Walter Adolf Jöhr was born in Zurich on 8 February 1910. His father, Adolf Jöhr, was Secretary General of the Swiss National Bank, President of the Board of Swiss Credit Bank and from 1951 an Honorary Doctor of HSG.
Following his Matura, Jöhr studied law at the University of Zurich. After a semester abroad in Paris, he published his doctoral thesis in 1931 under the title Die öffentlich rechtlichen Formen der Arbeitslosenfürsorge aufgrund den Gesetzgebungen Deutschlands, der Schweiz und Frankreichs (Forms of state unemployment benefit programmes based on German, Swiss and French legislature). Jöhr then began a second course of study in national economics and philosophy in Berlin, during which he also spent a semester in Munich.
In 1937, he published his second dissertation, Die Ständische Ordnung. Geschichte, Idee und Neuaufbau (The order order of the estates. History, idea and reconstruction), which was heavily criticised for anti-democratic statements. Because he had also been active in the frontist movement (the Swiss fascists movement of the time) in the 1930s, his employment at HSG caused political opposition. Later, Jöhr distanced himself from his earlier political views.
As part of his study tour, Walter A. Jöhr spent two months at Harvard University and a tri-mester at the University of Chicago.
In 1937, Jöhr received a lectureship in economics at HSG. Five years later he published his post-doctoral thesis entitled Theoretische Grundlagen der Wirtschaftspolitik (Theoretical Foundations of Economic Policy) and was appointed Associate Professor at HSG in 1944 and Full Professor in 1947.
After many years in office as HSG’s Vice-President, Jöhr was elected to be president of HSG in 1957. He held this office for six years. During this time, the new Brutalist style HSG building on the Rosenberg campus was built by the architects Walter M. Förderer and Rolf G. Otto, and became HSG’s the new home. The old name ‘Handelshochschule’ was replaced by ‘Hochschule St.Gallen für Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften’. The abbreviation ‘HSG’ was born.
Walter A. Jöhr’s publications, especially on the topic of circulation theory, the theory of money and the business cycle theory, had a significant influenced on the economic theory of the post-war period. In 1965, Jöhr was conferred an honorary doctorate by the University of Geneva and in 1967 by the University of Bonn. He was also the founder of the Institute of Economics (FGN-HSG) at HSG.
Jöhr believed that the mission of the research in economic theory is to develop solutions not only to pressing economic problems but to social issues as well. He also commented on the influential study Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome in 1972, which warned the world that the earth's non-renewable resources were being overexploited and that a new ecological, economic and social balance was necessary. In his honour, there has been the Walter Adolf Jöhr Lecture taking place every year at the University of St.Gallen since 1988, covering important topics in economics and social sciences.
Between 1953 and 1958, Jöhr was President of the Expert Commission of the Federal Department of Railway Transport and Postal Services. After his presidency ended, Jöhr served as Vice-President of the National Research Council of SNSF (today: Swiss National Science Foundation.
After 41 years of teaching, he was appointed Emeritus Professor in 1980. He died on 1 June 1989 in St. Gallen.
1957: Research Centre for Commerce (FfH), lastly as Institute for Marketing and Commerce (IMH-HSG) (closed 2009).
1961: Institute for Latin American Research and Development Cooperation (ILE) (closed 1992)