By KUPLUTHAI PUNGKANON
A FAMILY-OWNED multinational conglomerate founded in 1878 and active in everything from healthcare to real estate, e-commerce, and transport; B Grimm is celebrating 140 years of success with a series of initiatives, among them an exhibition and a book.
The oldest German business in the country, the company uses as its logo the Phra Prang of the Temple of Dawn in a nod to its first location overlooking this splendid landmark of Thailand’s capital.
The exhibition, “In the Kingdom, 140th Anniversary of B Grimm” at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre finishes its run tomorrow, but has drawn thousands of visitors for its collection of all things postal in honour of the close relationship between Thailand and Germany and the close ties of the Link family with their adopted country.
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn graciously presided over the opening ceremony.
Curated by Somsuda Piamsumrit, the show “Postal History of Thai-German relations and 140 years of B Grimm”, presents the postal history from the reign of King Rama V to King Rama IX and includes more than 50 originals from the total 232 postal items in B Grimm’s collections. Collector Grittip Sirirattumrong also loaned his collection to the exhibition in the hope that it would garner interest from the digitally inclined young generation.
Presented in chronological order, this part of the exhibition features the first sea mail missives, evidence of the first airmail correspondence – introduced in Siam in 1922 – and a range of envelopes, seals, stamps, postal stationary, and picture postcards.
The second part, “Contemporary Art Exhibition”, sees the work of 15 contemporary artists presenting issues central to B Grimm’s philosophy of “doing business with compassion”. They include Pinaree Sanpitak, Tawatchai Puntusawasdi, Wantanee Siripattananuntakul, Imhathai Suwatthanasilp and Kata Sangkhae and all proceeds from sales of the works have been earmarked to support the BACC.
B Grimm’s story began back in 1878 when German pharmacist Bernhard Grimm and his Austrian partner, Erwin Mueller, started a pharmacy, the Siam Dispensary, on Oriental Avenue off New Road, which is today known as Chareon Krung. The shop prospered and it was soon appointed official pharmacist to the Thai royal family
By 1900, the company had secured a partnership with Siemens Corporation and Adolf Link, grandfather of the current chairman Dr Harald Link, came out to Bangkok to manage this aspect of the business.
“My grandfather had to close down the company twice because of the two World Wars. All our assets were seized and our documents confiscated,” he says.
After the war, Adolf and his wife, Erma, and their two sons, Herbert and Gerhard, returned home to Bangkok and quickly settled down. They knew the Thais had not taken away their assets on their own initiative and the strong relationship with the Thai royal family continued as before.
Over the next decades, the brothers expanded the business in Europe and Thailand. Gerhard was also appointed Thailand’s honorary consul general in Hamburg. By 1964, B Grimm’s business included divisions dealing with engineering and equipment for healthcare, power generation, telecommunications, air-conditioning, and mechanical engineering.
The company’s new office and warehouse on New Phetchaburi Road was opened by Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, the late Princess Mother, and Herbert’s wife, Alma, was the first foreign women to be bestowed the title of Khunying by His Majesty King Bhumibol in recognition of her tireless work for various charitable foundations.
Harald Link, Gerhard’s son, joined his uncle in 1978 and under his leadership, the group has expanded into power generation, manufacturing, real estate, as well as joint ventures with some of the world’s largest corporations.
This story and much more is told in the book released to mark the 140th anniversary. Titled “In The Kingdom” (“Fak Wai Nai Pan Din”), the Thai-language work has been penned by celebrated author Yuwadee Tonsakulrungruang and is published by Nanmeebooks. It took her 10 years to complete.
“A decade ago, we had the great honour to follow Princess Sirindhorn to the Frankfurt book fair. Suwadee Chongsatitwatana, president of Nanmeebooks, suggested that a book be written about B Grimm in the context of its history in Thailand. I was doubtful at first, wondering who would read a book that sounded more like a company profile.
“But we decided to go ahead with the book as a novel that’s based on our true story. Yuwadee went deep into our story here and now readers can enjoy her work,” Link adds.
“B Grimm and our family feel the deepest gratitude to all the Chakri Kings and the royal family of Thailand. Our founder, Muller, did a lot of great things and King Rama V bestowed him with the title Phra Patibatrajaprasong in recognition of his work. We have always remained true to our compassionate business approach and our social and cultural engagement, and the development of civilisation in harmony with nature.
“For example, we built Wat Mun Jindaram, which King Chulalongkorn visited.
“And despite the problems we faced by being forced to close twice, we have returned here every time. We love Thailand. My uncle lived here from his 20s until he died at 82 years old.
He wanted to prove that Thai people always accord a warm welcome to foreigners and can live comfortably in the country.”
Link also points to B Grimm’s love for art and the environment.
“We like to support aspects that are is overlooked but have a great impact such as wildlife,” he says.
Two years ago, B Grimm established the “Gross National Happiness” Centre in Thailand, the first in the world located outside Bhutan. The aim is to construct an economy based on basic Buddhist spirituality, which is in harmony with the sufficiency economy, the philosophy developed by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.