D.J. Asimus

Obituary, SMH, 31 January 2008 - Malcolm Brown

DAVID ASIMUS was a big man - 195.5 centimetres tall - and had the biggest hand, it was said, ever to have pushed an executive pen.

He was also intellectually big - too big to spend his life in relative anonymity on the family farm at Adelong. When he moved on, eventually becoming chairman of the Australian Wool Corporation and of the International Wool Secretariat, his energy and breadth of vision brought the Australian wool industry back to life.

David James Asimus, who has died at 75, was born in Tumut from German stock who settled on the land in southern New South Wales. He attended Barker College and Sydney University, graduating in economics in 1953. He went farming, but in 1958 became a Nuffield agricultural fellow, studying for 12 months in Britain. Back home, he returned to farming but his instincts had been stirred. In 1963, he joined the Gundagai branch of the Graziers Association of NSW and went on to several positions. He was also a delegate to the Australian Woolgrowers and Graziers Council.

The wool industry in Australia was at a low ebb. Synthetic textiles had had a big impact and wool prices had dropped. In 1970, the government created the Australian Wool Commission, almost as an act of desperation, to arrest the decline. Its first chairman was Sir William Vines, who appointed Asimus in 1972. Vines later said of Asimus: "He had a practical background on the land as well as an economics degree, which helped him come to grips with the whole situation."

In 1973 the commission became the Australian Wool Corporation, and in 1976 Asimus was appointed deputy chairman and, in 1979, chairman. He oversaw the early days of the wool price reserve scheme.

In the early 1980s, Asimus and family moved to a property near Wagga Wagga. But his time there was limited. His appointments, particularly as secretariat chairman, took him all over the world, dealing with the complexities of fashion, world markets, foreign policy. His positive approach to marketing, seeking to increase the trade to China and the United States, raised eyebrows and hopes in the troubled industry.

Michael Davidson, the president of the NSW Graziers Association from 1981 to 1983, said: "He was a strong advocate during the very stressful crisis period. He has always been an action man and has always had a personal overriding conviction in the future of the industry. That conviction helped restore confidence here and in other woolgrowing countries."

Asimus himself said: "It is the very best job in the world, really. Where else in one week can you talk to fashion designers in Paris and Milan, an industrialist in New York, a top retailer in London and come back, head out to Bourke and talk to woolgrowers?" Asimus's stamina was extraordinary. Under him, the wool corporation focused on quality, tailoring the product to the customer's needs, and spent heavily on promotion and market development.

Perhaps all those things on his mind proved distracting. Asimus could be absent-minded. More than once he extended dinner invitations to people, forgot to tell his wife, and then forgot about the invitations himself. The invitees would turn up, would always get a good meal, and Asimus would offer special wine.

When he retired from chairmanship of the wool corporation and the International Wool Secretariat in 1988, the number of Australian sheep had risen from 134 million at the start of his term to 163 million, wool production had reached an all-time record of 925 million kilograms and the value of the country's wool exports had tripled.

In January 1988, the industry put on a $2.5 million show, the International Wool Collection, at the Sydney Opera House. It was expected that the Australian wool clip would bring in $5.1 billion. Asimus was made an Officer of the Order of Australia.

In 1989, by then having been made an honorary doctor of science by the University of New South Wales, he was appointed foundation chancellor of Charles Sturt University. He said the development of tertiary education in the regions was one of his proudest achievements.

He was a director of the Australian Trade Commission, member of the Australia-Japan Foundation and the Australia-Japan Consultation Committee, member of the government taskforce on liner shipping and the advisory council member of the CSIRO. His other directorships included board positions with BHP, the Industrial Bank of Japan, Wesfarmers, Rural Press and Delta Electricity. In 1997, he was made an honorary doctor of agricultural economics by the University of Sydney, and in 2002, Charles Sturt University made him a doctor of the university.

David Asimus is survived by his wife, Jane, his daughter, Heidi Sutherland, and five grandchildren. His son, Alexander, predeceased him. A memorial service will be held at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, on Monday.