Sidney Myer was one of Australia’s most visionary business figures and entrepreneurs, as well as one of the most generous individuals of his time.
Sidney Myer was born Simcha Baevski, the last of eleven children. Sidney Myer arrived in Melbourne in 1899 as a penniless 21 year old, having fled poverty and Jewish pogroms in Belarus which was then part of the Russian Empire. After establishing himself as a hawker in the goldfield regions of Victoria, Myer and his brother Elcon opened a small drapery store in Bendigo. As their clientele grew, the brothers took over a large store in Bendigo to continue the expansion of this business. The success of this store, Myer, saw the opening of other stores in Melbourne and Adelaide, and is today one of the most successful department stores in Australia.
Sidney Myer was known for his ethical approach to employment, and during times of financial strain in Australia, instead of reducing numbers of employees, he lowered wages and increased the numbers of employees to offer as many people as possible the security of employment. He also encouraged other businessmen to look after their staff during these difficult times.
Sidney Myer established a happy family life in Australia with his romantic courtship and marriage to Merlyn Baillieu. Together, they had four children and their extended family continues to grow to this day.
Sidney Myer’s unexpected and tragic death in 1934 saw the city of Melbourne in deep mourning at the loss of its most respected and loved businessmen. In his lifetime, Sidney Myer made numerous public gifts and the full extent of his additional, private giving cannot be known.
In his Will, Sidney Myer left a portion of his estate for the benefit of the community in which he made his fortune to create the Sidney Myer Fund.
The Myer Foundation was established in 1959 and was initially endowed by Sidney Myer’s sons, Baillieu Myer AC and the late Kenneth Myer AC DSC. The late Neilma Gantner and Lady Southey, sisters of Baillieu Myer and Kenneth Myer, were founding members of The Foundation. The Myer Foundation was further endowed upon the death of Kenneth Myer in 1992, when he left the bulk of his estate to the Foundation in his Will.
The Myer Foundation was created to make grants into sectors and regions not covered by Sidney Myer’s Will, such as international projects, science and technology, and the environment.
The 2009 Commemorative Grants Program marked the 75th anniversary of the Sidney Myer Fund and the 50th anniversary of The Myer Foundation. Through the program grants totaling approximately $25 million were made to twelve major initiatives, outside of the regular granting programs. A copy of the 2009 Commemorative Grants Program booklet is available in the Resources section of this website.