A timeline of significant events in the history of Wesfarmers is available here.
The early years
As one of Australia’s oldest and most successful diversified companies, Wesfarmers began in June 1914 as the Westralian Farmers Co-operative and for most of its early history was primarily involved with the provision of services and merchandise to Western Australia's rural community.
Its early operations included wool and wheat merchandising, grain and fruit exporting, oil distribution to rural areas, as well as Western Australia’s first public radio station.
On the road to diversification
In the 1950s Wesfarmers began a major diversification programme with the formation of Kleenheat Gas. Kleenheat pioneered the distribution of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and gas appliances to Western Australia's rural areas and now operates a major Australia-wide network of depots, company-operated branches, dealers and franchisees.
The 1980s saw significant changes to the company’s operations and structure.
In 1984, with the farmers co-operative as its majority shareholder, Wesfarmers Limited listed on the Australian Securities Exchange.
In the same year, the company acquired fertiliser manufacturer and distributor CSBP & Farmers, in what was then Australia’s largest corporate takeover.
Wesfarmers added to its energy industry investments by moving into coal mining when it acquired Western Collieries in 1989, now Premier. In the 1990s, the company invested in the Bengalla mine in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Further expansion of the coal interests occurred in May 2000 through the acquisition of the Curragh mine in Queensland's Bowen Basin. In early 2003, Wesfarmers won the right to develop a nearby deposit, more than doubling the recoverable reserves in and around Curragh.
Wesfarmers broadened its agricultural base in 1993 when it acquired Dalgety Farmers Limited. The following year the company established Wesfarmers Dalgety as a national rural business. In 2001 the rural business expanded after Wesfarmers Dalgety merged with IAMA Limited and formed Wesfarmers Landmark. Landmark was sold to AWB Limited in August 2003.
Also in 1994, Wesfarmers completed its acquisition of Bunnings Limited, establishing the company in hardware retailing and forest products.
In April 2001 Wesfarmers completed the transition to a broadly-based public company when shareholders overwhelmingly supported a proposal to simplify its complex ownership and control structure.
In the same year, Wesfarmers acquired Howard Smith's BBC and Hardwarehouse businesses making Bunnings Australia's leading supplier of home improvement and building products. The acquisition also included hardware and industrial and safety products businesses in New Zealand, giving Wesfarmers its first significant presence outside Australia.
Following the 2001 acquisition, Wesfarmers formed its Industrial and Safety division which is now the leading supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products in Australia and New Zealand.
Insuring for the future
In 1991 Wesfarmers merged its insurance company with Federation Insurance to form Wesfarmers Federation Insurance, one of the largest rural insurers in Australia. The insurance activities were expanded with the acquisition in 2003 of the Australian and New Zealand operations of Lumley Insurance. Further growth occurred in late 2006 and early 2007 with the acquisition of OAMPS Limited and Crombie Lockwood Holdings.
Wesfarmers moved into rail transport when, in 2000 a joint venture with Genesee & Wyoming Incorporated of the United States successfully bid for the Western Australian government's rail freight business, leading to the creation of the Australian Railroad Group. Wesfarmers completed the sale of this business to Babcock & Brown and Queensland Rail in June 2006.
In September 2006, Wesfarmers restructured its energy businesses with the creation of a separate coal division responsible for the wholly-owned Curragh and Premier mines and the company's 40 per cent interest in Bengalla. In December 2011, Wesfarmers sold the Premier Coal business to Austar Coal Mine, a wholly owned subsidiary of Yancoal Australia. With the excision of the coal mining activities, the Wesfarmers Energy division retained responsibility for the group's gas and power business interests. These were expanded with the completion in early 2007 of the acquisition of Linde Gas, now named Coregas, a major participant in the Australian industrial gases market. In July 2010, the energy division was merged with the chemicals and fertilisers division to form the Wesfarmers Chemicals, Energy and Fertilisers division. In addition, Coregas became part of the Wesfarmers Industrial and Safety division. In August 2011, Wesfarmers sold its remote power generation business enGen to Energy Developments Limited. In January 2014, Wesfarmers sold its 40 per cent interest in Air Liquide WA back to Air Liquide Australia Limited.
In June 2014, Wesfarmers sold its insurance underwriting and insurance broking and premium funding operations in two separate transactions. The insurance broking and premium funding operation, including OAMPS Insurance Brokers in Australia, OAMPS UK, Crombie Lockwood in New Zealand, Lumley Finance and Monument Premium Financing was sold to Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. The insurance underwriting operation, including the Lumley and WFI brands was sold to Insurance Australia Group Ltd.
The acquisition of Coles Group
In November 2007 Wesfarmers entered a new era when it acquired Coles Group Limited. Following this acquisition three new divisions were formed, Coles, Target and Kmart. Officeworks and Harris Technology joined Bunnings to make up the Home Improvement and Office Supplies division.
Proud history, strong future
Since the first major acquisition in the 80s, Wesfarmers has continued to transform the size and shape of its business operations through strategic acquisitions and divestments. Steeped in a foundation of retailing since its formation, today Wesfarmers is one of Australia’s leading retailers and diversified industrial companies. From the small farmers co-operative three quarters of a century ago, to the nation’s largest employer with over 200,000 employees and approximately 500,000 shareholders, Wesfarmers remains committed to providing a satisfactory return to shareholders.