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Myer, Sidney Baillieu (Bails) (1926–2022)

by Sarah Danckert

from Sydney Morning Herald

Baillieu (Bails) Myer, the scion of Melbourne’s Myer retail dynasty and the man who led the group’s merger with Coles in 1985, has died at the age of 96 at his family home at Merricks on the Mornington Peninsula.

Born in San Francisco in 1926 to famed retailer Sidney Myer and his wife Merlyn, Bails followed in his father’s footsteps into the retail trade – but not before spending some time mustering cattle as a younger man and as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy during World War II.

The couple’s youngest son, behind Ken, and brother to Marigold and Neilma, Bails spent decades charming Melbourne’s business circles with his silk cravats and wide smile.

On news of Bails’ death on the weekend, former prime minister Tony Abbott said: “Someone with more public spirit than Bails Myer would be very hard to find. Whether on a naval ship in wartime, running a business dedicated to serving the customer or sitting on countless boards mostly charitable, he was always striving to do the best he could for his family, his community and his country.”

Current Myer chief executive John King said the company extended its condolences to Bails’ wife Sarah and their family. “We have lost a wonderful man. For generations, Bails Myer has been much loved and highly respected by everyone at Myer and beyond. He was ahead of his time recognising the future of retail,” Mr King said.

Australian Retailers Association boss and former David Jones chief executive Paul Zahra said on behalf of the association: “Mr Myer’s retail and community contribution has left a powerful legacy. Our thoughts are with the family.

Retail flowed in Bails’ veins. His father Sidney opened his first Myer department store in Bendigo in 1900. That business would grow into Australia’s largest chain of department stores.

Sidney died in 1934, leaving the business, which was at that time listed on the Australian Stock Exchange as Myer Emporium, in the hands of nephew Sir Norman Myer and Bails’ brother Ken Myer.

When Sir Norman died in 1956, Bails — who had returned from the war the proud bearer of a sub-lieutenant rank — became a bigger figure within the retailing empire.

It was Bails and his older brother Ken who embarked on an ambitious expansion strategy for the company in 1960 when they set up a store in a mini shopping centre, Chadstone, just three years after the relatively new suburb earned its first post office.

Despite some push back from Myer’s management, Bails and his brother believed that the future of retail depended on bringing shopping to the masses and if the masses lived in the suburbs then that’s where their stores should be.

The brothers were proved more than correct — that Myer store would become the retail foundation stone for what is now the country’s largest mall, Chadstone Shopping Centre.

The success of Myer’s Chadstone marked what was described at the time as the migration of shopping from the city to the suburbs and helped to revolutionise where Melburnians did their shopping. That led to Myer setting up an increasing number of stores in the suburbs of Melbourne and then Sydney after its acquisition of Grace Brothers in 1983.

Bails was also involved in Myer Emporium’s acquisition of the Lindsay’s retail chain in Geelong. That business that would be rebadged as Target under Myer’s ownership and go onto to become another famous Australian retail brand.

He stepped down from his management role at Myer in 1972 but stayed on the company’s board. Six years later, Bails became the group’s chairman after his brother retired from the business.

Bails’ tenure as chairman would not be a quiet one. In 1983, he was called back into Myer’s management ranks as a recession strangled the retail trade in Melbourne. It was also at a time when Myer was locked in a corporate tussle with Grace Brothers. Myer would win out in that battle, securing ownership of the NSW department store owner in mid-1983.

In the role of executive chairman, Bails was also instrumental in steering the group through what was then one of the biggest deals in Australian corporate history — the merger of GJ Coles & Coy and Myer Emporium, to create Coles Myer.

He remained on the Coles Myer board until 1994 when he retired from business life to focus on his interests in the arts and philanthropic endeavours. (Myer remained a separate business within the broader group and was sold to private equity house TPG in 2006).

Bails was an emeritus trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria and patron of Asialink and the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal.

He was also instrumental in the work of the Myer Foundation, a charitable trust set up in the family’s name that has distributed more than $300 million since its inception in 1959. A supporter of scientific studies, Bails was president of the Howard Florey Institute and an executive member of the CSIRO. He also played a key role in the early 2000s in the extensive, and at the time very expensive, refurbishment of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl – a structure built to honour the legacy of his retailer father. He was also a long-time supporter of conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Sidney Baillieu (Bails) Myer

Additional Resources

Citation details

Sarah Danckert, 'Myer, Sidney Baillieu (Bails) (1926–2022)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/myer-sidney-baillieu-bails-32257/text39911, accessed 6 December 2022.

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