Member Profile – Peter Wilson AM

Posted on: 28 July

For someone who has achieved so much (some very significant and some quirky), Peter is a very humble man. Family circumstances forced him to leave school at the end of Year 10 and although some may see this as a challenging start to a business career Peter has a different perspective. His view is that by the time he was in his late 20’s he had two tertiary qualifications and 14 or 15 years of varied work experiences which he said really set him up for the future. He speculates that in some ways these experiences gave him advantages over that those who went the more traditional route of school then university then work. Along the way he socialised and played the double bass in the Bay City Jazz Band and the Alan Zavod Trio. These groups later made many television experiences and were regulars on the iconic In Melbourne Tonight in the late 60’s and early 70’s so you could say that Peter has always led a very diverse and interesting life.  

Peter’s work life began in the printing industry and so he started his first qualification part-time, a Diploma of Industrial Chemistry at the Chisholm Institute, now part of Monash University. His particular work role included quality control and product development in the area of colour reproduction. Soon after this he undertook a Bachelor of Economics at Monash University, again part-time, and this qualification supported his career move into general management. Peter confesses that because of his work and music he wasn’t able to attend many lectures so he borrowed Bob Lester’s very good notes from when Bob had done some of the same subjects two years previously. Apparently Bob is a still a bit miffed that while he went to the lectures and took great notes it was Peter who got the better marks!

When his company was bought out by ACI Peter was assigned to the Packaging Division where he was promoted from the role of Development Manager to Marketing Manager. A little known fact is that during this time Peter helped change the wine-drinking habits of millions of people through his work on the development of the wine cask in Australia; his last role at ACI was to establish a separate Division to take responsibility for all of the packaging involved in the wine casks including the flexible bag manufacture.

Bob Lester again had a major role in Peter’s life when he introduced him to a senior executive at Spotless. Peter was subsequently head-hunted by them and was to go on and work for Spotless for the next 32 years. As head of the food division he led a team that re-developed food services, including a re-design of the members’ and guests’ areas of the new Parliament House building in Canberra. A further promotion to New York saw Peter improve the international clothes hanger business from a turnover of $20 million to $400 million. He returned to Australia in 2004 to serve as MD and CEO of Spotless. He retired in 2008 and established his own consulting company. These days Peter is a company director, is involved in a number of charities and does voluntary mentoring.

When Peter’s 7 year old daughter developed Type 1 diabetes he turned his attention to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He was the driving force behind the first Walk for a Cure in 1993 and this fundraiser which is still held every year was one of the first to use sponsorship of walkers as a means of raising money. Previously events such as these charged an entry fee, gave out a t-shirt and were lucky to make $60,000. The first Walk for a Cure made over $350,000 and also received a lot of corporate sponsorship. Peter has continued his involvement with JDRF for over 30 years in both Australia and overseas. He was President of the Long Island New York chapter and was a Board member of the International JDRF Organisation where he was Chair of the Finance Committee as well as serving on committees that allocated money for medical research. Peter was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2016 for significant support to the community through charitable, medical research and sports organisations.

While in New York Peter was on the board of the Nassau Country Club in New York and he also served as President of Victoria Golf Club from 2011 to 2013. When asked to nominate his most memorable day at the club he recalled carrying the scoreboard in the final of the Australian Amateur and being able to see up close such great talent playing on our course. Getting to know Peter Thomson and spending time with him is also a special memory.

Peter just loves coming to the club. He enjoys playing with his son Andrew or just picking up a game with any member. Like many of our other members his favourite hole is the restored 11th closely followed by the 1st as there is always a good chance that he can par the hole by laying up with his first shot. ‘Victoria is such an interesting course, every hole is a challenge’ but he also likes the 4th because you are rewarded with a straight hit and even going into the front bunker is usually recoverable. Peter describes the club as his safe haven. ‘There is a special spirit in the place and I can’t recall ever having a bad day there.’

During the coronavirus shut-down Peter has been writing some notes on his business experiences that he hopes can be made available to new managers. Two messages resonate from his experience. ‘It’s difficult to predict the future but it’s impossible to find out what happened in the past – we re-invent the past,’ and finally ‘If you’re not making mistakes you’re not being innovative.’ Wise words indeed Peter.



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