At the age of 14, Albert Winter joined the Group as a porter. This was in London, in 1912. We take a look at an endearing figure in a job that no longer exists in the banking world.
"Good morning, sir!" On Friday 18 October 1912, Albert Winter welcomed customers to Societe Generale's London branch, located at 53 Old Broad Street in the heart of the City. It was his first day. Wearing his porter's uniform with a stripe down the side and round glasses, the fresh-faced teen was an easily recognisable figure at the doors of the institution. He was only 14. Two weeks earlier, he had written to Mr Laudour, the branch director, offering his services. "I am sure," his letter ended, "that my work will meet with satisfaction". His boldness paid off. A successful interview, combined with dictation and mental arithmetic tests, launched him into the world of work. The young man, who had just graduated from primary school, desperately needed the job. Albert came from a modest family and was the oldest of four children. With his parents' blessing, he began looking for a job after gaining some experience as a bicycle courier for the telegraph office. Like other businesses at the time, Societe Generale was looking for young employees to help its services run more smoothly. Porters were at the base of the pyramid of jobs offered by the Group. It was an entry-level position that gave them the chance to climb the corporate ladder.
Just over five feet tall, Albert Winter soon made himself indispensable. He only wanted to be useful. His file shows the esteem in which he was held by his superiors: "Excellent conduct and appearance. Fully satisfactory to date. Merits encouragement". The porter didn't simply welcome customers. Extremely versatile, he stamped bills for discount and collection, delivered mail, passed on the director's orders and, if circumstances warranted, kept an eye on the security of the premises. But the experience only lasted two years. In July 1914, King George V signed an order mobilising the United Kingdom. One month later, as World War I began, Albert joined the British army. After basic training, he became one of the "Tommies" sent to France to fight German troops alongside French soldiers. Four terrible years of war took him far from home. After his discharge in April 1919, he asked for his old job back. Societe Generale Group agreed to his request and promoted him to office boy, a position that doubled his pre-war salary. However, like many WWI veterans, he had trouble reintegrating into society and resigned.
In 1934, Societe Generale founded a school for porters to make it easier for young assistants to rise in the hierarchy. At the time, there were 71 of them in Paris alone. Classes were given twice a week, with emphasis placed on French and accounting. The initiative said a great deal about company spirit. As for Albert Winter, we don't know what he did next. But we have no doubt he headed for new adventures...