The following recollections are written by Mr John Squires, (Former Accountant and Secretary of Victa)
This article was originally written for and appears on the Vintage website.

Mr Squires has very graciously given ODK full permission to reproduce it and post it here in our History Forum and we sincerely thank him for doing so.

The Victa Story by John Squires

The Victa story can't be dismissed so easily.
Having virtually come from nothing and having retired as a sales rep for Gardner Waern, an engineering company at the age of 59, in 1953, Merv developed his mower basically because of the success of his engine, which was copied from a European model.

This was done after Villiers, the English engine manufacturer of small IC engines at Ballarat, told Merv he had to place orders a year ahead and there were no more engines that year. Luckily the prototype worked, developed in conjunction with Frank Sneesby, one of his first trusted employees. This enabled Victa to meet the surge in demand for motorised lawnmowers in 1956,1957 and 1958. The Richardson family's fortunes magnified and although their first personal extravagances, apart from Jaguars and Porsches, was the building of the then spectacular air-conditioned Palm Beach house, with sunken living room, fibreglass circular roof, lift, boatshed and seaplane hangar, for all this it was basically a 2 bedroom house in which they lived for about 10 years.

However, true to his roots, Merv instituted a unique profit-sharing arrangement with his employees. 6.6666 shillings from each mower sale each week was pooled and divided equally among all employees on the payroll. Many staff took home more bonus than their normal salary in the summer months and demand to work at Victa was exceptional.

The business growth enabled production to move from a garage in Concord, to a spectacular sales office on Parramatta Rd, Concord, with manufacturing in Wiblin St, Silverwater and in 1958 , with the purchase of 38 acres at Milperra, all operations were gradually moved to that site, where it stayed until the early eighties.

After 1957, the family moved to recruit more experienced and qualified staff to handle what was now a big, profitable business. A financial director, from the highly successful Rothmans tobacco company, was engaged and a young solicitor who was able to handle the company's extreme taxation problems joined. He later became Managing Director and played a duplicitous role in the family politics at the end of the sixties. Unsuccessful attempts to repeat the magic of Victa Mowers were made during the sixties in home-building, structural steel fabrication and other fields. But, although successfully designing and building a fully aerobatic 2-seater aircraft, of which nearly 100 were made, the costs were such that the mower business, hit by poor weather, relaxation of imports of engines and competition, was unable to continue to finance the aviation activities.

The Aviation Division ended in 1966, but the business was sold to two NZ enthusiasts who were able to develop the four seater version, some of which were sold to the RAAF. The company did successfully develop the Red Telephone business in the sixties, but the election of the Whitlam government in 1973 led to the immediate loss of the licence to use the PMG network and the business was effectively nationalised.

In the late sixties, Sunbeam Corporation, having engaged a former Victa manufacturing executive, fondly called the "passionate designer" for obvious reasons, to expand its electric mower division into IC powered mowers, made overtures to the Victa company. This, for them, fortuitously coincided with family political problems, mainly abetted by the aforesaid solicitor and then MD. This story alone is a sad ending to the family mower successes, even though the ultimate sale to Sunbeam crystallized a financial bonanza for Garry Richardson. The story of the political ending to the family's ownership of Victa Mowers remains to be told.

And the furphy that Victa is a play on Merv's middle name needs to be explained. Merv of course loved it, but Garry, his son, with the benefit of a cultural education, coined the abbreviation from the Latin past participle of the verb to conquer, vici. Strangely enough, the competitor, Pace, acquired to exploit Victa's dominance, can also be compared to a Latin word meaning, peace, but this I think is coincidence.

After acquisition of Victa, Sunbeam, with the newly designed mower included in the purchase, had successes in the early seventies that rivalled the fifties, and Victa was the most successful division of Sunbeam International at that time . A director of Victa became the MD of Sunbeam Australia and a director of the parent US company in the seventies and early eighties.

Mr John Squires. (Former Accountant and Secretary of Victa)
After the takeover I worked for a while with Garry Richardson and finally with Sunbeam.

Last edited by CyberJack; 16/10/14 10:08 PM. Reason: Heading Protocols