Swiss create chemical solution despite wars, cartels and spillages

There is more than a touch of deja vu about the proposed marriage between Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy. The companies have long and similar histories and worked extremely closely together for the first half of this century, writes John Shepherd.

Ciba-Geigy started life in 1758 when Johann Geigy started selling spices and natural dyes. The Ciba part of the business was not really formed until almost a century later when Alexander Clavel started to take advantage of the development of synthetic dyes.

By 1900, Ciba, an acronym for Gesellschaft fur Chemische Industrie im Basle, had become Switzerland's leading chemical company and benefited greatly for a few years from the collapse of the huge German chemical cartel during the First World War. However, the German cartel was reassembled as IG Farben soon after the war and the Swiss had little option but to form their own cartel called Basel AG, comprising Ciba, Geigy, and Sandoz.

The Swiss companies, which shared profits, technology and markets, quickly started to do much better than the German cartel and diversified into pharmaceuticals and other chemicals.

In 1929, the German and Swiss cartels merged and a couple of years later the French and British equivalents were brought into the fold. The so- called Quadrapartite Cartel lasted until the outbreak of the Second World War, leaving only the cosy Swiss grouping intact.

The Swiss also made a big breakthrough during the first year of the Second World War when Paul Muller, a scientist at Geigy, invented DDT - a compound which won him a Nobel prize.

The cartel lasted until 1951 when the three Swiss companies decided that they no longer needed the protective cartel umbrella and went their separate ways.

Ciba and Geigy continued to diversify. During the 1950s Geigy expanded rapidly, finding new markets in agricultural chemicals. By the late 1960s its sales were greater than Ciba's.

Fresh and intense competition from foreign companies such as Imperial Chemical Industries brought Ciba and Geigy back together again. Ciba and Geigy merged in 1970 and expanded rapidly through acquisitions in the US, including Airwick Industries and Funk Seeds.

The acquisitive policy continued in the 1980s, and Ciba-Geigy also began forming joint ventures. One of the most notable was the link-up in 1986 with Chiron to produce and market genetically engineered vaccines. It bought Maag AG, the agrochemicals business, from Hoffmann-La Roche in 1990. Following the break-up of the Swiss cartel, Sandoz was busily diversifying. It moved into the seeds business, buying Minneapolis-based Northrup, King & Company and the Dutch-based Zaadunie.

During the 1980s it bought Wasa, a Swedish crispbread company, and the Master Builders construction chemicals business from Martin Marietta.

All the success, however, was marred in the company's centenary year in 1986 when a warehouse fire spilled tons of chemicals into the Rhine, killing fish and contaminating water as far away as the North Sea.

The 1990s has again been a period of diversification, involving buying investments in two American biotechnology companies - Genetic Therapy and SyStemix.

Today, some 45 per cent of sales come from pharmaceuticals, 18 per cent from nutrition products, 14 per cent from chemicals and the rest from agroproducts, seeds, and construction and environmental chemicals.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee