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Jebsen & Co. Ltd.

When Jebsen & Co. Ltd. joined the HKGCC in 1896, the perils of doing business in the Orient, as they are today, were many.

"I think the reasons [they joined the Chamber] then were as it probably is today," said Mr Helmuth Hennig, Deputy Managing Director, Jebsen & Co. Ltd.

Those reasons are strength in numbers, a better understanding of the business environment and the opportunity to network, he said. Also, "You have the ability to understand broader issues if you do communicate with other business operators who you don? necessarily have a business link with other than you happen to be in the same city."

And being a non-British company in a city which up until a few years ago was run by large British hongs, the Chamber did give a voice to those non-British nationals and allowed them to participate in some of the decision making, he added.

Jebsen & Co. Ltd. was established in Hong Kong in 1895 as a partnership between Jacob Jebsen and Heinrich Jessen. They quickly built up the fledgling business on imports and exports. Shipping was also an important part of the business, which belonged to the Jessen side of the partnership, because of his father- shipping line.

With Hong Kong in those days being little more than a backwater compared to Shanghai, the bustling Paris of the East, the partners quickly establish an office in the city.

The focus of the company- business was chemicals, especially dye stuffs. Indigo dye became so sought after that negotiations led to the establishment of a syndicate of Chinese indigo merchants and a monopoly contract for supply.

Light manufactured goods, textiles and foodstuffs from China also generated income for the company which were bound for Northern Europe.

The company quickly expanded its operations, and at the height of its prosperity in China had nine liaison offices and two trading houses.

The arrival of the twentieth century brought successive waves of problems for the young partners. First came the Boxer Rebellion, whose militia forces led an uprising in 1900 to expel all foreigners from China. This was followed by the Russian-Japanese war in 1903 which disrupted trade in the region.

By 1905, the war was over, but an influx of ships plying the Far East trade routes sunk freight rates and sparked a recession within the industry that lasted until 1910.

Then in 1911, Dr Sun Yat Sen- simmering revolution burst into flame, overthrew the Ching Dynasty and declared the country the Republic of China.

Things then started looking up for the company. Blue Girl Beer and other Jebsen & Co. trademarks were becoming well established and increasingly popular in their markets. Additionally, scrap metal, rubber waste, hog bristles, duck feathers, ginger, tungsten, antimony and rattan ware were among other trade products bringing in profits.

With business now back on track and seemingly good times ahead, the company moved to a new premises in Queen- Road Central in 1913.

The international political gusts of conflict, however, were not to be stilled, and by August 1914 Europe was at war. The Great War laid waste to 10 million lives, left the world in shambles, and global trade and economy in tatters.

With the outbreak of World War I, Germans living in Hong Kong were interned and the liquidation of their business operations ordered. Jebsen & Co., with ethnic German partners, was among them. Founder Jacob Jebsen was interned in Australia, where he remained until the end of the war.

In September 1919, the Chinese government declared the war with Germany had ended. At the same time, a branch of Jebsen & Jessen opened in Apenrade. It was also at this time that the border between Germany and Denmark was redrawn and Apenrade became part of Denmark, and in 1921 Jebsen & Co. was recognised as a Danish firm.

In 1931, Heinrich Jessen died and his eldest son, Heinz, took over his father- role in the partnership.

The company then enjoyed another spurt of growth until the civil war in China forced all foreigners there to leave. This was aggravated by the Sino-Japanese War, and then the outbreak of World War II.

On 14 December, 1941, Jacob Jebsen died in Aabenraa at the age of 71. His eldest son, too, took over the reins and Heinz Jessen and Michael Jebsen signed a new partnership agreement in Shanghai in January 1944. Just four months later, Heinz died of cancer.

The Second World War came to an end in 1945, but the civil war in China continued to rage until the Communist forces managed to drive the Kuomintang forces to Taiwan. Jebsen & Co. maintained its holdings in China after Mao Tse-tung led the Communist forces to declare China the People- Republic of China in 1949.

In 1947, however, new-generation cousins Hans Jacob Jebsen, 25, and Arwed Peter Jessen, 22, arrived in Hong Kong to pick up the reins of the family business. The company in 1949 again shifted its business emphasis to Hong Kong, where it has been based since.

"We see the benefits of operating in the system of Hong Kong being distinct from China * this is still by far the richest city in China and probably will remain so for some time to come."

Mr Hennig said he feels the company still values its Chamber membership and is active in the Hong Kong General Chamber, the Danish Business Association, because that is where its nationality lies, and it is also fairly active in the German Chamber of Commerce, again because of its background and strong trading links to Germany.

"But the General Chamber has a leading role in this because I think it does unite, or should be uniting, the views of Hong Kong based companies in dealing with China. And we are a Hong Kong based company. We are not a Danish company that has a subsidiary in Hong Kong, but we are a Hong Kong company which happens to have Danish ownership. So I think the Chamber does speak for us truly in many respects," he said.