Anton Kröller (1862-1941), Innovative Entrepreneur or Notorious Speculator?



Anton Kröller (1862-1941) did not care to be remembered. ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ is written on his tombstone. Kröller allegedly ordered to have all his personal papers burned shortly before his death. During his life he preferred to stay out of the spotlights. Only on a few occasions his name appeared prominently in the newspapers: at the end of World War I, when he was accused of abusing his position as economic diplomat; in 1926, when a number of his company’s subsidiaries had collapsed, the Rotterdamsche Bank was faced with liquidity problems, and investors accused him of cooking the books; in 1933, when a former accountant repeated these accusations and a criminal investigation was looming. Anton Kröller used the same remedy in all cases: he remained silent and waited until the storm was over.
Kröllers strategy of personal anonymity has appeared to be successful. As a person and businessman his image faded over time. He ended up in the shadow of his wife Helene, the famous art collector. Due to its fragmented structure, his company Wm. H. Müller & Co, one of the most powerful European commodities trading houses during the first quarter of the twentieth century, was largely overlooked by business historians. No company history was ever written.
This paper intends to briefly picture (1) the role of Wm. H. Müller & Co within the Dutch and Western European economy and the port of Rotterdam, (2) the financing, corporate governance and competitive environment in which Anton Kröller operated as entrepreneur. The author of this article is working on a biography/dissertation of Anton Kröller at the Biography Institute of the University of Groningen, which is supposed to be published in Spring 2015.

The Business History Seminar is organised by the Business History Centre and has been made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication.