William A. de Vigier, or “Bill” as he was commonly known by many, experienced first-hand how difficult start-up funding for initiative and innovative young entrepreneurs is to procure. He was born to a wealthy Solothurn family in 1912. He completed a commercial apprenticeship at Von Roll in the Klus and then worked at the Scintilla in Zuchwil SO. Contrary to the wishes of the father, and breaking the family tradition of becoming a lawyer, the young de Vigier embarked on his own path. In the face of paternal pressure Bill was drawn abroad to begin his own journey. After hearing his father say “So you will not get any more money from me.”, the aspiring 24-year-old soon found himself in London with barely a thousand francs in his pocket. But as fate would have it, he had an idea in mind: creating flexible parts for scaffolding.
With the financial help of a prominent English lawyer, de Vigier founded his first company, “Acrow Engineers Ltd”. It began as a small company with three employees and operated from a more modest little workshop under a railway bridge in London. It was here that he first developed his inaugural product known as “The famous Acrow Prop”. It was a revolutionary metal scaffold and remained a bestseller for decades. The small company was then listed on the London stock exchange and began to flourish. Eyeing larger market opportunities than the limited Switzerland and England potential, the proactive entrepreneur de Vigier bravely sought new territories. He smartly founded “Acrow Corp of America” in the USA. This was followed by “Acrow Argentina”, “Acrow Peru”, “Acrow Rhodesia”, “Acrow Iraq”, “Acrow South Africa”, “Acrow Canada”, “Acrow Egypt”, “Acrow Spain”, “Acrow India”, “Acrow New Zealand“, and other regions. At the height of his entrepreneurial activity, de Vigier led a global steel group with over 10,000 employees and had a seat in three dozen administrative boards, including holding a prestigious seat on the Board of British Airways.
De Vigier’s successes have been recognized in various countries with the English royal family encouraging his plans. As one of the most successful foreign entrepreneurs in Great Britain, he was honorably appointed “Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” by Queen Elizabeth II in 1978. Realizing further success, he received the title of «Chevalier du Grand Ordre Suédois Nordstern» and «Grand Commander of the Star of Africa» (Liberia). In his homeland, de Vigier was also bestowed with an honor. The canton of Solothurn awarded the 89-year-old with the “Solothurner Entrepreneurs Prize 2001” for his entrepreneurial life achievements. This prize encompassed his generosity of spirit to share the fruit of his successes with young, innovative people”.
“Switzerland needs young entrepreneurs. This is the future. “ De Vigier was convinced of this. Drawing from his own experience, he knew how challenging it is to get set up funding for a start-up company. This challenge became the basis for the initial creation of the W. A. de Vigier Foundation in 1987. The foundation would promote young Swiss entrepreneurs and the De Vigier foundation became known far beyond our national borders. This award remains Switzerland’s most prestigious prize and the foundation has endowed vast funding to achieve its goals awarding up to five 100,000 Swiss francs prizes every year. it is the standard bearer for rewarding innovative business ideas. The Federal Office for Vocational Education and Technology (CTI Start-Up) also proudly participates with the W.A. De Vigier Foundation in order to promote young companies.
Empowering Trust, fidelity and loyalty were three qualities that de Vigier always encouraged. He was both a supporter and a promoter. His generosity was directed to earnest individuals with a realistic path to success. To inspire others, he often remarked, “God gave you a brain – use it”. His friendliness and cordial nature, and his respectful demeanor with all that he met, were hallmarks of his character. Whether speaking to a Director or a simple shop worker, he was always open, friendly and interested in the lives and aspirations of others. He enjoyed talking to taxi drivers in New York, saleswomen in Parisian costume shops and always found time with his butcher in Solothurn. Traveling all over the world, de Vigier never forgot his Solothurn roots. Among other things, he spent the summer months at his summer house in Solothurn. He always extolled the virtues of the canton and the city during his phone calls from here and abroad.
As a faithful cantonal patron and true Solothurner, De Vigier dedicated himself to matters in his homeland whether he was home or abroad. He inherited a love for the town band from his father. In 2001, he donated over a million Swiss francs to them with an obligation that the band use a portion of the sum for a music competition. Thanks to his generosity and solidarity, new uniforms were financed and during autumn each year, the inhabitants of the city of Solothurn relish in the festive “Marching Parade”. He also provided means for the restoration of the harness collection in the old Zeughaus. Thanks to his generous donation, the summer house is also available to the public for decades to come. William A. de Vigier is no longer with us but his legacy lives on the hearts and minds of all Solothurners.