T H E I N T E R-WA R Y E A R S
The aura surrounding SGBP owed a lot to its Managing Director, Wacław Fajans, whose banking skills were acknowledged by his peers. He was President of the Polish Bankers Association from 1932 to 1939 and the government called on his expertise during the International Economic Conferences in Geneva (1927) and London (1933). He also taught at the Warsaw School of Economics.
Investments in Polish industry by the Société Générale de Belgique
Investments made by the Société Générale de Belgique group in Poland may be catego- rised by business sector or investment period, or we can categorise the activities of the Belgian BNP Paribas forerunner according to the companies with which it collaborated in order to invest in various fields. This approach is a factor common to all the various businesses the bank helped to develop in Poland in the inter-war years. Companies were built up with the help of other Belgian or French corporations.
Behind Belgium itself and the Congo, which were the Belgian bank s primary stamping ground , Poland was the third biggest beneficiary of the capital that Société Générale de Belgique channelled into industrial expansion in the 1920s. Belgian firms started making investments in Poland mainly from 1922 onwards. By that time Poland s internal and external political situation had stabilised. A Belgo-Polish trade treaty ratified that year stipulated that the two countries would accord each other most favoured nation trading conditions. A supplementary convention, relating to the restitution of Belgian assets and interests which had been commandeered by the Central Powers during the war, stipu- lating that title to such property would remain valid over time even if the assets were not immediately handed over, succeeded in reassuring potential investors.
Consequently, Belgian interests invested in around forty companies to a total amount of around three billion Belgian francs. Belgian capital channelled into Poland was generally invested in heavy industry, including electricity, coalmines, chemicals, metal-works and glass-works.
The power generation sector was where Belgian companies were most active in Poland in the inter-war years, in line with Polish government policy. Widespread electrification of the country was seen as an urgent priority and the government wanted to invest some 150 million zlotys annually in this infrastructure, a sum which was well beyond national capabilities. Belgian firms proved keen to plug this gap: in 1939, 17 of the 40 companies in Poland founded with Belgian capital were power companies.
Among the companies linked to the Société Générale de Belgique group, pride of place must go to businesses run by the electricity sector holding companies Electrobel and Traction et Électricité. From 1925 onwards, Traction et Électricité, a subsidiary of the Société Générale de Bel- gique group, operated an electricity concession in Łódź. This city, the second largest in