SIBER HEGNER IN THE 2OTH CENTURY
Claus Nüscheler, CHN SHH
Once she had emerged from her isolation, Japan became stronger economically as a result of an impressive industrialisation programme in the country. With increased self-confidence she expanded her sphere of influence to the mainland of Asia, where she gained control of Formosa (Taiwan) and other territories in the war between Japan and China. 10 years later; after the victory in the war with Russia, Japan was granted Korea and Manchuria as protectorates. All these military conflicts only slightly hampered the expansion of the trading activities of our firm, which as a result of a change in the partners was first called Siber, Wolff & Co. (1900) and then from 1910 Siber, Hegner & Co. The firm traded with numerous western firms in Shanghai, which led to the opening of a branch of the firm in the foreign concession of that city in 1921, a development which was delayed by the First World War; 1914-18. In the thirties further branches were established in Tientsin and Beijing.
In Japan itself our organisation expanded through the opening of branch offices in Osaka in 1906, Kobe in 1907 and Tokyo in 1917.
Since these branches remained unaffected by the First World War and Europe was slowly beginning to recover from the serious wounds suffered in the murderous fouryear conflict, all the conditions were favourable for further growth and a successful expansion of our company.
On 1st September 1923 these hopes were suddenly destroyed by probably the worst earthquake in modern Japanese history. For more than three hours huge shocks shattered the areas of Yokohama and Tokyo. All the firm's offices and warehouses collapsed, as did all the other buildings in the entire area, and afterwards a fire storm destroyed what had survived the earthquake. 145000 inhabitants lost their lives in the disaster, and our firm mourned the death of 48 Japanese employees. Not only were the firm's books and stock destroyed but numerous customers and debtors had literally disappeared from the face of the earth.
In addition, at that time the firm consisted of several partners and it lacked the strong leadership which would have provided the firm hand necessary to guide the off-course ship into a safe harbour. Thus the firm suffered further losses and in 1930 it faced financial collapse.
lt was thanks to the father of the present PGM, Robert S. Hegner, that new life was injected into the seriously crippled company. By finding new financial backers, the unselfish support of the Credit Suisse and the transformation of the firm from a partnership to a limited company a sound foundation was created again.
The Second World War, 1939-45, which forced most branches to cease trading, did not cause the company any lasting damage. In 1947 a new office was opened in Hong Kong. The Paris and Lyon offices, which had been established before the war, developed profitably and led to branches being opened in Dakar; Abijan and Bamako on the west coast of Africa. However, when this French colony became independent, this sole attempt by the company in trade with and in Africa ceased at the beginning of the sixties.
The New York firm, which was founded before Second World War particularly for the silk trade, was also never really successful until it was liquidated over 10 years ago.
By contrast business with Japan developed all the better. Thanks to the great efforts made to rebuild the country after the war, we were able to do very good business selling Swiss machines and Omega watches, an agency wich we have run since the beginning of the century. Diversification into chemical and pharmaceutical products and plans for the further organisational expansion of the group led to the founding of Siber Hegner Holding and to making the former branches in East Asia independent by turning them into limited companies.