Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frank Breese Spencer (1886–1965)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Frank Breese Spencer (1886-1965), company director, was born on 14 September 1886 at Goodna, Queensland, eighth child of English-born parents Thomas Spencer, leather-dresser, and his wife Annie Maria, née Breese. Educated at public schools, Frank worked as a clerk. On 7 December 1904 at Holy Trinity Church, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, he married Emily Mary Bogue with Anglican rites.

Spencer joined Nestlé & Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Co. as branch manager in 1913. He proved an efficient executive and managed (1914-26) the company's New Zealand operation. In 1921 the Nestlé & Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Co. (Australasia) Ltd was formed to acquire the Australasian business of the Swiss-based parent company. Moving to Sydney, Spencer became joint manager of Nestlé for Australasia in 1926 and sole general manager in 1929; he was managing director in 1933-52 (and deputy-chairman from 1934). From 1942 he was chairman of directors of Nestlé in Australasia. After he was appointed a director of the parent holding company in Switzerland in 1946, he made annual visits to Europe. When he retired from the Nestlé Co. (Australia) Ltd in 1962 he was made honorary chairman.

A dynamic personality in the Australian confectionery trade, Spencer had come into the Manufacturing Confectioners' Association 'as smoothly and silently as a Rolls Royce' and 'burst into a veritable blaze of fireworks'. He built on the success that Nestlé had achieved under A. C. Hargrove, who had overseen the construction of a large plant at Abbotsford, Sydney, in 1917. Spencer had responsibility for guiding the business through the difficult times of the Depression and World War II. A convivial man, with a 'beatific smile', he strongly believed in the advantages of vigorous competition in his industry and admitted to being 'perhaps a little outspoken at times'.

Spencer was receptive to new ideas and quick to translate them into action. In 1934 Nestlé introduced an all-Australian innovation, Milo, a drink invented by Tom Mayne of Sydney. Made from a mixture of malt, cocoa and milk, it became a successful product, not only in Australia—which by 1999 was its third largest market behind Malaysia and the Philippines—but in some thirty other countries. Another product that Spencer had seen into production was the Winning Post assortment of chocolates (five ounces for a shilling) in 1933. That year Nestlé began advertising in cinemas.

'Greatly interested in matters of educational value', Spencer was elected a trustee of the Australian Museum in 1939; he became a crown trustee in 1958 and was president in 1960-61. He was a director (1939-48), deputy-chairman (from 1941) and chairman (1947-48) of the Australian Gas Light Co. through times of supply and labour difficulties. A member of the Union and New South Wales clubs (sometime president of the latter), and of the Auckland Club, New Zealand, he also belonged to the Australian Golf and Australian Jockey clubs, Sydney.

Spencer lived at Kirribilli until 1956 and then at Darling Point. Survived by his two daughters, he died at his home on 15 January 1965 and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery; his wife and son predeceased him. Nestlé continued to expand and to buy out its competitors.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Museum, Report of Trustees, 1964 (Syd, 1964)
  • J. Heer, Nestlé (Vevey, Switzerland, 1991)
  • Australasian Confectioner and Soda Fountain Journal, 24 Feb 1928, 22 Mar, 22 June, 22 July 1933, May, July 1962, Feb 1965
  • Australian Museum Magazine, 1 Sept 1939, p 72
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 July 1921, 16 Jan 1965.

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Spencer, Frank Breese (1886–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 27 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 September, 1886
Goodna, Queensland, Australia


15 January, 1965 (aged 78)
Darling Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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