Hills hangs in by going from an industrial company to technology investment firm

The cover image from Hills Industries annual report in 1986 – South Australia's 150th year as a settlement.

The challenge of competing with large multinational companies started the shakeup, from the1980s/90s, for Hills Industries towards becoming Hills Holdings. Hills firstly stopped producing automotive components but continued to diversify its portfolio. In 1986, Hills bought 46% of Korvest, a maker of cable and pipe supports, and in 1987 bought Direct Alarm Supplies.

By 2000, Hills had consolidated into electronics, home and hardware and building and industrial. Steel tubing, the mainstay of Hills’ manufacturing growth, was sold into a joint venture with Welded Tube Mills of Australia to form Orrcon,

In 2002, Hills sold 50% of its UK business to form a partnership with Freudenberg Household Products, makers of the Vildea brand, to facilitate sales throughout Europe. In Australia, the K.Care group and Kerry Equipment (health care equipment brands) were acquired, as Hills capitalised on the growing aged care sector.
 Hills was refined by 2004 to electronic security and entertainment, home and hardware and building and industrial, signalling a focus on integrated entertainment, security and communications systems. In 2006, Hills sold its remaining investment in Hills United Kingdom to Freudenberg Household Products, ending its European venture. 

Buying Air Comfort Seating Systems in 2007, to complement the K-Care and Kerry Equipment range, Hills Healthcare was launched and quickly became the leading maker of rehabilitation, mobility and hospital equipment in Australia.

In 2010, Hills Industries became Hills Holdings, reflecting the switch from an industrial to a diversified investment company. A major restructure in 2012 took the company from a low-margin, capital-intensive manufacturer to a distributor of integrated technology products and services.

In 2013, the company – now Hills Limited  – divested itself of industrial assets including Korvest and Orrcon, plus its healthcare businesses to focus on technology and communications After two years of licensing the sale of its Hills Home Living brands to Woolworths, Hills Limited sold their manufacturing and sale rights to AMES Australasia, a subsidiary of the American Griffon Corporation.

In 2017, Hills, with its headquarters now in Sydney, was reporting a payoff in the shift to new technology and services that integrate security and surveillance, CCTV, alarms, audio visual lighting and hospital communications systems.

Other related ADELAIDEAZ articles

Janine Haines impacts as leader of Australian Democrats with balance of power at federal level

Janine Haines’ election to the senate in 1980 started a high-profile phase for South Australian women in federal politics. In 1986, Haines was elected leader of the Australian Democrats who gained the balance of power in the senate. Haines used this to negotiate changes in areas such as health care and equal opportunity for women. She furthered the senate’s role as a house of review. In 1990, Haines resigned to contest (unsuccessfully) the South Australian seat of Kingston.

Fowler brothers' shop in King William St grows into national grocery wholesaler

Among the 25 founders of Flinders Street Baptist Church in 1861, Scottish brothers David and James Fowler in 1854 opened a grocery shop in King William Street. It expanded to became one of Australia's largest wholesale grocers. After James Fowler died in 1858, a third brother George joined the rapidly growing D. and J. Fowler (Australia) Ltd. In 1865, Fowlers sold their shop to employees William Finlayson and George Brookman, later one of South Australia’s most successful mining investors.

Tom Playford legendary, notorious for winning big slice of federal funds for South Australia

South Australian premier Tom Playford became a legend in his home state and notorious in the rest of the country for the financial support he won from federal Liberal and Labor federal governments. Playord made constant personal effort to achieve this, by numerous short visits to Canberra without any publicity, and writing thousands of letters, sometimes two or three a week, to prime ministers, on many subjects. Intense and unconventional, Playford was a "tough-minded bargainer: he is a shrewd one as well, aided by a retentive memory and the apparently guileless manner of an orchardist’s tactics”. Playford also was helped by having a disproportionate South Australians, Liberal and Labor, in the federal ministry. He received special support from South Australians George McLeay and Philip McBride in the cabinet. Most publicised aspect were Playford’s dealings with the Commonwealth at premiers’ conferences and Australian Loan Council meetings, often emerging with more than his state’s fair share of the national cake. Credit for this also was due to South Australian government under treasurers Fred Drew (1946-60) and Gilbert Seaman (from 1960) who were usually better prepared than other states' bureaucrats. Conservative prime minister Robert Menzies, reluctant to meet Playford around World War II, complained and complimented him as not knowing “intellectual honesty if he met it on the end of a pitch fork but he does it all for South Australia, not for himself, so I forgive him”. Playford gained national repute as “a good South Australian but a very bad Australian”. Playford remained unrepentant

Jim Sharman changes State Theatre to the Lighthouse ensemble in Adelaide during 1980s

Jim Sharman was a 20th Century influence on Adelaide theatre with national effects. Sharman was artistic director of the 1982 Adelaide Festival of Arts that was transforming and award winning. While in South Australia, he turned the State Theatre of South Australia into Lighthouse, specialising in radical staging of work by major Australian dramatists, including Louis Nowra, Stephen Sewell and Patrick White. He gathered an ensemble of actors, including Geoffrey Rush, to develop an adventurous tradition that was carried on at Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre. Other actors in Sharman’s Lighthouse ensemble were Robynne Bourne, Peter Cummins, Melissa Jaffer (replaced in 1983 by Jacqy Phillips), Alan John (also composer in residence), Gillian Jones, Melita Jurisic, Russell Kiefel, Stuart McCreery, Robert Menzies (replaced by Robert Grubb), Kerry and John Wood. Neil Armfield, associate director to Sharman for the Lighthouse, left in 1985 to be involved in buying Belvoir Theatre in Sydney. State Theatre’s artistic director from 1996, Chris Westwood, made a similar change when she subtitled the company as the Australian Playhouse that would present only Australian works until the end of the century. Westwood resigned under pressure in 1997 and the company returned to a more orthodox season.


Elder Smith expands into mining, finance before John Elliot takeover as Elders IXL

Norman Giles took Elders Smith to nationally dominating the wool market in the 1950s. Giles merged Elder Smith and Goldsborough Mort in 1962, with headquarters in Adelaide. Giles also expanded Elders Smith into mining, finance and beef lots. In the 1980s, Robert Holmes a Court sold his major stake in the company to John Elliott. Elliot's Elders IXL became one of Australia’s corporate giants that overstretched itself and had be sold in 1989 with Elders Pastoral as a mere division.

Federal railways bring the standard gauge into the South Australian system from 1917

Federal government’s involvement in railways, using standard gauge lines, forced South Australia to standardise its main lines to be part of national freight movement. The first big federal foray was the trans-Australia Port Augusta-Kalgoorlie line in 1917. This gave South Australia three gauges. South Australian and Commonwealth railways linked Port Augusta and Adelaide, by a standard gauge to Port Pirie, and a broad gauge between Port Pirie and Redhill, in 1937.  


Contact Us

We welcome positive constructive feedback