Origins further than one can imagine, five generations of banker-entrepreneurs, fragments of French-speaking Switzerland's history. Discover a mini-series in 10 episodes, relayed on social networks, to discover the main stages of a 175-year saga.
Guillhelmus, the first of its name
In the twilight of the 14th century, in the confines of the Pays de Vaud and the then Habsburg lands of Fribourg, the citadel of Rue was under the control of the House of Savoy. Guillhelmus Gonelli, the first of its name, officiated in the town as a clerk, then became a notary and was elevated in 1396 to the rank of "domicellus", ennobled by his function and administering the day-to-day affairs of the castle.
His descendants Nicodus and Franciscus followed in the same function.
This is how the first representatives of the family appeared, whose surname would appear in the sources at the time of the Reformation two centuries later, in the francized form of Gonet.
Illustration: Rue in the 18th century, engraving by David Herrliberger
Louis Gonet, a precocious entrepreneur…
Louis Gonet was born in Nyon in 1821, son of Jean-François, a schoolteacher. An entrepreneur at an early age, he started transporting goods at a very young age. Trading in drapery, cloth, groceries and tobacco, transporting wood from the deep forests of Vaud and Savoyard stones from Meillerie, at the foot of Saint-Gingolph, Louis quickly built up a solid network on Lake Geneva.
His clients sought him out for information, ideas and, ultimately, investments. "Fortune favours the bold," says Louis Gonet. A new project then emerges, that of creating a bank...
Illustration: Louis Gonet in 1900 (Gonet family archives)
1842, when it all began...
In 1842, at the age of 21, Louis Gonet set up a banking establishment in Nyon, representing the first generation of bankers in the family. Dealing mainly in foreign exchange and financing, he developed a business model that met with real success in a region that for several decades enjoyed unprecedented vitality. In 1884, a branch was created in Rolle. In 1897, the bank acquired a small building at Place Bel-Air in Nyon to absorb its rapid growth.
As a banker as much as a shipowner, Louis continued to invest in the field of lake transport, notably launching in 1854 an innovative project for a "steamboat" for the transport of goods, which he named "L'Industriel". He was also resolutely involved in the development of the railway industry.
He passed away at the age of 86, in 1907, after having been one of the economic pillars of the Nyon town throughout the 19th century.
Illustration: Gonet bank, Place Bel-Air in Nyon
AUGUSTE GONET, TOWARDS PRIVATE BANKING...
After the death of his father Louis, Auguste took over the reins of the company. Already a partner, he became the head of the Bank in 1907. He inherited a healthy and dynamic business that was well established and enjoyed an excellent reputation.
Faced with the economic and social upheavals that shook the world as much as Switzerland at the beginning of the 20th century, he had the great wisdom to adopt a good parent management style, playing the regional card and spreading risks over communes, companies and people who had won his confidence, particularly in the field of agriculture and viticulture. In doing so, he began a slow transformation of the bank's business towards private banking.
Active both in regional politics and in the Vaud Chamber of Commerce, Auguste was to make philanthropy an important part of his life, making contributions in particular during the Spanish flu in 1918 and serving in numerous charity committees.
The representative of the second generation of Gonet bankers died young in 1924, at the age of 52, but two years earlier had taken care to appoint one of his sons, Alfred, as a partner.
Illustration: Auguste Gonet (1863-1924)
Alfred Gonet, a resistant banker...
Representing the third generation, Alfred Gonet was associated with the Bank from 1922. Following the Wall Street crisis in 1929, he managed, through his prudence, to prevent the family bank from going under.
He then enjoyed a few years of bliss, which he put to good use in the family's philanthropic spirit, notably founding the "Les Rives de Prangins" nursing home with Doctor Raymond de Saussure, banker René Hentsch, and Swiss psychiatrist Oscar Forel, to which the well-known establishment "La Métaierie" will be attached.
Soon the Second World War came to disrupt the peace and quiet of the region. Alfred had to resign himself to seeing many of his employees called up for long periods of service. His staff became so rare that he had to close his Rolle branch in 1942. He will commit himself personally and financially, contributing to shelter refugees or survivors such as Jacques and Xavier de Gaulle, brothers of the General, or Simone Veil-Jacob, what will earn him the French Legion of Honour.
In the post-war years, the Bank, like its counterparts, experienced moderate but steady growth. After a life of business, travel and the fight for freedom, Alfred Gonet passed away on October 15, 1958 at the age of sixty-nine.
Illustration: Alfred Gonet (1889-1958)
End of the first part...
Since Louis founded the Bank in 1842, more than 100 years ago, three generations of bankers have successfully succeeded one another at the helm of the family establishment. Two world wars and several economic crises were not enough to shake the Bank's flawless management. However, Alfred's untimely death in 1958, which deprived him of the ability to ensure the family succession, would disrupt this quietude, but the Gonet clan remained united.
Alfred did suggest that his two nephews Bernard and Pierre prepare for the succession, but the two men had barely finished their studies and were still too young to take up the challenge when their uncle died.
On 27 October 1958, the company was transformed into a limited company under the name Gonet & Cie SA. In 1964, the family leaves completely the company, with Credit Suisse and Société Belge de Banque becoming equal shareholders, a prelude to a series of mergers and reorganizations.
In the meantime, Bernard and Pierre went abroad to deepen their experience, to London, Canada and the United States, determined to continue the adventure...
Illustration: the Gonet family in the 1950s
Bernard Gonet, banker of a rebirth
Too young to succeed his uncle Alfred at the head of the Bank, Bernard Gonet assisted in the sale of the family business while remaining driven by a fierce determination: to revive the dynastic tradition.
After having trained abroad, he joined Banque Barrelet, Pidoux & Cie in Geneva in 1959, which was founded in 1845 by Frédéric de Seigneux, a founding member of the Geneva Stock Exchange. 1845 was thus the official year of birth of Banque Gonet, whose 175th anniversary is being celebrated this year. Two banks, founded three years apart, one in Nyon in 1842 and the other in Geneva in 1845, mark the history of the dynasty.
With a temperament as enterprising as his ancestors, Bernard Gonet was made a partner of the bank in 1968, initiating the inking of the family tradition in the City of Calvin and inviting his brother Pierre to join him.
Illustration: Boulevard du Théâtre, headquarters of the Banque Barrelet, Pidoux & Cie then Gonet & Cie, 19th century (CIG)
Pierre Gonet, an example of tenacity
An economist, a specialist in international stock markets and an expert with the American investment bank Merrill Lynch for many years, Pierre Gonet joined his brother Bernard at Barrelet, Pidoux & Cie in 1968. Renowned for his unfailing rigour and as eager as his brother to carry on the family tradition, he and his brother formed a particularly close-knit and complementary duo, respected in the Geneva financial center.
Bernard's death in 1980 affected him deeply. An example of self-sacrifice and tenacity, he remained alone at the helm of the establishment for several years, continuing its modernisation: he considerably increased his equity capital, bought the building at 6, Boulevard du Théâtre and, in 1982, created a new entity in the Bahamas, Gonet Bank & Trust. Continuing the family's philanthropic tradition, he helped his friend Edmond Kaiser, the famous doctor, to create the humanitarian organisation Terre des Hommes and then the Sentinelles Foundation.
Inviting his only son Nicolas to join him in 1997, Pierre Gonet remained constantly involved in the Bank's work until his death in June 2015.
Illustration: Pierre Gonet (1930-2015)
Nicolas Gonet, on all fronts
Representing the fifth generation, Nicolas Gonet follows the example of his great-uncle Alfred and his father Pierre by training abroad after completing his studies. In 1997, he joined the family business, which at that time had around twenty employees. A partner in 2003, he took over the reins in 2008, in the midst of the subprime crisis, and began a period of continuous growth that would see the workforce grow to hundred and thirty employees ten years later and the assets under management increase tenfold.
As a return to his roots, he opened a branch in Lausanne in 2010, in the canton of Vaud, at the same time expanding the Geneva head office.
In 2016, the Bank was transformed into a limited company, as part of a governance movement gradually adopted by Geneva's private banking peers.
Nicolas Gonet is also working, through various initiatives in the sporting and cultural fields, to anchor the Bank in local and regional life and to assume its role as a company involved in the community.
Louis, Auguste, Alfred, Bernard, Pierre, Nicolas...
Roots that go back to the 14th century, in the Vaud, Geneva and even Italian lands. More than 175 years of banking history. A veritable dynasty that extends through five generations of the same family. The Gonet epic, recounted here in 10 episodes, is without equal.
Beyond a well-established tradition and a constant concern to adapt to the times, independence and entrepreneurship are its guiding principles.
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