John Spalvins

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John Spalvins, born Janis Gunnars Spalvins, in 1936,[1] in Latvia, was Managing Director of the Adelaide Steamship Company from 1977 until the company's collapse in 1991. During this period under Spalvins' control, "AdSteam" became Australia's major corporate entity with interests and significant holdings in retailing, food, wine, dairy, hardware, building, banks, and numerous other companies.[2] "Spalvins built up one of Australia's largest industrial conglomerates, which took in David Jones, Woolworths, Metro Meat, food company Petersville Sleigh, beer and wine company Tooth & Co, as well as a tugboat business, before it was put into receivership in 1991."[3]

Early career[edit]

Spalvins was born in Latvia in 1936. In 1940 Latvia became the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic under Soviet control. 13 year old Spalvins was brought to Australia by his mother, Hilda Blumentals (~1914 - 26 Jun 1993), via SS Amarapoora, arriving in Sydney on 20 October 1949.[2][4][5][6]

In 1957, aged 21, he became company secretary of Camlec where he remained until 1973. During this period he studied economics in the evenings earning a degree from the University of Adelaide.[2]

The Adelaide Steamship Company[edit]

In 1973, Adelaide Steamship's then managing director (and later chairman) Ken Russell head-hunted Spalvins to aid in revitalising the company. In 1977 Spalvins was appointed managing director, and in 1980 Spalvins and Russell commenced their acquisition and control of David Jones, followed through the 1980s by acquisition of numerous Australian "household names" including, but by no means limited to, Tooth & Co, (Penfolds, KB Lager, etc.), Petersville Sleigh, (Four’N Twenty pies, Bodalla cheese, Pura milk, Peters ice-cream, Birds Eye frozen foods, Nanna’s frozen apple pies, etc.), Farmers Union, Metro Meat, AWA, John Martins, Pioneer Property Group, and Industrial Equity (Woolworths).[2]


Following the collapse of the AdSteam share price, in March 1991 it was announced that Spalvins "would be terminated as an Adsteam employee". He departed on 5 July 1991.[2][7]

For many years, Spalvins and his second wife Gale divided their time between "Kintyre", their home in Springfield, South Australia, their villa on Hamilton Island, and their units in the United States. They continue to spend at least three months each year in the United States at their home in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he indulges his passion for skiing.[2] He remains an active investor through his company Galufo Pty Ltd, and is prominent for his role in advocating the obligation of company boards to provide value for their smaller shareholders.[1][8][9]


In 1962, Spalvins married Cecily Westall Rymill (b. 1939, d.14 April 1991). They had two sons: John Rymill Spalvins, a stockbroker and Richard, a restauranteur.[2][10][11]

After Cecily's unexpected death from a rare blood disease, Spalvins subsequently married Gale.[2]


  1. ^ a b Jeni Porter (2004) "Do as I say, not as I do", The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 May 2004.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Damon Kitney (2011) "Spalvins breaks silence on Adsteam collapse", The Weekend Australian, 9–10 July 2011, pp 4, 25-26
  3. ^ Glenda Korporaal (2007) "This time it's different, says '87 crash victim John Spalvins", The Australian, 13 October 2007.
  4. ^ SS Amarapoora, Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild.
  5. ^ Acacia, Centennial Park,
  6. ^ Hilda Blumentals,
  7. ^ Emiliya Mychasuk (1996) Anniversary gift, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 April 1996
  8. ^ Damon Kitney (2011) "Spalvins wants Indian miner to tell full story", The Australian, 8 March 2011
  9. ^ Ian Porter (2004) "Spalvins turns up heat on Bridgestone's board", The Age, 4 May 2004
  10. ^ Cecily Westall Rymill,
  11. ^ "Oh, how the mighty have fallen", The Age, 19 October 2002.

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