The company was formed in Australia in 1949 by Englishman, Stanley Leighton. In England, Stanley Leighton had been heavily involved in engineering and infrastructure contracting — a key aspect of the Leighton Group’s success today.
Foundation and Listing
When the movie industry boomed in the 1920s, Stanley Leighton secured the contract to build the famous Odeon cinema chain in England and Scotland and began building housing estates and offices around the country. During World War II, the Admiralty appointed Leighton as their major contractor, signing for airfields, mobilisation centres and defence works.
A decline in the construction industry following the end of the war led to Stanley Leighton looking for new markets in which to use his skills. Africa was initially targeted, but it was to Australia that the first batch of Leighton “immigrants” were eventually dispatched on the steamer SS Chitral on Good Friday, 1949. Leighton Pty Ltd, the Australian company, was born.
From 1949 to 1962, the then Melbourne-based Leighton was focused on establishing itself and building a reputation. It achieved this very quickly, thanks in large part to its involvement on major housing commission projects in and around Sydney, as well as becoming one of the first private firms to work on state government projects in Victoria.
By 1962, Leighton Contractors had been formed and floated as a public company and was listed on the Melbourne Stock Exchange. Going public opened doors for Leighton and gave it increased credibility with government authorities.
The late 1960s and early 70s were a period of growth for Leighton. It was a time for diversification, both in an operational and geographical sense. The company strengthened its Australian presence with new offices in Sydney and Brisbane, and in 1971 Leighton Contractors changed its name to Leighton Holdings and was listed on the Sydney and Perth Stock Exchanges as well as Melbourne. Sydney-based Leighton Contractors became the main operating subsidiary.
A strategic move into Asia in the early 70s culminated in the formation of Leighton Asia in 1975. Very quickly, the new company made its presence felt working on projects such as the Tuen Mun reclamation contract. Meanwhile, at home, Leighton was also enhancing its reputation working on such high profile projects as the Ross River Dam, the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Coonabarabran and the Botany Bay Container Terminal.
It wasn’t all good news, however. A sharp downturn in the national economy as well as a high inflation rate slowed Leighton’s growth in Australia during the mid-70s. Profits fell by as much as 59 percent at one point, the share price tumbled and adverse weather wreaked havoc with many of the company’s major projects. Thankfully, the expansion into Asia and strong performance in Queensland and Western Australia, together with a deeply committed and determined senior management team, helped offset the losses and by the end of the decade the Group began to recover.
The 1980s saw the Group expand its portfolio of work and affirm its standing as one of the leading companies in its field. In 1983 HOCHTIEF became the Group’s major shareholder, bringing Thiess into the Leighton Group. A host of projects marked this decade. Amongst them were the resort project at Discovery Bay in Hong Kong, construction of the LNG North West Shelf site for Woodside, the redevelopment of Sydney’s Darling Harbour, construction at Brisbane’s International Airport and the construction of the ABC Centre at Ultimo in Sydney.
Despite the new additions to the Group’s operating structure and the high level of work being undertaken, financial returns slumped in the latter half of the decade. As well as acquiring Thiess, the Group had taken on board Green Holdings in the US and Ipco Marine in Asia and had also expanded Leighton Properties. The timing coincided with a sharp decline in engineering work available, and despite record turnovers, profit dropped in 1984 and in 1985. Financial problems with Thiess, Green and the Burdekin Dam project in Queensland produced a loss of $12 million in 1986. The losses were short-lived however. By August of 1987 the Group had returned to profitability, thanks to strong construction activity in Australia and a strategic plan to get rid of under performing assets.
90s to Now
Growth and expansion continued throughout the 1990s and the decade also saw the end of the Group’s involvement in the US with the sale of Green Holdings in 1993. The list of successful projects was added to, new skills were acquired and new industries were targeted. An early focus on telecommunications demonstrated the Group’s drive and vision for growth and diversification. Strategic acquisitions enabled the Group to maintain its momentum.
The 1996 purchase of Visionstream enabled the Group to become a major player in Australia’s telecommunications market. Likewise, the February 2000 purchase of 70 percent of John Holland added to the Group’s core strength and allowed it to tap into new markets and regions.
In 2003, John Holland added to its contracting capability by acquiring selected contracts and resources of Transfield Construction and the transfer of its employees. In 2004, the Group increased its stake in John Holland to 99% (and in October 2007 went to 100% ownership).
The Group continued to diversify and in February 2006 acquired the Australian and New Zealand contract mining assets of Henry Walker Eltin Group Limited (HWE). The HWE Mining business further strengthened Leighton Contractors position in the contract mining market.
In 2007, the Group diversified in the Arabian Gulf with the acquisition of a 45% stake in the locally based Al Habtoor Engineering, one of the largest contractors in the region.
Today’s Group is a far different entity than it was in 1949. No longer is the Group solely a construction company. Rather it is a major service provider, with active interests in engineering infrastructure, mining and resources, building, telecommunications, property, and environmental services. While construction remains a core activity, what the Group offers today is a range of services, delivered to clients operating across a diverse spread of industries and locations. These services are backed by a very strong financial position and wealth of experience.
With each passing decade, the Group has grown, prospered and added to its core skills. The foundations for future growth are stronger than ever before with many exciting prospects both at home and offshore.