Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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SGS Group

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Société Générale de Surveillance, of Switzerland

Company founded by a young Latvian immigrant in Rouen.

1878 Recognising that losses occurred during the shipment of grain, especially in loading and unloading, the founder of the company saw an opportunity to offer a service inspecting and verifying the quantity and quality of the grain on arrival with the importer; this would provide a means for the exporter to defend his rights. In return for this service, he would receive a commission based on the value of the shipment.

He borrowed money from an Austrian friend and began inspecting grain shipments on arrival in Rouen. Word spread about the value of the service and business grew rapidly. These two young entrepreneurs went into business together and formed a company. Within a year, the company had opened offices in France’s three largest ports: Le Havre, Dunkirk and Marseilles.

1915 Moved its headquarters from Paris to Geneva, Switzerland, to continue operations from a neutral country.

1919 Adopted the name Société Générale de Surveillance.

1928 The company had offices and affiliates in 21 countries including the UK.

1939 the company expanded into the inspection and analysis of raw materials, minerals and metals through the acquisition of laboratories in Europe. In addition, the company started operating in South America, with offices in Argentina and Brazil, delivering agricultural inspection services.

Post-WWII Diversified to broaden the company beyond the agricultural services.

1955 Started the Industrial Services business with the inspection of industrial machines and goods

1965 Acquired a non-destructive testing company.

At this time began the Oil, Gas & Chemical Services business.

1962 Acquired several companies in oil and petrochemical products testing.

Started the Governments & Institutions Services business providing pre-shipment inspection services to customs authorities.

1970s Began providing environmental consultancy and remediation services to customers in the oil and gas sector. Demand for environmental services soon spread to other business sectors.

By 1980, half of the company’s revenue was generated from services that had not even existed in 1970. The company had 113 offices, 57 laboratories and 9,500 employees working in over 140 countries.

1981 the company went public

Late 1980s: Started the Life Science Services and Systems & Services Certification businesses through acquisition.

Automotive Services was established from of the company’s Loss Adjusting Services

1991 Expanded into China through the start of a joint venture.

SGS United Kingdom Limited, with head office in Ellesmere Port, provides independent inspection, certification, testing verification and training services, employing nearly 1,500 people from over 50 facilities, including 17 laboratories.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • [1] SGS History