The world of grain trading is a closed world, with a handful of families at its heart. For decades, 4 companies dominated the world stage, collectively known as the ABCDs. A for André, B for Bunge, C for Cargill and D for Dreyfus.
The story of trading house André & Cie is one of true entrepreneurial spirit, one of successes and failures.
The story starts in 1877. Aged 21, Georges R. André set up a wholesale store in Nyon from which he would sell flours, dried vegetables and pasta under the name of his father, H. André & Fils. He also imported dried pasta from Italy, first for the local market and then for the whole of Switzerland. In 1905 his son Henri joined him, after gaining some initial experience in banking in Italy and in England. By the time the First World War broke out the business was already well established.
Henri transfered the business from Nyon to Lausanne and convinced his brother-in-law Alfred Demaurex to leave behind his profession as a notary to join him, while developing activities in Genoa and risking himself in Argentina, at the time a very important grain exporter. Success was forthcoming and André & Cie contributed to supplying Switzerland with foodstuffs during the Second World War.
The family, very discreet, benefited from Swiss neutrality. In the 1970s, 300 staff members worked from the corporate office, chemin Messidor in Lausanne. The company was then spread all over the world and distinguished itself by its flexibility, as grain exporting countries can very rapidly turn into grain importers as was the case with Russia and Argentina once markets were opened.
In 1978, André & Cie entered a grain supply agreement with Saudi Arabia and during this period negotiated with a number of fragile states such as Iran, Yemen or North Korea.
The trading house’s success was largely built on its Argentinian operations, but a wave of defaults in Argentina at the end of the 1990s indirectly weakened the company, as did failed investments in two Russian companies.
In 2000, the company shed 225 staff from its workforce, of which 60 in Switzerland, but this proved insufficient, despite financial support from the Swiss Federal authorities. On 20 January 2001, André&Cie announced a major restructuring of the group, the beginning of the end for the company which was then liquidated.
All that is left of André&Cie are some shipping activities, under different business names.
As for the A for André, it has now been replaced by traders with the A of ADM, or Archer Daniel Midlands. Just as discreet as André, the American trading firm based in Rolle now employs over 180 staff.
Don't miss any opportunity to learn about the fascinating world of commodity trading in Switzerland.