Australian Academy of Science|
Biographical Memoirs of Deceased Fellows
By D.A. Denton and M.H. Ryan
William Ian Potter, known as Ian, was born in Sydney on 25 August
1902 to James W. Potter and Louisa McWhinnie. He was the third
of four childrenthree boys and a girl. James Potter was
a well-established wool merchant of Bradford, England, and he
and Louisa were visiting Australia in connection with the Potter
family wool business interests here.
As a result of the Potters' business involvement in both countries,
Ian became exposed to different environments while young. His
school education was received in Bradford and then at Dumfries
Academy in Scotland. When the family moved to settle in Sydney
after the First World War, Ian entered the University of Sydney.
Leon Glezer has suggested that 'an early alternation between Britain
and Australia left him with a sense of being part of each society,
yet distant from both'.
Over the years he travelled frequently,
and in later life maintained an apartment in New York; his bearing
was such that he was thought by some connections in England to
be an American with Australian interests, and in America to be
an Englishman with Australian interests.
Although his father had hoped Ian would become a lawyer, he was
drawn to business. At university he read economics and history,
and topped his class in graduating Bachelor of Economics. He was
a man of parts. An interest in medieval English literature led
to a capacity to read and speak it freely and to quote Chaucer
extensively. His intellect and social ease allowed him to develop
good relations with a range of people including students of different
political views from his own conservative position. He came second
in a University five-mile run. He entertained on his boat on Sydney
Harbour. There was charm, wit, energy and hints of resolve.
On graduating in 1929, he joined the staff of Edward Dyason, a
Melbourne stockbroker to whom he had been recommended by R.C.Mills,
his economics professor. He was one of the first economists to
be engaged in stockbroking; at that time, few graduates were employed
in Australian financial institutions. In October 1931, he confirmed
his interest in markets by buying, for £700, a seat on the
Melbourne Stock Exchange.
In consequence of his role as an economist, and a bright and sociable
one, he became noticed in political circles. In 1933 he was invited
by R.G.Casey, then Assistant Treasurer in the Commonwealth Government,
to move to the Treasury in Canberra as Casey's economic adviser.
Although he remained there for less than two years, the connections
he gained continued his formation of significant personal networks.
His work brought him in close contact with a range of politicians,
and gave him experience in lending and taxation policy and in
negotiation with Australian and overseas bankers.
In 1935 he returned to Melbourne to pursue a career in business.
He was offered employment in the leading stockbroking houses of
J.B.Were and E.L. and C.Baillieu, but elected to set up as a sole
trader. He founded the firm Ian Potter & Co. in 1936. In much
later years, after he retired from the partnership, the firm became
Potter Partners, then Potter Warburg Limited, and is today part
of SBC-Warburg Australia Limited.
Thus were gathered the ingredients for the development of innovation,
wealth, influence and philanthropy, and a remarkable and varied
contribution to national life over the next sixty years.
While still a sole trader, working from an office in the basement
of the Bankers and Traders Building in Collins Street, Potter
made his first foray into commercial underwriting. In September
1936, in competition with J.B.Were, who were the dominant brokers
of that time and always a major competitor of Ian Potter and Co.,
he bid successfully and somewhat boldly for the underwriting of
a £1 million issue of preference shares by the company Electricity
Meters and Allied Industries Ltd, later known as Email. In the
same year he underwrote his first semi-government issue, for the
Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. These and smaller contracts
helped to bring forward his name and reputation.
To penetrate and find a place in the Melbourne establishment,
controlled by several families and their connections, was a formidable
challenge. Potter's credentials of early market success and evident
acumen were enhanced by his considerable social skills - a readiness
and ability to move easily among leaders in business, politics
and other fields in Australia and elsewhere. He engaged energetically
with business society, and later remained accepted despite the
publicity attending three divorces.
War service from 1940 to 1943 with the Australian Naval Volunteer
Reserve in Australian waters interrupted his business activities,
but during the '30s and '40s he progressively extended and consolidated
his market involvements and his networks. With his connections
in mind the Committee of the Melbourne Stock Exchange elected
him as a Committee member in July 1942, to assist in dealing with
a difficulty with the Commonwealth Government. He continued as
a member of the Committee for twenty years, to November 1962.
Prominent acquaintances included Leslie McConnan, general manager
of the National Bank of Australasia. When the Chifley Government
announced in August 1947 its intention to nationalize the private
trading banks, McConnan, who was also chairman of the Associated
Banks, called upon Potter to assist with the strategy and publicity
for the campaign of resistance mounted, ultimately successfully,
by the industry. Each such engagement created an increased flow
of business from individuals and companies who were seeking the
services of a broking house.
Potter's adeptness in building networks was matched by his shrewdness
in selecting his partners. He had taken Henry A. Pitt into Ian
Potter and Co. as his first trading partner in January 1938. J.H.McColl
followed in October 1943. With the rapid expansion of the firm
in the 1950s, others were added: C.T.Looker, N.K.Miller and G.D.Brown
(1953), A.L.Shilton(1954), K.W.Pring (1956), G.R.Stuckey and J.L.Taylor
(1960), and K.W.Halkerston and L.M.Muir (1962). His policy in
seeking partners was to attract high quality and relevant experience.
Pitt was a former under-secretary to the Victorian Treasury, a
background which enhanced the firm's potential for underwriting
semi-government loans. Miller was head-hunted from Were's, where
he had set up the first company analysis and statistical research
service in an Australian broker's office. Brown, a former secretary
to the Stock Exchange, was an expert on prospectuses; Stuckey
came from the Commonwealth Bank; Looker, pre-war, was private
secretary to Menzies.
He took the same approach in hiring key staff. Charles Smith had
been trained in Were's, and joined Potter as general manager,
bringing order at a time when Potter's office had few systems
and little up-to-date office equipment. The firm's first operator
on the floor of the Exchange was not hired until 1947, when Laurie
Day, acknowledged as the then finest operator in the House, was
attracted from Were's.
His firm's business burgeoned post-war, when economic growth,
commercial development and the demand for capital provided the
context for expansion. Capital issues controls were removed in
1949. The banks, hitherto the mainstays of capital provision,
did not have the capacity to satisfy the growth pressures by debt
financing, and would suggest that capital might be raised by issues
of equity shares. Potter's, especially Ian Potter and Cecil ('Peter')
Looker, had themselves actively canvassed corporations to alert
them to their wider post-controls options; known favourably by
the banks, the firm was not infrequently recommended to companies
to handle their equity issues. Its reputation was also enhanced
by success in flotations which, to other contending brokers, had
seemed technically too difficult. From the outset, Ian Potter
took a creative and entrepreneurial view of his business opportunities
as a broker, ready to extend beyond normal broking into related
Ian Potter and Co.'s underwriting of semi-government loans was
aggressively pushed forward in this period, and reached market
dominance in the early '50s, though later in that decade increased
competition made inroads into the firm's market share. To support
his underwriting, Potter arranged a consortium of institutional
sub-underwriters, whose confidence in his judgment was such that
he was able to set and offer terms of issues rather than negotiate
them with the sub-underwriters in advance. Success in semi-government
underwriting was complemented by leadership in facilitating and
underwriting equity issues and company flotations to the Stock
Exchange. Of 33 companies listed on the Melbourne Exchange in
1950, 16 were underwritten by Potter's, easily the largest number
by one broker. The firm also sometimes underwrote major equity
issues jointly with E.L. and C. Baillieu.
Such was the momentum of this business and the robustness of competition,
particularly between Potter's and Were's, that terms tended to
be cut fine. Potter's successes substantially outweighed shortfalls,
though the firm incurred some considerable losses. Ian Potter
read economic and market trends astutely, and he knew who had
funds available to invest.
Although the major financial institutions had held equities, especially
the life companies with their requirements for long-term investments
and investment spread, the proportion of institutional assets
held in equities prior to the '50s was small. Ian Potter was one
of the first brokers to encourage institutional managers to move
more significantly into the equity markets. Later, in the '60s,
he went further, in encouraging direct institutional investment
in the mining industry.
Potter's services extended to the provision of a merchant banking
facility. For example, he bought the share capital of Email and
then placed it with institutions and others as a solution to difficulties
between Australian and UK interests. Similarly, he reconstructed
the capital of the shipping company, McIlwraith McEacharn. His
firm's operations were not without occasional controversy, as
might be expected in a highly competitive business, but the dynamic
was overwhelmingly constructive.
The firm became the preferred stockbrokers for an increasing number
of clients, and grew rapidly. It developed the investment research
pioneered by Miller when with J.B.Were's, and produced a book
for investors entitled Selected Australian Ordinary Shares;
this also introduced to Australia the analytical concepts of growth
in earnings per share and the making of adjustments for distributions
and share issues. In response to the demands of the '60s, at the
time of the nickel boom, a night staff was employed; total staff
rose to 560 by 1970 but with the post-boom correction the firm
reduced its overdraft and culled its staff numbers, which settled
back to around 200.
The considerable growth of Potter's business was not merely a
response to detected opportunity, but to a degree was the result
of making and then exploiting opportunity. Glezer observes that
'[Ian] Potter's role as a catalyst pervade[d] most of the important
developments in the financial sector in the two decades after
It was a conjunction of unusual personal capacities
with the relaxation of financial conservatism and regulation and
the introduction of new investment instruments to meet commercial
needs. Backed by his partnership, Potter became 'the pre-eminent
Australian financier from the early 1950s to the late 1960s'.
In 1955, Cecil Looker, later Sir Cecil, who was the firm's debt
financing expert, went to London to study the discount market,
and returned to advocate to the Federal Treasury that such a market
be established in Australia. There was a demand for improved day-to-day
management of the flows of very short-term funds, for example
those in the hands of semi-government bodies and hire purchase
companies, and generally for institutions public and private where
money flows were uneven. The new market, approved by the government
and the central bank, opened in 1959 for short-term trading in
bonds, with the central bank as lender of last resort. Potter's
were involved as a partner in one of the initial four official
dealers. An 'unofficial' market in short securities, without central
bank cover, was also developed.
Potter established the investment vehicle Australian United Investment
Company Ltd (AUI), which became the principal source of his personal
wealth and remains a listed investment company to this day. In
conjunction with the Commercial Bank of Australia, he also established
one of the first public unit trusts, the Australian Capital Fund.
Ian Potter's assistance was sought by Anglo-Australian Corporation
(AAC), a merchant bank owned by British merchant bankers, which
had faced some resistance in its attempts to break into the Australian
market. After protracted debate in Stock Exchange circles and
then prolonged negotiations with Potter's, shares were exchanged
between Ian Potter's investment and banking companies and AAC,
with the outcome that Australian United Corporation (AUC) was
formed in 1960, in conjunction with Morgan Grenfell Ltd and Lazard
Brothers of the UK and J.P.Morgan of the US. This organization
became the major Australian merchant bank of the '60s and '70s.
It gave financial stimulus to the rise and growth of some of Australia's
principal industrial, commercial and media corporations, and of
resources companies such as Conzinc Rio Tinto and Hamersley Mining.
Debt issues were arranged for BHP, CSR, and Carlton and United
Breweries. AUC's subsidiary, United Discount Corporation, became
a major and profitable participant in the short-term money market.
Ian Potter's merchant banking approach was such as to build wealth
through new development, company floats to secure capital growth,
and amalgamations to obtain economies of scale and greater productive
effectiveness. His way was not the way of takeovers for asset-stripping,
which reached notorious levels in the '80s.
He displayed a constant alertness for new ideas, including overseas
techniques that might readily be applied in the maturing Australian
context. He travelled overseas three or four times each year and
became well-known in London and other European financial centres
and in New York. He had long done arbitrage business through firms
in London, and finally opened a branch there during the boom in
Poseidon shares. He also developed a New York business, in 1957,
in association with Carl M. Loeb Rhoades and Co.
It was perhaps inevitable that Ian Potter's skills and reputation
in stockbroking, corporate floats, merchant banking and advisory
services (sometimes for companies that were in competition with
one another) led to numerous invitations to join company boards.
His contribution was not limited to financial advice but also
went to practical operational issues. His directorships ranged
across industry; for example: in finance he was chairman of Commercial
Union Assurance Co. of Australia, as well as his companies AUC
and AUI; in mining he was a director of Consolidated Gold Fields
and Bellambi Coal; in general industry he was on the boards of
Formica, Boral and TNT, and chairman of Email. His associations
had consequences for relationships between companies, which strengthened
their own financial well-being.
In consequence of his international connections Ian Potter became
adviser or director, frequently chairman, of the Australian boards
of a number of overseas corporations. For example, he was an Australian
director of Time Life International, and a member of the international
advisory council of the New York Chemical Bank. He formed a particular
association with the Wallenburg banking family in Sweden, and
through it and in other ways became involved with two Swedish
corporations operating in Australia, ASEA and Atlas Copco, and
a number of Swiss corporations - CIBA-GEIGY, Nestlé, and
various insurance companies. A list of his directorships is given
in Table 1.
The Ian Potter Foundation Ltd
McIlwraith McEacharn Ltd
Australian United Investment Co.Ltd
Western Bulk Carriers Ltd
Atlas Copco Australia Pty Ltd
Diversified United Investment Ltd
Petro-chemical Holdings Ltd
Commercial Union Assurance Co. of Australia Ltd
CIBA-GEIGY Australia Ltd
Associated Steamships Pty Ltd
ASEA Electric (Australia) Pty Ltd
The Nestlé Company (Australia) Ltd
Time Life Australia Pty Ltd
Consolidated Gold Fields Australia Ltd
Union Steamship Co. NZ Ltd
The Bellambi Coal Company Ltd
Coca-Cola Bottlers Ltd
Source: Who's Who in Australia, 1995 (company names
have been edited).
Note: This is an indicative list of Sir Ian's directorships over the years. The form of some company names may not be wholly correct as at the time of his association.
He was also in demand as a commentator on Australian economic
and financial questions, and he gave numerous addresses on such
topics as the role of directors, overseas ownership, and immigration,
and wrote articles for the press.
A special personal interest from the mid-1940s, perhaps sharpened
by his Navy days, was the shipping industry. Potter joined the
board of McIlwraith McEacharn Ltd in 1946 and was elected chairman
in 1957. This was one of the first shipping companies in the world
to use containers. He encouraged the building up of the fleet,
culminating in 1963 in the amalgamation of the company's interstate
shipping business with that of Adelaide Steamship Company to become
Associated Steamships, of which he was first chairman. He joined
the board of Bulkships in 1962 and was elected to the chair.
After Ian Potter retired from Ian Potter and Co., in June 1967,
he continued to take a direct and innovative interest in financial
markets, somewhat to the concern of his erstwhile partners. After
much negotiation, the firm's name was changed to Potter Partners.
As a practical vehicle for continuing his merchant banking, he
established in 1970 the company Tricontinental, in which overseas
financial connections took equity positions and which operated
successfully while he remained involved. He sold most of his shareholding
in 1979, and the remainder when he retired from its board in 1985.
Ian Potter's early breadth of interests as a student foreshadowed
his later participation in various non-business fieldspolitics,
education, the arts, the sciencesand his wide-spread philanthropy.
Just as in business he played a hands-on role in creative development,
networking and negotiations, so he engaged directly in other areas
of civic and cultural life.
Following his entry into political circles as a bright young man,
reinforced by his service in Treasury in the '30s, he developed
and maintained significant political connections. He was associated
with the formation of the Liberal Party in 1944, as a founding
trustee, and remained a major influence in party affairs including
fund-raising over the next thirty years. He enjoyed friendship
with R.G.Menzies, who sought unsuccessfully to recruit him into
politics, and had close relationships with senior politicians
on both sides of the parliament: Holt, McMahon, and Fadden; Chifley,
Calwell and Whitlam.
Potter served as Commonwealth Representative at the Conference
on Rural Debt Adjustment, 193435, and later as the Australian
Member of the War Reparation Council. In 195662, he was
a member of the Commonwealth Immigration Council. During the '50s
and '60s he represented Australia at World Bank meetings. His
political skills and networks were a salient factor in his success
in public sector fixed interest markets.
In 1964, his personal wealth having grown through his business
achievements, he established the Ian Potter Foundation. This would
be a vehicle through which his personal philanthropy could quietly
be contributed and given continuity, with a Board of Governors
(of which he was one) to husband its growing assets and set the
direction of its grants. By 1994, the year of Ian Potter's death,
the corpus of assets accumulated by the Foundation, from Ian Potter's
donations and from returns from investments, had risen to some
$50 million; a bequest in his will took total assets to $100 million
Grants made by the Ian Potter Foundation during Potter's lifetime
amounted to some $22 million, and in the early '90s were running
at over $2 million annually. Over the years more than fifty institutions
or organizations were supported, in the arts, academia, business
education, the sciences, environment and heritage conservation,
social welfare, and travel opportunities for young people. A list
of major beneficiaries is shown at Table 2. Gifts always
tended to be made discreetly, 'to the point', says Charles Goode,
In addition to philanthropy through the Foundation,
Potter continued to make donations personally.
Major beneficiaries during Sir Ian Potter's lifetime include:
The Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology and Medicine
The University of Melbourne
La Trobe University
The University of Sydney
The University of New South Wales
The University of Queensland
The Australian Academy of Science
The Potter Farmland Plan
The State Library of Victoria
The Museum of Victoria
St Patrick's Cathedral Restoration Appeal
St Paul's Cathedral Restoration Appeal
The National Trust of Australia
The Zoological Board of Victoria
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney
The National Gallery of Victoria
The Ian Potter Sculpture Commission
The Victorian Arts Centre
The Museum of Modern Art at Heide
Regional Galleries of Victoria
The Salvation Army
The Children's Welfare Association of Victoria
Ballarat Children's Homes
St Luke's Family Care
The Smith Family
The Ecumenical Migration Centre
The Victorian State Opera
The Australian Ballet School The Australian Chamber Orchestra
The Bell Shakespeare Theatre
Birds Australia (formerly The Royal Australasian Ornithologists
The Centre for Independent Studies
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
The Baker Medical Research Institute
St Vincent's Institute of Medical Research
The Microsurgery Research Centre
The Advisory Council for Children with Impaired Hearing
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians
The Royal Eye and Ear Hospital
The Peter McCallum Cancer Institute
Royal Melbourne Hospital
Prince Henry's Institute of Medical Research
Monash Medical Centre
Source: The Ian Potter Foundation
Ian Potter contributed not only financially but also, and frequently,
by direct application of his personal skills. For example, he
was a member of the Council of the University of Melbourne from
1951 to 1971, and influenced Council to invest a significant proportion
of its superannuation funds in equities. In addition, the University,
its Graduate Business School and colleges received grants from
the Foundation, and medical research was supported as described
later in this memoir. Amongst other universities that received
support, his alma mater, the University of Sydney, was also liberally
assisted by the Foundation for thirty years, especially through
travel grants for academics and contributions to building restoration.
Potter's association with the arts, especially the performance
arts, was extensive. He was involved in the construction of the
National Gallery of Victoria, was a member of the Gallery and
Cultural Centre from 1957, and was responsible for negotiating
between the Victorian Treasury and the Centre's Building Committee
for the financing of the whole arts and theatre complex, with
bipartisan political support.
He succeeded his friend Dr H.C. ('Nugget') Coombs in 1968 as chair
of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust when Dr Coombs became
the first chair of the Australia Council for the Arts. Potter
retired from this role in the Trust in 1984, and was elected to
the honorary post of its President. The importance of the Trust
in the development of the performance arts in Australia cannot
be overstated. It had a generative role in the formation of the
Australian Opera, the Australian Ballet Foundation and School,
the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and several theatre
companies. Potter was a member of the boards of both the Opera
(19701980) and the Ballet Foundation (19651983).
It is appropriate in this memoir to give special acknowledgement
to Ian Potter's interest in Australian science. He could appreciate
the state of scientific knowledge and sense opportunity for real
advance. This capacity, coupled with his drive, his alertness
to how finance might be arranged, and his networks, was well exemplified
in his first major act of philanthropy. He had for some time shown
curiosity about the work of the Howard Florey Laboratories of
Experimental Physiology and Medicine in the University of Melbourne,
and he and Ken Myer had visited to see what was being done. (I
was the Laboratories' Director and Ian, Ken and I were mutual
friendsD.D.). Interest came to a head over a dinner in 1960,
when discussion turned to the urgent need for upgraded space and
facilities for the Laboratories, which were then in a nineteenth-century
building that provided poor conditions. During the meal, Ken Myer
suggested that Potter might like to join him and his brother,
Baillieu Myer, through their newly-formed Myer Foundation, in
financing what was intended to be a state-of-the-art laboratory
building. Potter's immediate response was 'Yesand we'll
go halves for the major sum', and after a short pause, 'and furthermore
we'll underwrite the total so the scientists can go now and get
an architect'. By Friday night of the same week, the architect,
Garry Patten, was chosen. The four days it took to move from the
germ of the idea to a commitment to construct what was to become
a nine-floor international centre of scholarship and medical research
may well be something of an Australian record, if not an international
The funds for the centre were found successfully, including a
Federal Government grant secured through Ian Potter's friendly
access to Menzies and Holt. Around the same time, by personal
intervention through his World Bank connections and in conjunction
with Coombs, Potter also assisted in removing an administrative
blockage in the US National Institutes of Health to the passage
of a large grant to the Laboratories following their discovery
of a new hormone bearing on the control of salt balance.
Potter's active interest in the Laboratories continued. He lent
his weight to securing their incorporation in 1971, by Act of
Parliament, as an independent Institute affiliated with the University.
When this step was mooted, Potter remarked: 'We don't want any
University sherry party committee we want responsibility!'.
Up to the date of writing (mid1997), some $4million has
been paid or committed to the Howard Florey Institute by the Ian
Potter Foundation, for studies in molecular biology, hormones
and mechanisms of instinctive behaviour, and for a recent extension
to the Institute's building.
The Florey's sister body, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
of Medical Research, and its close affiliate the Ludwig Institute,
were also beneficiaries of Potter's generous grants. The wide
range of institutes and university research departments assisted
by Ian Potter Foundation donations is included in Table 2.
Potter's interest in and support for the science community were
manifest perhaps most symbolically by his association with the
peak learned society of scientists in the country, the Australian
Academy of Science.
In the 1950s the Academy successfully negotiated with the Federal
Government to secure a home site near the Australian National
University campus under a special-purpose lease for a nominal
rent. The Academy's 'Dome', an imaginative copper-sheathed structure
designed to house a fairly large auditorium, with offices and
meeting rooms, was completed in 1959, and became a landmark in
Canberra and a well-recognised icon in the Academy's coat of arms.
Ian Potter had taken a 'benevolent interest in the Academy of
Science from the inception of the Dome proposition'.
1961 over the following ten years a very significant donor to
the Academy's development had been Sir Ellerton Becker. In 1965,
the Academy's bye-laws were amended to make available two places
in the Academy's Finance Committee for lay persons who could provide
financial counsel, and Becker and Potter were appointed to the
Committee by the Academy's Council. Ian Potter's influence was
immediately felt in the Committee's deliberations and in an increase
in the operating authority delegated to it.
In April 1978, against a background of long and significant philanthropy
and direct, personal interest in scientific institutions in Australia,
Ian Potter was elected a Fellow of the Academy by special election
a distinction reserved for persons 'who (have) rendered
conspicuous service to the cause of science or whose election
would be of signal benefit to the Academy and to the advancement
He was one of only ten distinguished persons
to have been so recognised up to that time.
All Academy activities had been carried on in the Dome until 1968,
when it became necessary, through growth in the Academy's affairs,
to lease additional office space elsewhere. By 1981, about half
the staff were located in rented premises. Negotiations with government
were then commenced, to obtain title to the adjoining building,
Beauchamp House, constructed in 1927 as a hostel for female public
servants who had been transferred from Melbourne. It later became
a public meeting place and offices for community use. The building
had generally deteriorated and was slated for structural restoration
Negotiations for the title succeeded, subject to certain conditions
relating to progress with restoration and to ultimate use. An
appeal for funds was launched by the Academy in 1982, directed
to the Fellows and more widely. In November 1982 the Ian Potter
Foundation supported the appeal with a seeding grant of $50,000,
payable in two instalments, which was later described by the President
of the Academy as a critical factor in the decision of the Academy's
Council to proceed with refurbishment.
This grant was supplemented
in 1984, bringing the Foundation's total donation to $250,000.
The further support was seminal to the Council's decision to push
forward to finish the building, which was achieved by 1987.
In 1984 Council honoured its two principal benefactors by resolving
to re-name the two buildings in the Academy's island precinct.
The Dome became 'Ellerton Becker House' and Beauchamp House 'Ian
Potter House'. A bronze plaque acknowledging the history and naming
of Ian Potter House was installed in 1988 beside the walkway between
the two buildings, under the magnificent wisteria growing over
the pergola at the entrance to the Academy's offices. Ian Potter
House is listed in the register of the National Estate.
Ian Potter's longstanding friendship with Marcus Wallenburg of
the Enskilda Scandinavica Bank led to support by the Ian Potter
Foundation, jointly with the Wallenburg and Wenner Gren Foundations,
for Australian-Swedish scientific conferences on neuroscience,
circulation, botany and connective tissue biology. The first Australian-Swedish
scientific symposium, on integrative mechanisms in neural function,
was held in Melbourne in March 1987, sponsored by the Ian Potter
Foundation. In 1989, Potter visited Stockholm for the 250th anniversary
of the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, where he was treated
with honour and became a signatory of the scientific exchange
agreement between the Swedish and Australian Academies.
Potter maintained a working association with the Australian Academy
of Science as a member of its Finance Committee until his retirement
from the Committee in 1993. He remained a Fellow until his death.
Though he moved in international circles of influence, Ian Potter
was a private man. Urbane and elegant in presentation, with an
ease, connections and a steady blue eye, he nonetheless avoided
publicity. Graeme Adamson notes that he was 'never known to grant
an interview with any newspaper'.
He spoke and wrote eloquently, and with spareness. Goode observes
that 'while he was active in business he maintained an office
and a secretary in both Melbourne and Sydney and frequently a
work schedule that involved spacing his appointments at 15 minute
intervals. One could be in his office and after the discussion
had been concluded in an unhurried manner one realised that it
had only taken ten minutes'.
He not only knew how to select his colleagues but also how to
allow them delegated freedom, how to multiply his own capacities
through others. His own leanings were creative, analytic, strategic
and interpersonal rather than bureaucratic. In the early days,
his office, with few systems, bordered on administrative chaos,
but he remedied this through well-targeted recruitments and, after
some reluctance, permitted the adoption of such technology as
seemed justifiable, until eventually the firm became a leader
in the introduction of technology to the trading floor and in
To Alwynne Shilton, his 'brilliance was not so much as a share
man as a financier in floats and in amalgamations ...'; Laurie
Day described him as 'an enigma and a genius'.
skills, his relationships and networks, a remarkable memory and
grasp of detail, and a resolve in pursuing a project to a conclusion,
marked his path to success. Adamson writes that 'Potter's attitude
was: somebody has got to do it, and there must always be a way'.
He made mistakes, but pressed forward. His application of these
qualities in financial markets, politics, the arts and the sciences,
influenced the course of national development.
His private interests included reading, tennis, and - an echo
of his love of the sea and ships - yachting and swimming. He enjoyed
trolling for fish at Lake Eucumbene, where he had a lodge that
he himself designed and built. There and in Melbourne he was an
amiable host, with a reflection of the international in his wine,
his schnapps and his martinis, around the fire. His humour was
dry and occasionally, with his friends, provocative.
He is survived by his wife, Primrose (Lady Potter, AO), two daughters
from earlier marriages, Robyn Potter and Carolyn Parker Bowles,
two grand-children, Luke and Sam Parker Bowles, and his step-daughter
Primrose Krasicki and her daughter Zofia. Lady Potter herself
is a longstanding and well-known contributor, on boards and in
other ways, in the fields of the arts, education and community
Ian Potter was knighted by the Queen in 1962, for public services
in the field of finance - the first Australian stockbroker to
have been knighted with that citation. In 1973, the University
of Melbourne bestowed on him the honorary degree of Doctor of
Laws. In 1989, he received from the King of Sweden the honour
Knight Commander of the Polar Star (First Class). The Melbourne
Stock Exchange, the base for his rise to distinction, elected
him an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Stock Exchange in 1991.
He was an Honorary Life Member of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre
Trust, the Australian Ballet Foundation, the Australian Opera
and the National Gallery of Victoria, a Member of the Royal Society
of Victoria, a Fellow of Queen's College in the University of
Melbourne, and a Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Sir Ian Potter died at home on the evening of 24 October 1994,
after a long illness. He was 92. On 22 November, his many contributions
to his country, his profession and so many sectors of society,
were celebrated at a memorial service of thanksgiving in St Paul's
Anglican Cathedral in his home city.
The authors are grateful for the comments and corrections of those
who kindly read the draft of this memoir, including: Lady Potter;
Charles Goode and Patricia Feilman of the Ian Potter Foundation;
Peter Gray and Noel Miller of SBC-Warburg Australia; Rosanne Walker
of the Australian Academy of Science.
Glezer, L., 1988, 'Sir Ian Potter and his generation', in
R.T. Appleyard & C.B. Schedvin (eds), Australian Financiers,
Macmillan, South Melbourne (a collection of biographical essays
commissioned by the Reserve Bank of Australia as part of its contribution
to Australia's Bicentenary), p. 402.
 The Stock Exchange of Melbourne, card record of membership.
 Ibid., and Glezer, op.cit., p. 405.
 Glezer, op.cit., p. 402.
 Glezer, op.cit., p. 420.
 Goode, C., 1994, 'Sir Ian Potter - an appreciation', The Ian Potter Foundation, Melbourne, unpub., p. 8.
 Obituary, Sydney University Gazette, April 1995, p. 29.
 Denton, D.A., 1994, text of eulogy given at the memorial service for Sir Ian Potter in St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, unpub.,p. 3.
 Ibid., p. 5.
 Letter from the President of the Academy, Arthur Birch, to Sir Ian Potter, 27March 1984, Academy archives file 4096.
 Academy Bye-law II:10.
 Letter from Birch, op.cit.
 Adamson, G., 1984, A Century of Change the First 100 Years of the Stock Exchange of Melbourne, Currey O'Neil, South Yarra (commissioned by the Committee of the Stock Exchange), p. 137.
 Goode, op.cit., p. 4.
 Adamson, op.cit., p. 139.
 Adamson, op.cit., p. 136.
Beyond the specific references given above, the information in
the text has been substantially drawn from the named works of
Leon Glezer, Charles Goode and Graeme Adamson, and from the archives
of the Australian Academy of Science, especially files 417, 4096,
4270 and 4423.
D.A. Denton, The Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology
and Medicine, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic 3052.
M.H. Ryan, 6/36 Musgrave Street, Mosman, NSW 2088.
This memoir was originally published in Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 11, no. 4, December 1997, pp. 541-50.