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History Lesson: Heinrich Wachter - Travel Engineer and Politician

Heinrich Wachter put himself at the service of the Swiss economy shortly after the out-break of the Second World War. He held the presidency of the Association of Swiss Transport and World Trade Companies and joined the leading bodies of the Central Office for Trade Promotion and the Swiss Trade and Industry Association. In 1950, the University of St.Gallen awarded him an honorary doctorate.
Source: HSG Newsroom

Karl Heinrich Wachter was born in Stäfa (ZH) on March 28, 1886, the son of a farmer. In-stead of later taking over his father's farm, he opted for a technical education: he attended the school for metalworkers at the Technikum Winterthur and completed a two-year apprenticeship at the Zellweger machine factory in Uster. He completed his training with a certificate of proficiency in electrical engineering. He then went to France and England to deepen his knowledge in larger companies in the electrical industry and to learn foreign languages. 

Electrical engineer, travel engineer and politician

After his return to Switzerland, he joined Brown, Boveri & Cie. AG. He first worked there as an electrical engineer and was later employed as a travel engineer. As such, he had to put electrical machines manufactured by the parent company into operation abroad and hand them over to foreign customers. At a time when the electrical industry was experiencing its first major development in the industrialized countries. His travels also took him to Eastern Europe and Russia. 

Since the world war years 1914-1918 paralyzed the Swiss export to a large extent, Heinrich Wachter took over the position as director of the electricity works of the canton Schaffhausen in 1918, at the age of 32. For several years he was also active in the politics of the canton of Schaffhausen as a member of the Great City Council and as a cantonal councilor.

Career at Gebrüder Volkart AG

In 1925 Heinrich Wachter's rise to worldwide responsibilities in the Swiss economy began: the trading company Gebrüder Volkart AG in Winterthur appointed him head of the machinery export department to the Far East (India, China and Japan). Equipped with extensive technical knowledge, he worked his way into a task that was mainly of a commercial nature and for which he actually lacked the technical background. With commitment, however, he succeeded in expanding the export of machinery to East Asia, especially India. In time, he also took over the management of the entire import department of Gebrüder Volkart, which, among other things, also dealt with the supply of Swiss chemicals and medicines. In 1939, thanks to his success in opening and winning East Asian markets, he became a member of the top management of Gebrüder Volkart.

Involvement in the reconstruction of foreign trade

The world war years 1939-1945 again brought world trade to a standstill. Heinrich Wachter put himself at the service of the Swiss economy shortly after the outbreak of the war. He held the presidency of the Association of Swiss Transport and World Trade Companies and joined the leading bodies of the Central Office for Trade Promotion and the Swiss Trade and Indus-try Association. He also acted as an advisor to federal offices charged with solving difficult import and export problems. After the war, he devoted himself with great commitment to the reconstruction of Swiss foreign trade at the company Gebrüder Volkart.

First research institute of the business school

Heinrich Wachter came into contact with the University of St.Gallen during the Second World War. This contact was to become ever closer over the following three decades. A se-ries of lectures published by him, including "Switzerland in World Trade", "Swiss Transport and World Trade", "Changes in the Technology of Overseas Trade" and "The Sales Manager as Boss", brought him to the attention of the business school. In 1943, Wachter accepted an invitation to be a speaker at an economics course organized by the university. In the same year, under the presidency of Prof. Walther Hug, the business school succeeded in opening the first research institute, the "Swiss Institute for Foreign Trade and Sales Research" (today "Swiss Institute for Foreign Trade and Applied Economic Research"), with the help of a sponsoring company.

Initially, the institute, which opened on June 5, 1943, was under the direction of President Prof. Walther Hug and Prof. Emil Gsell. Heinrich Wachter joined the board of the support committee and remained a member until his death. In 1952 he was elected to its working committee, where he also served for 15 years.

Honorary doctorate from the university (1950)

At the Dies academicus on May 13, 1950, Heinrich Wachter was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of St. Gallen "in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the field of world trade and in recognition of his contribution to scientific knowledge and the development of forms of trade”. At the request of the Business Administration Department, the Senate of the University decided to confer this honor on him as a non-academic.

Active in top positions in the economy

In 1950, Heinrich Wachter retired from the management of the company Gebrüder Volkart at the age of 64. For 25 years he played a major role in the success story of the company. However, he remained active in top positions in the Swiss economy. As early as 1942, he was elected to the Board of Directors of Schweizerische Industriegesellschaft Neuhausen (SIG). From 1951 to 1968, he chaired the board. A number of other large and medium-sized compa-nies appointed him to their boards, including Swiss Bank Corporation and Brown, Boveri & Cie. AG. It was not until he was over 80 that he withdrew from all commitments. 

Dr. Heinrich Wachter Foundation (1968)

Wachter remained associated with the University throughout his life. On November 13, 1968, he established the "Dr. Heinrich Wachter Foundation for Scientific Research at the University of St.Gallen for Economics and Social Sciences" and dedicated one million Swiss francs as foundation assets. Its purpose was "the financial promotion and support of research into the economic and legal problems of international economic transactions, Switzerland's extra-economic relations in economic and legal terms, and Switzerland's position in the European and world economy through research institutes at the University of St.Gallen or to researchers working at the University." Dr. h.c. Heinrich Wachter remained a member of the five-member Foundation Board at the request of the University until his death.

He died on May 30, 1975 in Winterthur (ZH).

History portal of the University of St.Gallen