Murdoch Stanley McLeod
philanthropist, was born on 18 October 1893 at Carrieton, South
Australia, eldest of six children of South Australian-born parents John
McLeod, farmer, and his wife Harriet Caroline Ann, née Symonds. Raised
in a staunch Scottish Presbyterian family, Murdoch was educated locally
and at 14 went to work in the general store at Spalding. Two years later
he became a station hand and joined the Australian Workers’ Union.
Fascinated by motorcycles, he bought one when he was 20 and rode it to
Adelaide, where he found work in a motorcycle shop and studied
mechanical trade skills at the South Australian School of Mines and
Industry. In 1915 David Woolston employed him in his bicycle and
motorcycle shop at Jamestown. Woolston retired the following year and
offered McLeod the business, to be paid off over two years. At first a
repairer of bicycle tyres, M. S. McLeod’s Cycles became an agent for
Goodyear tyres, later adding Ford motor parts, and began re-treading
motor vehicle tyres. On 22 March 1920 at Prospect, Adelaide, he married
with Presbyterian forms Katherine Hunter, a tailoress.
In 1930 McLeod bought a second shop at Peterborough, next year opened a
third office in Currie Street, Adelaide, and in 1932 bought a bankrupt
competitor, the Adelaide Tyre Co. He built up a distribution network
supplying tyres, batteries and parts to motor garages throughout the
region. Despite the risks of expanding operations in the Depression, he
had calculated shrewdly. Concentrating on efficient re-treading of tyres
for commercial fleet owners, a niche market that survived the economic
downturn, the business remained so profitable that McLeod opened two
more branches, at Port Pirie in 1934 and at Mount Gambier in 1935. He
consolidated the Adelaide operations in new premises in 1938.
During World War II the company was affected by labour and material
shortages, and some country branches were closed. After the war McLeod
diversified his business, expanding into home wares, mail-order sales
within South Australia, and the manufacturing of prefabricated Galeprufe
sheds. The company M. S. McLeod Pty Ltd was registered in 1946, and
floated as a public company in 1954, with McLeod as chief executive
officer and chairman. In the 1950s the company extended its core
business of tyres, batteries and motor accessories, opening branch
offices in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.
It benefited from the upsurge in demand as car registrations in
Australia quadrupled in the twenty years after 1945. In the 1960s,
however, it faced a campaign by international tyre manufacturers to
squeeze local retailers out of the Australian market; this eventually
stopped when the Trade Practices Act was passed in 1974. By the
mid-1970s McLeod had added rural finance and motor vehicle and farm
machinery franchises to the company’s business lines, was operating more
than seventy sales and service centres nationally, and was the largest
independent tyre distributor in Australia, paying annual dividends of
between 10 and 16 per cent.
McLeod had consolidated his business empire slowly and conservatively.
Although a brisk, no-nonsense manager, he instituted generous employment
policies, probably influenced by his own rise from poverty and perhaps
from his experience as a member of a union. The firm provided
superannuation, and life and incapacity insurance schemes for employees,
decades before such benefits were mandatory; it also rewarded long
service and loyalty with cash bonuses, and, after becoming a public
company, with share allocations. As a result, it maintained a stable
workforce and a number of its senior figures had risen from the workshop
to executive offices. McLeod retired in 1978 but he remained a director
until his death.
Unassuming and frugal, McLeod travelled little and entertained rarely.
He did not practise his religion in later life, but retained its
discipline and, by all accounts, was a man of integrity. To compensate
for his lack of an early education, he had attended Workers’ Educational
Association classes on a wide range of topics, from 1931 until well into
middle age, and read voraciously. He encouraged his employees to improve
their knowledge, establishing a company lending library and distributing
lists of recommended books. In later years he was a member of three
During the 1970s McLeod financed medical research and teaching at the
University of Adelaide; the Australian Postgraduate Federation in
Medicine made him an honorary life governor in 1977. Survived by his
wife and their son and two daughters, he died on 24 April 1981 in
Adelaide and was cremated. His estate was valued at about $10 million.
In his will he provided funding for the Adelaide (Women’s and)
Children’s Hospital; a research fund and medals for excellence in
research were named after him. M. S. McLeod Ltd was delisted in 1985 and
acquired by Swissair Associated Companies Ltd in 1995.