140 Years of Siegfried: the View from Zofingen

The foundation of Siegfried’s corporate history was laid 1873 by the pharmacist Samuel Benoni Siegfried. The company grew into a global organization within a period of about 140 years, providing innovative employment opportunities to over 850 employees worldwide.


As a look at the past 140 years of our history shows, Siegfried has faced many ups and downs in the past.  Remarkably, our drive and flexibility when faced with dynamic market situations remains constant. We invest in the future.

In 1873, Benoni Siegfried, owner of the “Pfauen” Pharmacy in Zofingen, Switzerland, founded the Siegfried & Duerselen factory for chemical-pharmaceutical preparations, together with his brother-in-law, Johannes Duerselen.  Twelve people were employed at the first factory (700m² / 7,800 sq. feet) across the street from the Zofingen train station. The products included galenicals, inorganic salts, botanical extracts and ‘drug preparation.’

Two years later, the partners split, leaving Benoni Siegfried as sole owner; he also maintains the pharmacy until 1880. Over the next 15 years, the factory slowly but steadily grows; Siegfried is now recognized for its raw and active ingredients used in drug production.

2nd generation takes over

In 1904, Benoni Siegfried incorporates the company, a prosperous business with 110 employees. When he dies a year later, his sons, Kurt and Albrecht take over the business.

As the First World War breaks out, many of the employees are drafted and the German border is closed. Improvisation and reorganization are the watchwords of the day, yet during the war the situation improves. Demand grows and production is expanded; delivery volumes quadruple.  Siegfried increases its equity capital and lays the groundwork for a pension fund.

The postwar years are a period of crisis and volatile price cycles; production drops to pre-war levels and employees are let go. The first signs of a recovery emerge by 1923 and sales recover again, until the world is hit with the Great Depression.

Staying flexible

Once again, imaginative and flexible responses to new demands and market situations are indispensable for success in a dynamic industry. Siegfried founds its first subsidiary – Gane’s Chemical Works – in Carlstadt (New Jersey), U.S.A. already in 1927, gaining entry to the key American market. Not only a successful market strategy, but also scientific and technical know-how is needed to weather the economic crisis of the 1930s with little ill-effect. The product offer is expanded in 1934 with agricultural products and further pharmaceutical specialties are added continually. Medical products from Siegfried enjoy a solid reputation among doctors, especially in Switzerland. However, toward the end of the 1930s, the export markets become increasingly challenging.

By now, the third generation of the Siegfried family is in charge of the company: Dr. Hans Siegfried, Dr. Bert Siegfried and Dr. Charles E. Barrelet, the son-in-law of Albrecht Siegfried.

2nd world war, then recovery

With the outbreak of World War II, 40% of the staff is drafted, leaving only the elder generation intact.  The war years see increasing demand for chemicals and pharmaceuticals, but also a lack of personnel and a growing scarcity of raw materials. Once again, imagination, improvisation and patience are needed to keep production going.

After the war, the company drives to revive exports. Subsidiaries in Germany and Austria are established in the 1950s and the domestic OTC business in Switzerland is also expanded. The herbicide/pesticide division grows and massive investments are made in production lines and a new administrative building in Zofingen.

New opportunities emerge during the economic boom of the 1960s despite the chronic shortage of skilled personnel. Inflation heats up and export prices collapse; while sales grow, profitability declines. But Zofingen remains a key asset. From 1963 - 1975, sales increase by 75%; most of the production is exported.  The company’s equity capital is increased and Siegfried is now a publicly listed company.

100-years old – be nimble!

Siegfried celebrates its 100th anniversary in 1973 as an independent chemical and pharmaceutical company with:

  • 750 employees around the world
  • Pharmaceutical specialties
  • Chemical-pharmaceutical active ingredients
  • Interim products
  • Medicinal plant extracts and tinctures
  • Galenical preparations
  • Pesticides and herbicides

Volatile price and currency fluctuations characterize the following five years, as a raw materials shortage unleashes a broad wave of inflation. The recession gains momentum as the oil crisis hits and the US dollar drops. The resulting rise of the Swiss franc affects foreign sales, but Siegfried continues to expand.

Adjusting to demanding times

In 1974, Dr. Bernard A. Siegfried takes over management of the company from his father.  Further subsidiaries are created, but the recession leaves the Zofingen site with a marked decline in sales and profitability. By 1977, stability returns to the currency markets, the internal measures (reduced general costs, improved production planning, pharmaceutical R&D and sales are reorganized) start to have a positive effect and business recovers.

Dr. Hans Siegfried and Dr. Bert Siegfried retire from the Board of Directors in the early 1980s. For the first time, non-family members are a majority on the Board; John F. Strasser becomes Chairman and a new generation takes over. The company undergoes a further round of cost-saving measures and reorganizational initiatives. Profitability improves, leading very quickly to investments in safety and environmental projects. Siegfried takes the jump into the Asian market in 1989 with the founding of Siegfried Chemicals Inc. in Taipei, Taiwan.

More changes in the 90s

The 1990s start ominously for Siegfried in a number of areas:

  • US dollar remains weak
  • Key German pharma market maintains highly restrictive price controls
  • High investment and expansion costs have negative effect
  • Withdrawal of Beclipur® (lipid-lowering drug) product is costly

Ultimately, these events lead to a leadership crisis that becomes public at the annual General Meeting of Shareholders in 1991. A new Board of Directors is voted in with Dr. Thomas Staehelin as Chairman.  Over the following years, the Siegfried Group undergoes a profound reorganization and becomes a holding company positioned as a supplier to the pharmaceutical industry.

Siegfried sheds subsidiaries in Germany, France and Mexico and the retail business with Swiss pharmacies is shuttered; outsourcing is now the company’s main focus.

By 1997, the fundamental restructuring of the company is complete – a year before the 125th anniversary. A new, solid foundation is laid and Dr. Bernard A. Siegfried, already CEO, also becomes Chairman of the Board of Directors.

In 1998, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submits a ‘warning letter’ to the Pennsville facility with numerous requirements. Enormous efforts are made to fulfill all requirements by 2001 and restore the compliance process in New Jersey.  A new compliance concept is introduced across the whole company and Siegfried becomes a leading performer in this area – a key advantage in the global pharmaceutical market.

Sharpening our focus

At the start of the new millennium, further measures to focus the company are implemented; the agricultural products and retail business in Germany and Switzerland are sold off, a Taiwanese investor acquires a majority stake in our Taiwan facility, the Carlstadt (NJ) office is closed and all US activities are centralized in Pennsville. The company is split up into two divisions, each with a CEO: Siegfried, the chemical-pharmaceutical division under Douglas Günthardt, and Sidroga, the natural products division under Peter Degen.

In 2002, Siegfried sales climb to a new record: CHF 399 million.  At the annual General Meeting 2003, Dr. Bernard A. Siegfried cedes the office of Chairman of the Board of Directors and is elected Honorary Chairman. Dr. Markus Altwegg is elected as the new Chairman.

The ensuing years are difficult ones for the outsourcing industry.  Recently created capacities are underutilized as numerous companies revert back to in-house production. Siegfried also loses important contracts and undergoes a comprehensive reorganization.

The core strategic projects are maintained. Siegfried builds a new facility for finished dosage forms in Hal Far (Malta) and Sidroga is sold to an investment group focused on natural OTC products. The company develops a high quality inhalation device (Pulmojet®) which meets sophisticated requirements, too.

“Transform” strategy – our path forward

At this point, the Board of Directors decides on a new course: a further reorganization is implemented, a management change brings Dr. Rudolf Hanko on as CEO and the corporate strategy is comprehensively reviewed. At the same time, equity capital is increased by a third through an issue of a mandatory convertible bond to ensure implementation of the strategic changes.  The capital increase brings new Swiss investors to the company as Camellia (UK), the previous majority shareholder, sells its holdings.

The new “Transform” strategy strives to add competitive strengths and achieve profitable growth. Siegfried has positioned itself as a supplier to the Life Sciences industry that offers both chemical synthesis and finished medications.  An ambitious corporate claim underlines our direction: “Siegfried – expect more.”

While sales improve for the company, a next change in generation of the Board of Directors takes place at the General Meeting 2011 as Gilbert Achermann succeeds Dr. Markus Altwegg as Chairman. Numerous strategic priorities are implemented:

  • PulmoJet® project is successfully sold to Sanofi-Aventis
  • Alliance Medical Products, Inc. (Irvine, CA, USA) is acquired, giving Siegfried access to the sterile fillings market
  • Construction begins on a new facility in Nantong, China
  • New production line (Bldg. 425) and an administrative building are planned for Zofingen

The figures improve on all levels.

Peter Gehler, Head Corporate Center