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History lesson: Paul Alther – alumnus, benefactor and honorary doctor

The annual award for the best Master's thesis in Legal and Political Sciences as well as the President’s chain goes back to Paul Alther. In the spring of 1907, he enrolled at the Commercial Academy in St.Gallen, which had only opened a few years earlier (1899).

Paul Alther was born in St.Gallen on 19 August 1889. After two years in the humanities department and another three years in the mercantile department of the St.Gallen Cantonal School (today’s Cantonal School on Burggraben), he obtained his university entrance qualification. This laid the foundation for commercial studies. In spring 1907, he enrolled in the St.Gallen Commercial Academy, which had only been opened a few years before (1899). He studied economic, legal and linguistic subjects from Summer Semester 1907 to Summer Semester 1909. Alther was an active member in the first fraternity of the Academy, Mercuria San Gallensis, where he was known as Wotan. He concluded his studies with a commercial diploma in August 1909.

Career in insurance

In 1914, Paul Alther joined the Swiss Reinsurance Company (today’s Swiss Re) in Zurich, where he enjoyed a meteoric rise to manager; in December 1931, the board of directors appointed him General Manager of the company. The alumnus maintained ties with today’s HSG throughout his life: in a letter dated 7 January 1932, Alther thanked President Prof. Dr. Paul Oettli for the congratulations on his appointment as General Manager and wrote: "I would like to express my warm thanks to you and also to the Graduate School, which ultimately has to be given credit for what I have achieved in my life in a way that must not be underestimated."

Donation of the President’s chain (1939)

Alther’s donation of the President’s chain in 1939 was an expression of his particular gratitude towards the Graduate School: in June of that year, he wrote to President Prof. Dr. Walther Hug: "On the occasion of my 25th anniversary in the services of the Swiss Reinsurance Company, which I was able to celebrate recently, I was thinking of my alma mater in St.Gallen with particular gratitude […] I feel that it is incumbent on me to give visible expression to my gratitude at this juncture." In the Meeting and President’s Board Room of the Graduate School of Commerce on 11 November 1939, Paul Alther presented the gold President’s chain in the presence of illustrious guests. In view of the depressing circumstances (the Second World War had broken out only a few weeks previously), the presentation took place in a dignified setting but not in a spirit of cheerfulness.

The handmade chain of the anchor-chain type is a product of St.Gallen’s artisanry and was wrought by the goldsmith Ernst Frischknecht. The centrepiece is a gold medallion 800mm in diameter, with the chased heraldic bear of the city in the middle, surrounded by the inscription "Handels-Hochschule St.Gallen". A second, smaller gold medallion above this displays the globe with its continents and oceans. The purpose of the donation is engraved on the reverse of the big medallion: "To the St.Gallen Graduate School of Commerce as a token of gratitude for the wealth of academic and ethical values received from it in the years of 1907-1909. Paul Alther November 1939". The President still wears this chain of office on particularly festive occasions such as the dies academicus and the Graduation Days.

Further professional involvement and cultural interests

In late 1950, Paul Alther resigned as the long-standing General Manager of the Swiss Reinsurance Company and assumed the office of Chairman of the American International Underwriters Overseas Corporation. He cultivated international economic relations on worldwide travels. Numerous lengthy stays in Asia, and in the US during the Second World War, provided him with opportunities to establish and cultivate contacts with important personalities from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. Alther was particularly interested in the religions and the art of the Middle and Far East. His outstanding private library and art collection in Zurich and Ascona testified to this passion.

Honorary doctorate from the Graduate School, and the Alther Foundation

At the 1951 dies academicus, Paul Alther was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Graduate School "in recognition of his excellent services to the Swiss reinsurance relations". After his death on 31 August 1961, his heirs presented the Graduate School with a generous monetary donation, which still constitutes the basis of the annual award of the Paul Alther Prize for the best diploma (today’s Master’s) thesis in Legal and Political Sciences.

The memory of the alumnus Paul Alther is preserved by the President’s chain and the Foundation to this day.

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