The company was formed in Australia in 1949 by Englishman, Stanley Leighton. In England, Stanley Leighton had been heavily involved in engineering and infrastructure contracting — a key aspect of the CIMIC Group’s success today.

Foundation and Listing

When the movie industry boomed in the 1920s, Stanley Leighton secured the contract to build the famous Odeon cinema chain in England and Scotland and began building housing estates and offices around the country. During World War II, the Admiralty appointed Leighton as its major contractor, signing for airfields, mobilisation centres and defence works.

A decline in the construction industry following the end of the war led to Stanley Leighton looking for new markets in which to use his skills. Africa was initially targeted, but it was to Australia that the first batch of Leighton “immigrants” were eventually dispatched on the steamer SS Chitral on Good Friday, 1949. Leighton Pty Ltd, the Australian company, was born.

From 1949 to 1962, the then Melbourne-based Leighton was focused on establishing itself and building a reputation. It achieved this very quickly, thanks in large part to its involvement on major housing commission projects in and around Sydney, as well as becoming one of the first private firms to work on state government projects in Victoria.

By 1962, Leighton Contractors had been formed and floated as a public company and was listed on the Melbourne Stock Exchange. Going public opened doors for Leighton and gave it increased credibility with government authorities.

Separately, Thiess was started in 1934 by 5 brothers on the Darling Downs in Queensland. Thiess developed a very successful business as a mining and engineering contractor and listed on the ASX in 1951.

John Holland was started in 1949 by Sir John Holland, a lieutenant-colonel in World War II.


The late 1960s and early 70s were a period of growth for Leighton. It was a time for diversification, both in an operational and geographical sense. The company strengthened its Australian presence with new offices in Sydney and Brisbane, and in 1971 Leighton Contractors changed its name to Leighton Holdings and was listed on the Sydney and Perth Stock Exchanges as well as Melbourne. Sydney-based Leighton Contractors became the main operating subsidiary.

A strategic move into Asia in the early 70s culminated in the formation of Leighton Asia in 1975. Very quickly, the new company made its presence felt working on projects such as the Tuen Mun reclamation contract. Meanwhile, at home, Leighton was also enhancing its reputation working on such high profile projects as the Ross River Dam, the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Coonabarabran and the Botany Bay Container Terminal.

It wasn’t all good news, however. A sharp downturn in the national economy as well as a high inflation rate slowed Leighton’s growth in Australia during the mid-70s. Profits fell by as much as 59 percent at one point, the share price tumbled and adverse weather wreaked havoc with many of the company’s major projects. Thankfully, the expansion into Asia and strong performance in Queensland and Western Australia, together with a deeply committed and determined senior management team, helped offset the losses and by the end of the decade the Group began to recover.

In 1979, Sedgman Limited was established. 


During the 1980s the Group expanded its portfolio of work and affirmed its standing as one of the leading companies in its field. In 1983 HOCHTIEF became the Group’s major shareholder, bringing Thiess into the Leighton Group. A host of projects marked this decade. Amongst them were the resort project at Discovery Bay in Hong Kong, construction of the LNG North West Shelf site for Woodside, the redevelopment of Sydney’s Darling Harbour, construction at Brisbane’s International Airport and the construction of the ABC Centre at Ultimo in Sydney.

Despite the new additions to the Group’s operating structure and the high level of work being undertaken, financial returns slumped in the latter half of the decade. As well as acquiring Thiess, the Group had taken on board Green Holdings in the US and Ipco Marine in Asia and had also expanded Leighton Properties. The timing coincided with a sharp decline in engineering work available, and despite record turnovers, profit dropped in 1984 and in 1985. Financial problems with Thiess, Green and the Burdekin Dam project in Queensland produced a loss of $12 million in 1986. The losses were short-lived however. By August of 1987 the Group had returned to profitability, thanks to strong construction activity in Australia and a strategic plan to get rid of under performing assets.

In 1980, Thiess was taken over by the Australian company CSR and then the construction arm was later sold to a consortium including HOCHTIEF, Westfield and Sir Leslie Thiess' family company.

90s and 2000s

Growth and expansion continued throughout the 1990s and the decade included the end of the Group’s involvement in the US with the sale of Green Holdings in 1993. The list of successful projects was added to, new skills were acquired and new industries were targeted. An early focus on telecommunications demonstrated the Group’s drive and vision for growth and diversification. Strategic acquisitions enabled the Group to maintain its momentum.

The 1996 purchase of Visionstream enabled the Group to become a major player in Australia’s telecommunications market. Likewise, the February 2000 purchase of 70 per cent of John Holland added to the Group’s core strength and allowed it to tap into new markets and regions.

In 2002, the Thiess Sedgman Joint Venture was formed.

In 2003, John Holland added to its contracting capability by acquiring selected contracts and resources of Transfield Construction and the transfer of its employees. In 2004, the Group increased its stake in John Holland to 99% (and in October 2007 went to 100% ownership).

In 2004, offices were opened in India and the Middle East. The Group took a major step in 2007 with the acquisition of a 45% stake in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar-based Al Habtoor Engineering, one of the largest contractors in the Middle East. This was renamed HLG in 2007 and has since expanded to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain.

The Group continued to diversify and in February 2006 acquired the Australian and New Zealand contract mining assets of Henry Walker Eltin Group Limited (HWE). The HWE Mining business further strengthened Leighton Contractors position in the contract mining market.

Leighton Holdings started investing in Sedgman Limited in 2006, the same year that the company was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

In 2007, Leighton Asia opened its first office in Mongolia and by 2011 the Group had ventured into Southern Africa.

2014 to Now

In 2014, Leighton Holdings’ major shareholder, HOCHTIEF AG, announced and closed its partial offer to acquire three out of eight shares in Leighton for $22.50 per share. HOCHTIEF’s shareholding in Leighton increased to 69.62% as a result of the offer.

Also in 2014, Leighton announced a Strategic Review of its operations, aimed at strengthening the balance sheet, streamlining the operating model and improving project delivery. Leighton streamlined its operating model by establishing dedicated businesses focused on contract mining, construction, public private partnerships and engineering.

In December 2014, Leighton announced the sale of John Holland to CCCC International Holding Limited for an enterprise valuation of approximately A$1.15 billion and announced the establishment a 50:50 investment partnership with funds managed by affiliates of Apollo Global Management (NYSE:APO) for the merged services business from Leighton Contractors and Thiess.

In March 2015, Leighton articulated the principles which underpin its operations. These Principles provide a shared language and identity which guide our actions. The principles are Integrity, Accountability, Innovation and Delivery. Each of these principles is underpinned by a continual focus on Safety which is fundamental to our operations.

In April 2015, Leighton Holdings Limited (ASX:LEI) changed its name to CIMIC Group Limited (ASX:CIM). CIMIC stands for Construction, Infrastructure, Mining and Concessions which better reflects who we are and what we do.

In January 2016, Leighton Contractors changed its name to CPB Contractors. The new name followed the merging in 2015 of the construction businesses of Thiess and Leighton Contractors. The name reflects the company’s heritage and capability in Construction, Civil, Projects and Building, as well as the expertise of our People.

CIMIC's strategy has today positioned the Group in prime locations - Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Southern Africa and South America.

In March 2016, CIMIC Group completed its off-market takeover of Sedgman Limited.

In October 2016, CIMIC Group announced its intention to undertake an off-market takeover of UGL Limited. On 19 December 2016, CIMIC commenced compulsory acquisition of remaining shares in UGL Limited.

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