Swiss Stories in Thailand : The Jucker Family in Thailand

The ‘Berli Jucker PCL.’ or popularly known as ‘Berli Jucker’ has engaged in many businesses in today’s Thai industrial sector. Apart from the Company’s interesting business profile, it also has interesting history of almost 140 years. Since its establishment in 1882 by two Swiss merchants, Mr. Albert Jucker and Mr. Henri Sigg, the company has expanded enormously, from an ordinary trading firm ‘Jucker & Sigg & Co.’ to one of the finest public companies limited in Thailand nowadays.

This article will bring the reader back to the success story of the business establishment of Mr. Albert Jucker, co-founder of ‘Berli Jucker’ as well as his family and their settlement in Thailand (or Siam at that time). The story was written by Mr. Walter Leo Meyer, former Chairman of the Board of Directors of Berli Jucker Co.,Ltd. during 1957-1992, edited and abbreviated by Dr. Niti Meyer, son of Mr. Walter Leo Meyer and Chairman of Novatech Co., Ltd., upon the request of Ms. Ella Jucker, granddaughter of Mr. Albert Jucker, who is now residing in Bangkok, Thailand.


Where it all started …

It all started in Winterthur, Switzerland, where on the 26th August 1844, Albert Jucker was born. He was the only son of an old established Swiss middle-class family of Winterthur. After attending primary and high school, he had the urge to leave the narrow confines of his town in order to learn international trade and see the world. As a German-speaking Swiss, his first aim was to get fluent in French and so he left for Paris at 19, not knowing that his ultimate destination would be Siam, as Thailand was then known, and that he was never to see his home country again.

When the journey begun …

In Paris, Albert found employment with a French merchant house, Malherbe & Jullien & Co., trading mainly in French Indochina with a branch office in Saigon. When they opened a new branch office in Siam in 1866, in the reign of His Majesty King Mongkut, Albert was sent there at the age of 22 to work as an Assistant, becoming Manager of the firm in 1872. He was able to persuade his cousin Henry Sigg, also from Winterthur, to follow him to Siam. Henry arrived in Bangkok in 1873 to join the firm as an Assistant.

The new beginning in Thailand …

It was in 1882, when Bangkok celebrated its Centennial in the reign of His Majesty King Chulalongkorn, that Albert Jucker set up his own firm together with Henry Sigg. They bought the Thai operations of Malherbe & Jullien & Co.   

As Jucker & Sigg & Co., they continued the activities as general merchants, ship chandlers, exporters of teak, rice millers (they owned one of Bangkok’s largest rice mills, the Samsen Steam and Rice Mill), rice exporters, as well as insurance and banking agents.

Albert Jucker possessed drive and enthusiasm. At the age of 38, he was already the principal owner and manager of a prosperous Swiss firm and was well known both in the business community and at the Royal Court. He was decorated by His Majesty King Chulalongkorn and by King Umberto I of Italy who conferred on him the title of Cavaliere and made him Honorary Consul of Italy in Siam.

Life in Bangkok at that time had its hazards. Cholera and typhoid epidemics were frequent, and many young Westerners did not survive these hardships. Albert Jucker was among the unfortunate ones. He died of Cholera on the 3rd December 1885, at the age of 41, leaving behind a widow with five children, the youngest of whom was only five months old.

Paula Jucker, Albert’s widow, a Thai lady of Portuguese descent, was a courageous woman. When her husband died, she thought only of the future of her five children. She decided that they should be brought up in their father’s country, Switzerland, and in 1886 she booked passage on a ship to Genoa for the whole family, settling down in Winterthur, in a country with a language and culture that was strange to her. Through her single-minded dedication, all her children had a fine education in Switzerland.

In Bangkok, Paula was well known in the Royal Court circles as “Mae Phan” (Mae = Madame, Phan = the most similar Thai pronunciation of the name ‘Paula’ at that time) and often visited the Royal Palace to sell jewelry. In His Majesty King Chulalongkorn’s book “Travel Tales”, he also described how he met “Mae Phan” again in Zurich during the visit to Europe in 1907.

The next generation …

When all the children were grown up, Paula returned to Bangkok for good, spending the rest of her life in her beautiful residence on Surawongse Road, where she passed away in 1934 at the age of 84.

One of Albert’s and Paula’s sons, Albert Jr., returned to Siam in 1901, joined  the firm in Bangkok as a partner and later became Manager of the firm’s branch office in Nakhon Sri Thammarat where he died in 1936 (During this period, Albert Berli, who married with Albert Jucker’s first daughter, joined the company as partner. The company changed the name to ‘Berli Jucker & Co.’ in 1924.). He was famous as an excellent tennis player and won many tennis tournaments both in Switzerland and Siam, as well as a big-game hunter in the jungles of South Thailand. For many years, he even kept his own private zoo in Nakhon Sri Thammarat.

It was the third son, Edward Jucker, who contributed most to the firm’s growth. Graduating from the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School of Zurich (or, nowadays, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich – ETH Zurich) with a Master’s Degree in engineering in 1908, he practiced as a mechanical engineer in Switzerland and Germany. He returned to Siam in 1912 and tried to develop the firm’s engineering business. Not finding sufficient scope in this field of activity at that time, he joined his brother Albert in Nakhon Sri Thammarat where he looked after the firm’s tin and wolfram mining business until his return to Bangkok in 1943.

After World War II, Edward Jucker presided over the firm, first as Managing Partner, and when Berli Jucker went public in 1965, as its first Chairman. He retired in 1968 and died in Bangkok in 1976 at the age of 94, was survived by an only daughter, Ella Jucker, who still resides in Bangkok.

Interesting fact …

It is interesting to note that when the famous English novelist Joseph Conrad came to Bangkok in 1888 to take command of the barque “Otago”, he had her outfitted at Jucker & Sigg & Co. He described his meeting with Henry Sigg in Chapter 19 of his famous novel “Lord Jim”, but in the novel he called Henry Sigg “Siegmund Yucker” of “Yucker Brothers”.    


Edited and abbreviated by Dr. Niti Meyer

Dr. Niti Meyer is currently Chairman of Novatech Co., Ltd and board member of the Swiss – Thai Chamber of Commerce or STCC in Bangkok. He is the son of Mr. Walter Leo Meyer, who was the former Chairman of the Board of Directors of Berli Jucker Co.,Ltd. during 1957-1992.

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