Infoscience

Thesis

Du savetier au financier: la famille Borel, de Neuchâtel à San Francisco: le cable car... propriété de banquiers suisses cosmopolites ? : pistes pour le financement privé d'infrastructures urbaines publiques

The Borel Family From Neuchâtel to San Francisco : From shoemaker to banker Did you know that the Cable Car was owned by Swiss citizens? BACKTRACKING : PRIVATE FINANCING OF PUBLIC METROPOLITAN INFRASTRUCTURES Executive Summary: Did you know that one of San Francisco most famous fixtures, the Cable car, was owned by Swiss citizens? Through this detailed study of the Borel family, and its business and investment plans we will observe an example of private financing of public metropolitan infrastructures in the 19th Century and see if it can teach us lessons for tomorrow’s needs? TOPICS Looking at today’s infrastructures, one does not always remember how much work contracting firms had to accomplish in order to produce our contemporary standard of urban comfort . What is to be said of yesterday’s planners or engineers and the credit they deserve? We often hear stories of local events brought to epic proportions, but who are the responsible players who really proved the feasibility of regional infrastructures? Who actually did support, sponsor or finance such achievements? The present study is a trial to propose a new view over such apparently hidden business phenomenons. This research shows us an inspiring case-study of local entrepreneurs who gather key success-factors. The author concentrates on the economic aspect of infrastructure financing to which modern metropolitan society owes its specific urban growth. Contemporary challenges such as job creation, globalisation, technology transfer and local economic development are all interconnected to metropolitan development. XIXTH CENTURY METROPOLITAN INFRASTRUCTURES FINANCING Le Temps, 30th July 1998, D. Masmejan : «Alfred Borel, Auguste’s elder son, enters the finance world. He meets an extraordinary businessman fate. His understanding of the economic impact of the Californian Gold Rush allows him to seize the opportunity of the westward American expansionism. He sails to San Francisco in 1855 where he is the founder of the «Alfred Borel & Company», followed in 1856 by a Mortgage fund (the “Caisse Hypothécaire” bank). The same year sees the foundation of Credit Suisse in Zurich. Alfred Borel investment bank participates in very important infrastructure projects in California and elsewhere in the second half of the XIXth century. At first, its investment into the worldwide famous San Francisco Cable Car is marginal and then becomes overwhelming. Other investments include the “Los Angeles Railway Company” or the “United Railroad Company”, the San Francisco Waterworks, other banks and real estate.» DETAILED RESEARCH ALLOWING TO UNDERSTAND FINANCIAL DECISION MAKING The author reviews financial decision-making through personal correspondence and private accounting in some of those completely documented yearly archives. The «sixth Switzerland» well-connected to the Presbyterian «Huguenot International» cosmopolitan network leads us to detailed research and discoveries. The accounting of 1866 to 1884 goes through the 3rd and 4th San Francisco City real estate crises that the mortgage bankers Borel brothers had to endure. Alfred Borel faced the 2nd Californian real estate crisis (which resulted from the first loss of public interest in gold mines in the years 1854-1858). Then he went back to Switzerland after the death of his father and uncles in order to reconstitute the Swiss end of the pipe connecting his bank’s investors to the Borel family network. He left duty of the day-to-day San Francisco business to his younger brother Antoine after having set up asset management rules. Together both brothers explored new ways of diversifying the investment of the funds they are managing and place them into infrastructures networks. Taking shares «upstream» into equipment industries (for instance the wire works delivering the precise traction rope of cable cars) or other real estate assets, allowed them to guarantee superior interests payments to European investors or creditors in comparison with other financial markets. This anticyclical economic strategy set up their financial success that occurred during the 5th local economic recession, which coincides with the beginning of the big worldwide Victorian economic crisis (1880-1895). UNIQUE SPECIFICITY OF THIS RESEARCH This research process is rarely accomplished in engineering and architecture schools, construction and infrastructures institutes or research centers. The integrity of construction professionals precludes their questioning « where does the whole process originate from?». Builders ultimately considered themselves as «honest craftsmen» that have to dedicate their energy and resources to the proper technical execution of the clients wishes and orders. Customers duty is then to write the project’s specifications and thus to initiate its process. The author of this case-study demonstrates the feasibility of comparisons between similar structural change periods in the XIXth century and the years 1990-2000. Hence, a new theme of interdisciplinary studies for engineers could be implemented by promoting this systemic approach between urban infrastructure financiers, suppliers and users. Last but not least, the insider observations and outsider revelations which are featured in this work are seldom considered in an engineering historical approach. It is not often that an author with a contemporary outsider vision has access to family archives that entirely document bicentennial confidential banker correspondence.

    Thèse École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne EPFL, n° 2085 (1999)
    Faculté de l'environnement naturel, architectural et construit
    Jury: Gilles Barbey, Angelo Caruso di Spaccaforn, Anne-Lise Head, Claude Morel, Léopold Pflug

    Public defense: 2000-3-31

    Reference

    Record created on 2005-03-16, modified on 2016-08-08

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