 22 January 1913 at Cape Town, South Africa, one of four children of Rachel ‘Ray’ Segal, née Morrison, later a life insurance agent, and her husband Bernard Segal, bookkeeper. Both of his parents had been born in the Russian Empire and migrated with their families to South Africa. Sidney was educated at Benoni High School and the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. By 1935 he had graduated with a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of laws degree and, after serving articles, practised as an attorney. In 1940, following the outbreak of World War II, he volunteered for service in the Union Defence Force (South Africa). Posted to the 1st Infantry Division, he saw action in East Africa and the Middle East, and was accorded the rank of captain. Demobilised after the cessation of hostilities, he resigned from the UDF in 1948.

During his wartime service, Segal had met Mignon Mundel, a social worker. They married on 18 August 1943 in Johannesburg. In 1945 he was admitted to the Bar and practised for a brief period. He worked as a stockbroker and joined New Union Goldfields Ltd, where he became joint general manager. Consolidated Gold Fields of London acquired the company in 1959. He chaired several subsidiary companies including Star Diamonds (Pty) Ltd, which mined more than one million carats of diamonds. His colleague Sir George Harvie-Watt, chief executive and chairman of Consolidated Gold Fields, described Segal as a ‘first-class executive’ (1980, 243).

For some time, Segal and his wife had sought to leave South Africa. They were uncomfortable with the apartheid regime and fearful of the future that their two young children would face, especially after the 1960 Sharpeville massacre of protestors demonstrating against oppressive laws imposed on black South Africans. That year Consolidated Gold Fields established Consolidated Gold Fields (Australia) Pty Ltd as part of its strategy to expand geographically and diversify its mineral interests. Segal was well equipped to join the company and secured a position as its finance executive. The family relocated to Sydney in 1961. He was soon appointed as an executive director.

Segal played an instrumental role in the new Australian company’s widespread investments. By 1966 it had established majority shareholdings in Commonwealth Mining Investments (Australia) Ltd, Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd, Associated Minerals Consolidated Ltd, Zip Holdings Ltd, Bellambi Coal Co. Ltd, Renison Ltd, and Wyong Minerals Ltd, as well as a one-third interest in Mount Goldsworthy Mining Associates, the first company to set up iron ore operations in the Pilbara in Western Australia. Further investments, such as Western Titanium Ltd, followed. He served as a director, including as chairman, of several subsidiary companies, notably New Consolidated Gold Fields (Australasia) Pty Ltd, Lake View and Star Ltd, Lawrenson Alumasc Holdings Ltd, and Eastern Titanium Corporation Pty Ltd, and Western Titanium. His reputation was as a highly ethical man in a male-dominated industry, demonstrated in part by his promotion in the 1960s of female employee access to superannuation benefits at Consolidated Gold Fields.

In 1966 Consolidated Gold Fields (Australia) converted to a public company, majority owned by its British parent, Consolidated Gold Fields. To represent the new company’s presence in Australia, Gold Fields House, on Circular Quay, Sydney, was constructed and opened in the same year, one of the city’s first high-rise buildings. Segal was involved in the planning stages and later oversaw the establishment of the substantial and impressive art collection that the building would house. A keen collector himself, he was described as an ‘executive with a feel for the masters’ (Kirkwood 1971, 12).

From 1969 to 1976, as chairman and then executive chairman of the majority-owned mineral sands company, Western Titanium, Segal was involved in establishing the company’s position in the emerging mineral sands region of Eneabba in Western Australia. Travelling to that State, he negotiated directly with local farmers who had pegged major tenements. He secured an agreement with one group but when legal contentions arose, the matter proceeded through the Supreme Court of Western Australia, the High Court of Australia, and to the Privy Council. Western Titanium was ultimately successful. Following his efforts, Consolidated Gold Fields Australia, and its successor, Renison Goldfields Consolidated Ltd, acquired the other two operating companies at Eneabba and established itself as the sole producer in what would become one of the world’s major mineral sands producing regions.

In 1976 Segal succeeded Sir Brian Massy-Greene as chairman of Consolidated Gold Fields Australia. He assumed the role in the difficult environment of having to answer to a demanding major shareholder in London, portfolio reconfiguration, maturing assets, and indifferent financial performance. Working with the managing director, Bart Ryan, he laid the foundations for the fundamental transformation of the company into a ‘naturalised,’ majority-owned Australian company, Renison Goldfields Consolidated, in 1981. Segal stepped down as chairman in 1980 but remained as a director until his retirement on 31 December 1982. Quiet but unreserved, and ‘with a ready wit and a quick mind’ (Kirkwood 1971, 12), he demonstrated a strong will, independence, and intellectual honesty. He was an accomplished speech-writer and a wise and insightful advisor.

Combining business acumen with an appreciation of the arts and a concern for people, Segal was respected by his business colleagues and regarded as an inspiration by many new migrants from South Africa. In his endeavours, he was supported by Mignon, who served as a volunteer guide at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Together they enjoyed opera, theatre, travel, and art, as well as involvement with the Sydney Jewish community. His contributions to law and learning are marked by a plaque at the University of New South Wales law school, and to the arts by a courtyard at Bundanon, New South Wales, the restored home of Arthur Boyd, in honour of his support for the arts. Survived by Mignon and their son and daughter, he died on 30 January 1999 in Sydney.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Angly, Pat. ‘Australia’s South Africans—The Ones that Got Away.’ Bulletin, 23 May 1978, 23–28
  • Harvie-Watt, G. S. Most of My Life. [London]: Springwood Books, 1980
  • Kirkwood, Don. ‘Executive with a Feel for the Masters.’ Australian, 5 June 1971, 12
  • Porter, Robert. Below the Sands: The Companies that Formed Iluka Resources. Consolidated Gold Fields, RGC, Westralian Oil, Westralian Sands, Associated Minerals Consolidated, Western Titanium. Crawley, WA: UWA Publishing, 2018
  • Porter, Robert. Consolidated Gold Fields in Australia: The Rise and Decline of a British Mining House, 1926–1998. Acton, ACT: ANU Press, 2020
  • Segal, Jillian. Personal communication

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Robert Porter, 'Segal, Sidney Leopold (1913–1999)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/segal-sidney-leopold-31981/text39470, published online 2022, accessed online 3 December 2022.

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