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Jack Hannes 1923 – 2005


JACK HANNES:  1923-2005

Hanimex and the Founding Distributor of Fujifilm in Australia

By Paul Curtis, Hon. FAIPP

Jack Hannes made an outstanding contribution to the business of photography in Australia and around the world. He was the recipient of the highest awards the world industry had to offer including the Queens medal for services to Australian industry, membership of the Japanese Photo Industry Association as one of only non-Japanese lifetime achievement recipients for the promotion of international friendship and prosperity.  He was a man of extraordinary energy and vision and maintained an active and vigorous life-style throughout his lifetime.

Jack Dieter Hannes was born in Berlin on April 12, 1923. In 1934 Jack was sent to Buxton College in Derbyshire England. For the next five years he enjoyed all aspects of English public school life including playing cricket and becoming a Kings scout. In 1939 the family fled Germany and travelled to Australia. After arriving, at age 16, Jack enrolled at Sydney University to study engineering.

After Jack graduated with degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering, he worked first for Standard Telephones and then spent two years at Email before returning to Sydney University. Here he studied economics while lecturing in physics at the university. During this time he also waged a long unsuccessful campaign to be enlisted for active service but was continually rejected because of his place of birth.

While completing his economics degree, Jack decided to look around for a spare time interest. He produced a telephone note pads of his own and began importing propelling pencils, pearl necklaces and trouser braces via airmail parcels from England. These he distributed from his parents’ home in Sydney’s Bellevue Hill.

Said Jack “In those early days after the war, the trick was not in selling, but having something to sell.”

Jack had also developed an interest in photography and researched the background of many European manufacturers who were in the process of re-establishing themselves following WW2. Soon after this he commenced importing arrangements with an Italian company to sell Safilo sunglasses and Durst Duca cameras and Durst enlargers this was the beginning of his involvement in the photographic industry.

The Duca was the first 35mm camera to be imported into Australia after the war. It used the Agfa Karat system and strong demand was created by using a popular radio personality, Bob Dyer, on a top rating Pick-a-Box radio show.

Seeing the potential for photographics and liking the industry, in 1947 Jack, at the age of 24, decided to incorporate a company with a staff of three. He named it Hanimex from the first three letters of his name and the words IMport and EXport.

In the first year the company turnover reached 25,000 pounds and in 1948 Hanimex set up office above a newsagency in the centre of Sydney. The upper part of the building was initially shared with the residence of an eccentric old lady and Hanimex consisted of two rooms up a rickety flight of stairs and an earthen-floored cellar that acted as the storeroom.

The biggest hurdle facing the new company was that there were few independent retailers. Kodak owned many of the stores and had contracts with the chemists that prohibited them from buying photographics from anyone other than Kodak.

Much of Jack’s early work went into encouraging new retailers and department stores to enter the business.

Needing more capital to finance expansion, in 1950 Jack persuaded a university friend, John Howie to invest twenty thousand pounds of his father’s into the company and to become a partner.

Jack took the long voyage by sea from Australia to West Germany and secured the Finetta, Iloca and Futura camera agencies and the Practika from East Germany.

In 1952 Jack opened his first overseas branch in New Zealand with a joint venture with Kerridge Odeon

The next year, Jack was looking for diversification from hardware lines, and entered the consumables market with such products as Osram and Wotan flash bulbs and projector lamps.         

In 1954 Jack was the first Australian to go to Japan looking for agencies. Other importers in Australia were shy of the emerging Japanese manufacturers and were reluctant to upset their traditional German suppliers.

In Japan, Jack secured every known photo agency with only one exception. Only Nikon and Canon would not agree to joint representation. So Jack chose Nikon and bought back 100 Nikon cameras in his luggage.

Jack also secured the Fuji agency and began importing Fuji colour negative film and slide viewers. This began one of the longest trading associations in Australian photographic history.

By 1955, Hanimex had opened branches in all capital cities in Australia and the Hanimex catalogue had become the industry bible.

In 1956 the Australian Government introduced import restrictions and importers were unable to bring in all the stock they needed to meet demand. Jack’s solution was to begin local manufacturing of slide projectors under licence to the US Company Argus.

In 1957 Jack decided to sell his own projectors overseas and listed Hanimex Corporation on the Sydney and Melbourne Stock Exchanges.

In 1958 Jack convinced the major English pharmacy chain, Boots the Chemists, to order 10,000 slide projectors. In 1960, Dixons UK placed its first order and within three years they had purchased 40,0000 projectors.

During the 1960’s Hanimex established its own organisations around the world and started the process of setting up offices and factories in the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, USA, Hong Kong and Japan. The company received two export awards and became listed on the London stock exchange.

On the overseas manufacturing front, Hanimex began optical manufacturing in Hong Kong and slide projector manufacture in Ireland and in Michigan.

By the beginning of the 70’s Hanimex was the second largest manufacturer of slide projectors in the world. The company also developed large-scale photofinishing activities and opened laboratories throughout Australia and New Zealand.

By 1978 the company had over 2000 employees and Hanimex projectors, slide viewers, electronic flashguns, camera lenses and hosts of other accessories were being sold in over 70 companies.

Throughout all this rapid expansion, Jack was a tireless worker who kept in close contact with industry trends and consumer needs. He also developed close relationships with his industry colleagues from around the world and earned considerable respect from his staff.

His was a keen member of his own design team and his energy and enthusiasm were an inspiration to all the company.

Amazingly, in spite of all this activity he was still able to devote considerable time to the industry as a whole.  In the 50’s he was instrumental in mounting the first consumer exhibition of photographic equipment in Australia and in the 70’s he was active in bringing wholesalers and retailers together for the first time in the first of two South Pacific Photographic Conventions.

The huge success of Hanimex attracted considerable interest from the stock market and the company was the constant target for take over bids. With Jack’s work commitments in so many overseas countries it is small wonder that eventually a major change in share ownership occurred.

In 1982 Jack Hannes resigned from the company. In the 35 years of his management, the company grew at an average annual cumulative rate of 20%.  He developed the company from a small Australian distributor to a brand name recognised throughout the world.

In the new millennium, his passion for the photo industry remained undimmed. He continued his associations with the Australian Photo Industry and was a ready councillor to retailers and wholesalers alike.

After Hanimex he broadened his range of activities and held active positions in many organizations. He was a Director of the Chamber of Commerce as held Directorships with various other companies. In the venture capital area many start up companies and their executives benefited from his advice. In addition he was a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He was an active director of Merino Pty Limited, a major Australian manufacturer of paper and plastics products jointly founded by his father and maintained other business interests ranging from property development to luxury boat imports.

He had a wide-ranging interest including politics and economics, and would vigorously debate any subject. Because of his Jewish heritage his views were strongly influenced from his experiences in Germany prior to WW11. Once asked about his experiences and how he felt about those days. His answer was that one should never underestimate the power of any demagogue to stir up nationalistic, xenophobic or racist attitudes. He said that whether it was the Germany under Hitler or Cambodia under Pol Pot there would always be danger for people if the wrong people were in charge. He really disliked nationalistic or jingoistic attitudes in politics whether it was local and overseas.

Jack had a natural ear for music and played a number of musical instruments. He was a Patron of Opera Australia and a lover of the Arts.

Along with his family Jack maintained his passion for holiday travel and relished visiting friends, former colleagues and family around the world on a regular basis. It was a trip that included skiing, tennis, hiking, diving and water skiing across six countries that Jack passed away.  Jack Hannes, aged 81, died suddenly while on holiday with his family in Zurich. Jack suffered a heart attack during dinner at a restaurant on 31st January 2005.  His wife Margaret and his sons Stephen and David were with him at the time.

Jack is survived by his wife Margaret and his children: Stephen, David, Martin, Vicki, Tony and four grandchildren.

 —Paul Curtis, executive director, Photo Imaging Council, Feb 2 2005