Elders Limited

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Elders Limited
Industry Agribusiness
Founded 1839 in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, 2014 Marks the 175 Year anniversary
Founder Alexander Lang Elder[1]
Headquarters Adelaide, Australia
Area served
Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, China
Key people
Mr Mark Allison CEO,Hutch Ranck Chairman(Since May 2014), James Jackson Deputy Chairman (Since April 2014), Ian Wilton Non-Executive Director (Since April 2014)
Products Livestock, Farm Supplies, Wool, Grain,
Services Real Estate, home loans, Agronomists, Production Advice, Financial planning, Insurance, International Trading.
Number of employees
over 2000
Website www.elders.com.au

Elders Limited is an Australian-based agribusiness company that provides products such as livestock, farm supplies and grain as well as financial services to the farming community in Australia and New Zealand.

The company was founded in 1839 and through a long and complex set of mergers and divestitures the company grew to become one of the major companies in Australia with a wide variety of interests in different industries, before again reverting to its agricultural roots and becoming a supplier to the farming industry.

Elder Smith & Co was founded in 1839 in South Australia by Alexander Lang Elder[1] as a new arm of his family's Scottish based merchant and shipping business. Its core business was a trading company and commission agent for wool and other agricultural products for sale back to Britain. Elder believed there were good business opportunities for trade out of the colony which had been newly proclaimed in December 1836.

Elder, Smith & Co should not be confused with the company now known as Elders Limited. The South Australian company Elder, Smith & Co Limited and the Victorian company Goldsbrough Mort & Co Limited where acquired by the South Australian holding company Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort Limited in 1963. Goldsbrough, Mort & Co Limited (ACN 004045121) was then demerged in 1994 under the name of Elders Limited along with the right to use the well known trading name of "Elders". Elders Limited was acquired by Futuris Corporation Limited (ACN 004 336 636). The name was then changed to Elders Rural Services Australia Limited. Futuris Corporation Limited then changed its name to Elders Limited.

The company once known as Elder, Smith & Co Limited that was registered in South Australia on 13 July 1882 (ACN 007 869 294) remained with Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort Limited and is now known as Derel Esc Pty Ltd. Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort Limited is now known as Foster's Group Pty Ltd and is owned by SABMiller plc based in London.

Elders Limited therefore acquired the pastoral businesses of both Elder, Smith & Co Limited and Goldsbrough, Mort & Co Limited, however Elders Limited owns the company once known as Goldsbrough, Mort & Co Limited and not the company once known as Elder Smith & Co Limited.

Goldsbrough, Mort & Co Limited was registered in Victoria on 31 August 1893 and so the heritage of Elders Limited is more closely associated with the Victorian company Goldsbrough, Mort & Co Limited than with the South Australian company Elder, Smith & Co Limited from a legal viewpoint.

In 1857 Richard Goldsbrough (1821-1886) established the business of R. Goldsbrough and Company with partner Hugh Parker in Melbourne. In 1881 the public company of R. Goldsbrough & Co Ltd was registered and in 1888 this company merged with the Sydney firm of Mort & Co to form Goldsbrough Mort & Co Ltd that was registered in Victoria on 31 August 1893.

Thomas Sutcliffe Mort (1816-1878) established Mort & Co in 1862 which became Mort & Co Ltd in 1883. Mort pioneered the shipping of frozen meat from Australia to London.



With the fledgling colony of South Australia only three years old, Alexander Lang Elder (1815–1885)[1] arrived in Port Misery (now Port Adelaide) in 1839 aboard the family-owned Minerva to launch a new arm of the Scottish-based merchant and shipping business.

Alexander was a member of a Scottish merchant family which had decided there was real potential in the newly founded colony of SA and he was dispatched to both set up business and explore opportunities – particularly in goods that could be returned to Britain for sale, such as wool. Alexander battled for the next few years consolidating the business until the copper boom in the mid-north of South Australia in 1842 turned things around. He branched out as a metal broker and the company never looked back. Alexander’s brothers, William (1813–1882),[2] George (1816–1897)[3] and Thomas (1818–1897)[4] joined Alexander but it was Thomas who stayed on to become an Australian while the other three eventually returned to Scotland and England.

It was Thomas who realized the potential of the pastoral Outback and it was under his encouragement the business imported camels to arrange transport. This unlocked the vast interior of Australia, making it possible to tap into the Great Artesian Basin and the hidden water that made grazing viable. He was laying the foundations of a national business empire that would be built on the back of the sheep but which was funded with cash from the copper boom; cash that enabled him and his peers to acquire huge tracts of land.

Alexander left South Australia in 1853. He settled in London in 1855, and acted as agent for the Adelaide company until 1884, when he and his sons established A. L. Elder & Company. William left soon after Alexander. George left in 1855.

Thomas migrated to Adelaide in 1854 and worked with George for a year. After George departed, he formed Elder, Stirling & Co, a partnership with Edward Stirling,[5] Robert Barr Smith[6] and John Taylor.[7] In 1856 Barr Smith married Thomas Elder's sister Joanna, and on Stirling and Taylor's retirement in 1863, Barr Smith and Thomas Elder formed Elder Smith and Co.

In 1875, with Andrew Tennant,[8] they formed the Adelaide Steamship Company.

In 1888 Elder's Wool & Produce Co. Ltd, (a subsidiary of Elder Smith and Company), and Elder Smith and Company were amalgamated, and Peter Waite became chairman of directors of Elder Smith & Co. Ltd, "displaying remarkable ingenuity and initiative".[9] He held this position for 34 years, resigning a few months before his death in 1922.[9]

Elder was knighted in 1878 (KCMG) and made GCMG in 1887. He died at Mount Lofty in 1897.


Already an economic cornerstone of South Australia, by the turn of the century the company was looking west for expansion and in 1903 acquired a one third holding in the WA wool business of George Shenton.

The following year, with the company's expertise and encouragement, the new partnership took the business beyond its Fremantle headquarters and into rural WA, sending its Port Augusta manager JO Giles to organise a branch and livestock sales at Northam.

At the same time a Port Augusta friend of Giles, WJ Gillett, opened the Beverley branch in Western Australia.

The first sale at Northam yarded 235 sheep, five cattle and three pigs.

JA Primrose arrived the following year from Adelaide to set up the merchandise department and remained its manager for the next 38 years.

Elders WA had begun and the first steps had been taken towards a branch network that would eventually extend from Kununurra to Esperance and Perth to Kalgoorlie.


After years of poor seasons, fortunes once again turned as production and markets flourished and the company extended its push into Western Australia.

The linking of its wool operations in the two states set the scene for domination of the trade for the next 40 years.

Now in his eighties, Barr Smith launched Elders Trustee and Executor Limited and then expanded the still vital resources interests by forming Elders Metal and Mercantile in Melbourne.

Barr Smith died in 1915 leaving an estate worth more than $250 million in today’s values, much of it endowing charities and Adelaide University.


Elders profits more than doubled from 1918 to 1928, with Peter Waite as chairman until his death in 1922, followed by Tom Elder Barr Smith, son of Robert. Heading towards 100 years of operation, 1928 was a record year for Elders. Rapid expansion of the branch network through SA and WA saw the family and company-owned landholdings continue to increase.

In TE Barr Smith’s Chairman’s Address of 1930, he said “There are many troubles in Australia today of the people’s own making. As a community we have been over-borrowing and over-spending … we must live within our national income and everyone must join in the sacrifices.”


The Elders centenary in 1939 coincided with the start of World War II when the highly competitive wool-selling business was put into government control.

Elders now had principal offices in Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Geelong and London.

It had 38 country branches in SA, 25 in WA and two in NSW at Broken Hill and Wentworth; was agent for a dozen shipping companies, including P&O and a ship charterer in its own right. It was the agent for six airlines, establishing Elders Travel and was either Australian or SA agent for more than 80 manufacturers, most of whom made products for the company’s farmer and pastoralist clients.

Elders took over wool firm George Hague and Co in 1937, Victoria’s second auction centre after Melbourne. This allowed Elders to enter the major wool centre of Geelong, making a significant impact on Elders market share in the wool industry.

Its banking business for rural clients was significant, lending more than the equivalent of $400 million in the form of seasonal finance, working capital, machinery purchases, stock and crop liens or property loans.


As the war continued, the wool auction system remained closed and the British government acquired the total Australian wool clip. In 1941 it paid today’s equivalent of more than $3 billion, and nearly $4 billion the following year. The return to the open auction system in 1946 saw the start of a dramatic five-year run for wool. National wool revenues increased 29% and 64% respectively in the first two full years of peace.

Wool revenues continued to increase throughout the decade. The Korean War made significant impact on demand for wool as United Nations soldiers fought in winter temperatures 30’C below zero. During this decade Wool prices famously reached 'a pound for a pound'.

By 1948 Elders controlled 10.1% of the national clip behind Dalgety and Goldsbrough Mort.


In 1951 the Australian wool clip earned in excess of $15 billion in today’s figures and nearly nine times the wool revenue from the last year of World War II. This was the high tide mark for the Australian wool industry and the national clip has never returned to this level of demand or price. Elders launched a cautious expansion program at the end of the 1940s and despite the wool market profits being slashed in 1952, it sparked 30 years of company takeovers by all segments of agribusiness.

The arrival in Adelaide of Norman Giles from Elders WA was a seminal moment for the company, as he proved to be its next great leader and guide it to a position of national dominance. Elders had begun its move into Victoria with the acquisition of Commonwealth Wool and De Garis and Sons, lifting the network to 116 branches – 51 more than just before the war.

Two years after Giles’ arrival in Adelaide, he was managing director and already a self-made millionaire from share market speculation he began while still at school.


Now established at the helm, Giles embarked on his strategy of wool market share, which he realised was all about territory. Giles successfully implemented the acquisition strategy he employed in the late 1950s, lifting Elders to the top of the broking pole – a position it has never surrendered.

In 1962 Giles delivered his masterstroke announcing the pending merger of Elder Smith and Goldsbrough Mort with its new corporate headquarters in Adelaide.

By the fifth year of the merger Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort was leading its nearest rival – Dalgety – by more than 300,000 bales a year. Giles expanded Elders into Gove Alumina and Robe River mining ventures and launched Elders Finance and Investment Co. in 1970.

He also outlined plans for Elders future acquisitions and diversification into new areas of agricultural Australia.


Elders in the 21st century is a major player in the beef production chain but the first steps were taken in 1971 when Giles established a majority investment in Beef City, a high-quality feedlot at Toowoomba in Queensland. Giles also engineered the acquisition of wool brokers and pastoral houses Younghusband and John Sanderson and Co.

Sir Norman Giles retired in 1975 after 54 years with Elders but his successors – Sir Norman Young and Harold Schmidt – kept the momentum rolling and only a year later took over Pitt, Son and Badgery which had been founded in 1879.

This acquisition lifted Elders market share above 34% of the national wool clip or a huge 1.2 million bales. But the growth under the existing management was now slowing and the company was settling down with its wool market dominance, a small but successful finance business and massive cash turnover.

Young later wrote of this period: “We were, perhaps, no longer an attractive target for a takeover bid.”.[citation needed]


In 1982 Elders merged with jam maker Henry Jones IXL to become Elders IXL and its surge to the top of Australia’s corporate tree had begun.

The following year, the newly merged Elders launched a successful takeover bid for Carlton and United Breweries.

In the late 1980s Elders made a bid for BHP in competition with Robert Holmes à Court as the company continued to “Fosterise” the world by purchasing Britain’s Courage Brewery.

However, when the global economy went into recession in the late ’80s, Elders IXL became a victim. Henry Jones IXL was sold to The J.M. Smucker Co. in 1989.

At decade’s end and restructured now as Foster’s, Elders Pastoral became a division of the new business instead of the owner.


Rapid change saw Elders Pastoral renamed Elders Limited as the business was being prepared for sale out of the Foster’s group.

This occurred in the form of an extremely over-subscribed float in 1993, as Elders returned to the basics it knew so well by expanding its rural interests as an agribusiness in its own right. In 1993 that included the acquisition of Australian Agricultural Company, one of the oldest registered business in Australia and one of the largest beef cattle herds in the world.

Two years later Futuris Corporation, a major shareholder in Elders, became the new owner of Elders Limited.

Elders continued to invest in its long-term supply management strategy, acquiring Charlton Feedlot in Victoria in 1996. The following year in a joint venture, it launched Australian Wool Handlers – a major rationalisation of the wool handling and dumping industry that very quickly was responsible for more than 60% of the national clip.

In 1998 it acquired Primac Holdings in Queensland and a share in Killara Feedlot in NSW and then rescued Victoria Producers from collapse in Victoria and established EldersVP in that state.

In 1999 Elders Finance was sold to New Zealand-based Hanover Finance after Elders had sold this business to NZ based investors who took on $20million of liabilities.[10]


In 2000, Elders launched Elders Rural Bank to provide a much needed specialist banking service to Rural Australia, when key banking services were being removed in these areas. In August 2009, Elders Rural Bank Limited changed its name to Rural Bank Limited.

In 2001 Elders successfully floated Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) while retaining a significant shareholding as part of the company’s commitment to its value-adding marketing programs and supply management strategy.

In 2004 Elders moved to increase its Tasmanian presence with the launch of Elders Webster. Webster, like AACo, was one of Australia’s oldest companies and runs a diversified merchandise, fruit and vegetables and aquaculture business.

In 2009, Elders sold 75 per cent of Elders Insurance to QBE, and ceased its stake in AACo.

In 2009, Elders changed its name from Futuris Corporation to Elders Limited, in line with the company’s Agenda for Change program, by which Futuris would change from its conglomerate holding company structure to a single integrated company with an owner-operated focus around its principal business Elders.

Since 2010[edit]

In December 2010, Rural Bank became a fully owned subsidiary of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Group. Elders increased its investment in Australian beef sector by moving to 100% ownership of the Killara feedlot.

In 2011, Elders announced a staged divestment plan for its forestry business, in line with the Agenda for Change program.

In 2013 Elders completed its goal of returning to a pure play agribusiness with the final sale and divestments of its Forestry and Automotive business units.

By 2014 the company operated as one of Australia and New Zealand’s largest rural distribution systems with a network comprising 226 rural branches and 327 points of presence delivering products and services including:

  • Farm supplies
  • Livestock
  • Wool
  • Grain
  • Real Estate
  • Insurance
  • Banking
  • Financial Planning
  • Live export
  • Wool trading
  • Feedlots
  • China operations

History of mergers[edit]

  • 1839–1853 A.L. Elder & Co
    • 1853–1856 Elder & Co
    • 1856–1863 Elder, Stirling & Co
        • 1863–1888 Elder Smith & Co
        • 1888–1963 Elder Smith & Co Ltd
  • 1903–1918 Elders Shenton & Co
        • 1888–1963 Elder Smith & Co Ltd
    • 1888–1963 Goldsbrough Mort & Co Ltd
        • 1963–1982 Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort Ltd
  • 1877–1881 Australian Agency and Banking Corporation Ltd
  • ????–1965 Western Queensland Pastoral Co Ltd
  • 188?–1939 Pearson Rowe, Smith & Company Pty Ltd
  • 1888–1925 Bagot, Shakes & Lewis Ltd
  • 1889–1920 Younghusband, Row and Company Limited
    • 1920–1971 Younghusband Ltd
  • 1882–1974 Squatting Investment Co Ltd
  • 1888–1976 Pitt, Son & Badgery Ltd
    1891–1981 Henry Jones IXL Ltd
              • 1982–1990 Elders IXL Ltd
  • 1903–1983 Carlton and United Breweries
              • 1982–1990 Elders IXL Ltd

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Fayette Gosse, 'Elder, Alexander Lang (1815–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, Melbourne University Press, 1972, pp 133-134. Retrieved on 11 July 2009.
  2. ^ Fayette Gosse, 'Elder, William (1813–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, Melbourne University Press, 1972, pp 133-134. Retrieved on 11 July 2009.
  3. ^ Fayette Gosse, 'Elder, George (1816–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, Melbourne University Press, 1972, pp 133-134. Retrieved on 11 July 2009.
  4. ^ Fayette Gosse, 'Elder, Sir Thomas (1818–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, Melbourne University Press, 1972, pp 133-134. Retrieved on 11 July 2009.
  5. ^ Hans Mincham, 'Stirling, Edward (1804–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, Melbourne University Press, 1976, pp 200-201.
  6. ^ Dirk van Dissel, 'Smith, Robert Barr (1824–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, Melbourne University Press, 1976, pp 153-154.
  7. ^ "THE LATE MR. JOHN TAYLOR.". South Australian Register. XXIX, (5793). South Australia. 26 May 1865. p. 4. Retrieved 9 March 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  8. ^ Gordon D. Combe, 'Tennant, Andrew (1835–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, Melbourne University Press, 1976, pp 255-256.
  9. ^ a b Findlay, Marjorie (1976). "Waite, Peter (1834–1922)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 6. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  10. ^ "Bitter feud precedes Elders settlement". sharechat.co.nz. July 16, 2004. 

External links[edit]