T H E I N T E R-WA R Y E A R S
Within 15 years, the number of customers connected to the grid had risen from 18,400 to 86,211 and power consumption had increased from 8,200 to 71,600 MWh. This dynamic performance meant that the company was able to pay regular dividends.
In 1929 the new Electrobel also took control of Tramways Suburbains et Vicinaux de Varsovie. This was a holding company established under Belgian law in 1910 to run sub- urban trams around Warsaw. It also managed two Polish subsidiaries: real estate com- pany Nowe Djielnice, which had been set up in 1922 and owned a 90-hectare estate on the right bank of the Vistula; and the Warsaw local railway company Société des Chemins de Fer Vicinaux de Varsovie, founded in 1911. In 1938, the local (narrow gauge) rail net- work owned by the company had grown to 200 kilometres of track and passenger num- bers had passed the 6 million mark.
In addition to electricity, Société Générale de Belgique also invested in the glass manu- facturing and zinc smelting industries, inter alia taking a stake in Société des Mines et Usines à Zinc de Silésie. During a trip to Poland in May-June 1928, the BBE Managing Director, Henry Dewez, met WBV s Oskar Pollak and the SGBP Managing Director Wacław Fajans. The three men came to the rather disappointing conclusion that with the exception of state-owned enterprises and smaller businesses in private hands, Polish companies were having difficulty finding sources of finance to keep them running, let alone pursue growth. However, in most cases, their capital needs did not warrant tapping foreign markets on an individual basis. Hence the three men came up with the idea of creating a suitable intermediary instru- ment under the aegis of SGBP.
The idea was taken forward very quickly. By July that year Henry Dewez had obtained support for the plan to set up a financing entity, to be called Union Financière Polonaise (Unifipo), from Chase National Bank and Union Européenne Industrielle et Financière18. On 6 September he convened a meeting in Paris of representatives of companies that were interested in the venture. These included in addition to SGBP, BBE and WBV Chase, Union Européenne Industrielle et Financière, Solvay Mutuelle and Boden Kreditanstalt (partners of the Solvay Group in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire), Baseler Handels- bank and Malopolski Bank. They drew up the outlines of how the new company would be structured and stock allocated, and former Belgian Prime Minister Georges Theunis19 was unanimously chosen as Chairman of the Board. Fajans suggesting appointing Antoni Wieniawski20 to the Unifipo Board to represent Polish interests.
18. A company set up in 1920 by the Schneider Group and Banque de l Union parisienne.
19. Theunis, Prime Minister of Belgium 1921 - 1925, had a high international reputation. He represented Belgium at the Paris Peace Conference and on the Reparations Commission, and chaired the International Economic Conference in Geneva (1926-1927).
20. Wieniawski was a large real estate owner. He had been Under-Secretary of State at the Polish Ministry of Finance, then Vice-President of Bank Handlowy w Warszawie (Commercial Bank of Warsaw). He was also an industrialist, with investments in Société Varsovienne de Construction de Locomotives (rolling stock), Hauts-Fourneaux d Ostrowiec (metals) and Société Varsovienne d Assurances (insurance). He was an economic adviser to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was for a lengthy period Poland s representative on the Economic Advisory Committee of the League of Nations chaired by none other than Georges Theunis.