17/12/2002 - 21:00

Vale Harry Perkins 1939 – 2002

17/12/2002 - 21:00


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Vale Harry Perkins 1939 – 2002


He played an instrumental part in turning a $32 million farming cooperative into a $10 billion diversified conglomerate. He devoted his life to his local community in regional WA and to various medical and academic bodies that now clutter his CV.

Yet while it was these achievements that made the headlines during his life, those that knew Harry Perkins will remember him best for his passionate drive and enthusiasm for life.

Born in the Wheatbelt town of Bruce Rock on August 5, 1939, Mr Perkins devoted most of his life to the family farm and to the town he called home.

From 1957 to 1986 he put all his energies into farming following three years of study at Geelong Grammar School.

He quickly took a leadership role in Bruce Rock. In 1965 he was appointed as director of the Bruce Rock District Farmers Cooperative and soon after became a councillor and then deputy president of the Bruce Rock Shire Council.

Elected to represent local farmers in the Westralian Farmers Cooperative, he was to roll into the role of director of the publicly listed Wesfarmers Limited in 1984. From 1986 he was chairman of Wesfarmers until his retirement last Friday, just one day prior to his untimely death.

While not university trained, he became chancellor of the Curtin University of Technology, chairman of the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research, a member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council for Co-operative Research Centre and a director of Adelaide Brighton Ltd and a number of Wesfarmers subsidiary companies.

Those that knew Mr Perkins point to a man that was a natural leader, never one to seek the spotlight, yet able to empower others with his determination and vision.

Lifetime friend and colleague Kevin Hogan first meet Mr Perkins during the 1950s at Junior Farmers, a rural youth organisation that operated throughout WA. Their paths continued to cross for the next 50 years. They were to sit alongside each other on the Wesfarmers board for 16 years until Mr Hogan’s retirement last year.

Mr Hogan saw Mr Perkins as a real innovator, ready to try unconventional methods which he adopted to farming and his business life.

Winning the Nuffield Farming Scholarship in 1972 took Mr Perkins on a six-month study tour to Europe looking at various farming techniques. It had a dramatic influence on him and broadened his horizons. After this he was to establish Velcourt Holdings and helped in the formation of the "3 tonne Club".

In an interview with WA Business News almost two years ago Mr Perkins said the scholarship changed his view of life from local to global.

"One of the things I became aware of through the scholarship was the need for farmers to control their own destiny rather than having the Government tell them what was happening," he then said.

The 3 tonne Club was formed to try to maximise grain yields from the available rainfall.

Mr Perkins was one of the first to introduce chemical weed control and zero tillage into his farming practises.

"This has become normal practise now, but during the 1970s this was still really scoffed at," Mr Hogan said. "He was a real innovator.

" He had the ability to attract people and his ability to work well with people was to be his real great attributes."

While his life took him from the land to the boardrooms of Perth and the world, he never lost his  ‘earthiness’ or his affection for people.

"He was a real people’s man," Mr Hogan said.

Even while introducing continuous change to Wesfarmers he managed to achieve this without offending people and kept staff and colleagues on side.

Another real strength, Mr Hogan saw was the ability for the man to keep arms length from the day to day management of the business.

"He never used his influence or power and was able to relate with anyone."

Wesfarmers managing director Michael Chaney said it was impossible to overstate the contribution made by the man to Wesfarmers and the WA community.

"The breadth of that contribution is remarkable, encompassing as it does business, farming, education and medical research," Mr Chaney said.

"His long term as Chairman is marked by the teamwork and harmony he was able to create and maintain. The united board which he led has been a critical factor in the company’s success."

In what was to become his last public statement Mr Perkins said on Friday that it had been an immense privilege to be part of the success of Wesfarmers.

"The progress from these humble beginnings to our present standing as a major Australian corporation reflects great credit on the employees, successive boards of directors and the share-holders who had confidence in them," Mr Perkins said


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