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Sinclair, Sidney (1915–1999)

by Noreen Coulton

Sidney Sinclair, 1960s

Sidney Sinclair, 1960s

He was dynamic, "a man of style, integrity, conscience and compassion". The prominent Australian businessman and community leader, Sidney Sinclair, 84, has died in Sydney after a long illness.

He began his working life as a cadet journalist with Reuters news service. However, it was in 1933 when he joined the London-based Simpson's, then Britain's leading men's clothing manufacturers, that his lifelong love of fine quality and style began. By the age of 28 he was marketing manager for Simpson's, and at 30 he was appointed to the British Export Council.

In 1948 he moved to Australia with his family and a cousin, Louis Klein. Together they established the now famous Australian menswear label, Anthony Squires, recruiting key tailors and cutters from London. Soon governors, premiers, businessmen and fashion leaders were clients.

In 1952, again demonstrating canny vision, he saw a niche in the Australian market for high-quality spectacle frames and founded the company Martin Wells Pty Ltd with two partners, an engineer, Dino Zingarelli, and an optometrist, Eric Hurst. Again specialist staff were recruited from Europe.

Even with this frantic work schedule he dedicated enormous time advising both sides of politics in Federal government on export and two-way trade. He was a member of the Australian Export Development Council (1968-72), appointed by the then Federal Minister for Trade and Industry, Sir John McEwen, and on the Trade Development Council (1972-80). He also was a founding member of the Men's Fashion Council of Australia.

Asked once when he would retire, he said, "I don't think age is significant. It is one's attitude to life that matters. I believe one should always be looking for new things to do." So in 1974, aged 59, he accepted the invitation of the Italian aristocrats Aldo and Angelo Zegna to join their world-famous menswear family company, Ermenegildo Zegna. His task was to develop the Australasian market but he became its only non-Italian director and for 25 years was responsible for global strategy.

Sinclair had great tenacity and in the early '70s, with the Australian wool industry in the doldrums, he urged growers not to give up. Many superfine woolgrowers tell their own stories of his friendship and encouragement. His close relationship with the Australian Superfine Wool Growers' Association is legendary — and a perfect example of successful niche marketing resulted. He was made a life member in 1998.

Zegna uses only the finest exotic fibres and is the largest single buyer of Australian fine wool. The Ermenegildo Zegna Trophy for Extrafine Wool Production was established by Sinclair in 1980.

His pursuit of excellence made him a formidable taskmaster. But it was his humanity and altruism which will be remembered by those who knew him well. He worked tirelessly for charity and his good deeds are well documented. In 1966 he joined the board of management of the Great Synagogue, was president between 1977-80 and made a life member in 1982. He was president of the Australian Federation of Jewish Services (1996-97) and served on numerous other committees.

Describing Sinclair as a human dynamo, Rabbi Raymond Apple said: "He was always on the go; he had a creative intellect and was a fountain of ideas; he was a man of style, integrity, conscience and compassion. He was incisive and decisive, an inspiring leader and a generous colleague."

Sinclair was awarded the OBE in 1978 for services to the community, and in 1988 he received an AM for services to industry. He was a director of Austcare for many years and vice-chairman from 1995. He was made a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International in 1994.

Sinclair is survived by his wife Patricia, son David, and daughter Wendy.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 October 1999

Citation details

Noreen Coulton, 'Sinclair, Sidney (1915–1999)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/sinclair-sidney-28245/text35928, accessed 21 September 2019.

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