Kingpin a humble 'rubber worker'




1-6-1922 22-9-2012

DOUGLAS Hall Clark, OBE, founder of Clark Rubber Stores and a prominent community leader in the bayside area since the 1950s, has died after a short illness, aged 90.

Doug was born at Long Gully, Bendigo, and was the eldest of four sons. The family moved to the Riverina in the late 1920s, and from 1933 to 1937 he attended Hay War Memorial High School. He left secondary school at 14 when the family moved to Deniliquin.

In 1941, Doug enlisted in the army. Undeterred by World War II, he continued courting his sweetheart, Elsie Gwenneth (Gwen) Smith from Frankston.

Being wartime, travel was difficult. The stories of their extraordinary efforts to meet are family folklore: long bicycle rides between Red Hill and Frankston were common and once Gwen travelled by train and bus to New South Wales, avoiding the "provos" along the way, to meet her Doug at the Camden base.

To marry Gwen in 1943, Doug went AWOL from Balcombe army camp and rode to Frankston, leaving a note for his commanding officer: "I'll be back Tuesday." This was possibly the same officer who later reported that "Doug Clark will never amount to anything".

On his discharge from the army on January 6, 1944, though he dreamt of being a market gardener, he got a job at Kenny Charlesworth's rubber mills in Port Melbourne, then started laying rubber flooring. Business grew and he laid flooring in several Catholic churches, including Our Lady of Victories in Camberwell, and later on the coastal trader MV Kanimbla.

In 1946, Clark Matting and Rubber Pty Ltd was born in Bridge Road, Richmond.

Business wasn't the only thing growing. As befitted the times, Doug and Gwen had their own baby boom, having five children between 1945 and 1951. After a well-deserved break for Gwen, two more followed later.

In 1951, Clark Matting and Rubber Ltd listed on the Stock Exchange of Melbourne. On September 1, 1951, it declared its first dividend as a public company a remarkable

12.5 per cent yield, the first of many healthy results.

In 1953, Doug was elected

a councillor for the City of Moorabbin's Cheltenham ward and was made a justice of the peace. He sat on the council from 1953 until 1964, and was mayor in 1961 and 1962.

He was also a commissioner of the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works, and had civic involvements that included the Gordon Boys Home, Richmond Fellowship, Cheltenham's kindergarten association and the Beaumaris Motor Yacht Squadron. Although a Richmond supporter, he was also director of the St Kilda Football Club ex-officio when he was mayor of Moorabbin.

After an amazing first decade as a publicly listed company, things got tough for Clark Matting and Rubber. In 1959, when it changed its name to Clark Rubber Stores, Doug went to the United States. On his overseas trips he often sourced interesting and innovative products to sell. On this trip though, he discovered his most important product of all the above-ground swimming pool.

Doug was the pioneer of the above-ground pool in Australia. They were hugely successful. The sign outside 196 Flinders Street, next to St Paul's Cathedral, where the company moved its headquarters to in 1967, read: "More children learn to swim in Clark Pools than all others combined."

Pools were the real success story, and arguably the saviour, of Clark Rubber. The company, a favourite of the stockmarket, by 1979 had more than 1500 employees, 120 stores across Australia, a large manufacturing and distribution centre in Clayton and operations in Britain, South Africa and throughout south-east Asia.

In 1977, the Australian Marketing Institute awarded Doug the prestigious Sir Charles McGrath Award.

Doug had a momentous year in 1979. In June, he was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire for service to commerce and local government, an honour conferred in London by the Queen.

However, in October that year, after significant mystery buying on the stockmarket, a hostile takeover of Clark Rubber was launched.

The takeover eventually succeeded, with control passing in 1980. (The buyer collapsed in 1988 under the weight of huge debt. The brand was later bought by a franchising company, which oversees the stores you see today.)

After clocking off from Clark Rubber in 1980, Doug began a busy "retirement" of golf and travel. He was elected to the committee of the Metropolitan Golf Club, and later became captain. At Metro he was again

a pioneer, introducing the drought-tolerant fine couch grass that we see on all the major sand-belt courses today.

On one of his caravan trips in 1994, Doug heard about premier Jeff Kennett's reform of local government in Victoria. On his laptop computer in the caravan somewhere in the outback, at the age of 71, he drafted his first and only job application or expression of interest for the position of commissioner of the new City of Bayside.

On June 1, 1994, his 72nd birthday, he was appointed chief commissioner of the City of Bayside. It was in many ways an unpopular job, but he set

the foundations for the new municipality with honesty, fairness and the wisdom of experience.

He held the position until elections were held in 1997. He always supported democracy in local government, and welcomed the return of elections.

Honesty and integrity were the key to Doug's success in business and in life generally.

In 1961, times were tough. Australia was having a "credit squeeze", with banks incredibly tight and the economy in recession. Things were getting serious when Doug went to see Dunlop, his major supplier, and detailed his problems. Dunlop supported him through the crisis, and told Doug: "Pay us last, and you can tell all your other suppliers that we're being paid last as well." This gave comfort to his other suppliers, and Clark Rubber pulled through.

In an interview in The Age in 1968, Doug gave this advice: "There is a wonderful future for young men wishing to build up their own business. But capital is not the most important thing of all. It is that he be completely honest it is the only way we have survived. If one sacrifices his credit reputation, he is doomed."

Doug believed that in running the company he was trustee of the shareholders' money. This would be a revolutionary concept to many directors of public companies today.

Doug had great humility. He and Gwen met a lot of people on their travels around Australia, and enjoyed the camaraderie of the "grey army". Whenever asked what his job was before retiring, he would simply say "rubber worker" and move on.

He was a true entrepreneur, with great business expertise and willingness to serve the community, as well as a devoted family man. His life is a classic, postwar tale of love, hope, integrity and hard work.

Doug is survived by his seven children, Ian, Raymond, Bruce, Penny, Alan, Richard and Douglas jnr, 20 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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