More than a century of local success: B Grimm
Over the next few issues we will cover some of the major businesses operating in Thailand which began as foreign enterprises in the capital well before the Second World War and have prospered despite the vagaries of the local political and economic climate.
Established in 1878 by German pharmacist Bernhard Grimm and the Austrian merchant Erwin Mueller, the modern monolith known as B Grimm started as a chemist shop under the name Siam Dispensary. It had a fairytale beginning because the shop was soon asked to supply the royal household.
As Siam, or more particularly, Bangkok, expanded, Grimm and Mueller recognised the opportunities available to them to begin importing European goods, so they expanded and called the business B. Grimm and Company.
By 1900 B Grimm was a major importer of general merchandise as well as specialist goods. Due to its strong connection with the royal household, the company was awarded the Garuda emblem. Included among its imports were uniforms and swords for the Siamese military and tiles for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Another pharmacist, Adolf Link, from Lubeck in Germany, arrived in Bangkok to take on the role of manager in 1903. In 1910 he became a managing partner and, four years later, purchased the company.
Siam’s entry into the First World War in 1917 against Germany led to Link and his family being interned and his business confiscated. After their release in 1919, the Link’s went to Germany and then returned to Siam and restarted B Grimm. By 1928 it had recovered to the extent it moved into a new head office building designed and constructed by a member of the royal family. The opening was attended by King Rama VI (Prajadhipok).
The Second World War didn’t help. When the war ended the Link’s found there was no guarantee they would be allowed to continue their business. Adolf’s eldest son and heir, Herbert, and his wife Alma –a trained nurse of British and Russian descent- were placed under house arrest.
After Adolf Link died in 1949, Herbert and his younger brother Gerhard revived B Grimm, obtaining exclusive distribution rights to many well-known German brands: Siemens, Krupp, Carl Zeiss and Mercedes Benz among them.
In the 1980s Alma Link became the first foreign female to be awarded the honorific title of Khunying, because of her years of charity work.
B Grimm opened a new head office in 1995, close to the Rama IX and Srinakarind Road intersection. The company currently has one of the widest portfolios of any major corporation in Thailand. Its interests range from commercial and residential real estate, construction, energy, healthcare, and fashion: a long way from a single shop selling medicines in a sleepy backwater Asian capital.