Jan Carel van Eck, also known as Jan Carel van Panthaleon Baron van Eck, or as Baron Jan Carel van Panthaleon van Eck, was the father of John van Eck [1915-2014] , the founder of Van Eck Global, the multi-billion dollar mutual fund management firm in New York City. He was also the grandfather of many others since he had five children of his own.
Jan Carel van Eck had aristocratic roots and thus was also known as Baron Jan Carel van Eck. After he moved to the USA in 1910 as a Royal Dutch Shell employee, the link to the aristocracy weakened, and the title of baron became a historic oddity, and was no longer, if ever in common use in the USA.
Jan Carel van Eck was born in the Netherlands in 1880, graduated from a college preparatory high school, and entered the University of Utrecht as a student focusing on legal studies in 1899 as a 19 year old.
Van Eck graduated four years later in 1903 with a doctorandus degree. The degree is equivalent to an ABD, all but dissertation, in the USA. In the Netherlands the ABD, or doctorandus degree, is recognized as an official and final degree. In the USA it is not.
Following his university studies, van Eck had to complete some military obligations and worked for a bank for a while. In 1928, he was offered a position at the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company in The Hague as a secretary to the president.
Although being that close to the president may seem to be important, van Eck quickly discovered that he had to take dictation and type up the president’s correspondence. Most university graduates with graduate degrees nowadays would have walked away from that position. But he stayed and even learned to take shorthand. It paid off for him in the long run.
Only a year after he started with Shell Oil, van Eck was transferred to the London offices of Shell Oil to work in their legal department because of his university training in mining laws. It was a major step in his Shell Oil career.
A year later, in 1910, van Eck was sent to the USA as a member of a group of professionals to organize an oil company in the USA. The planning group established an oil refinery to produce gasoline for automotive use with imported oil. The company founded was named the American Gasoline Company. During those early years gasoline was sold in cans from one to three gallons in size.
An oil refinery was built near Seattle. It was intended to refine oil imported from Sumatran oil fields. The imported oil was of much better quality than the local oil and refined into a much higher quality gasoline. The higher quality gasoline was important, because it made hand cranking engines much easier. The electric engine starter had not yet been developed.
In 1920, Royal Dutch Shell Oil expanded their American operations with acquisitions and named the new consolidated company the Shell Union Oil Company. Van Eck became a member of the Board of Directors. Two years later, in 1922 van Eck was appointed to also be its Vice President.
During most of his time in the US van Eck had worked out of San Francisco. Also during that time he had married and had started a family. It was therefore a bit of a shock when he was transferred to New York City in 1923, the location of American Shell’s headquarters.
In 1928, the president of the Shell Union Oil Company retired and van Eck was appointed his successor. Although the company was an independent American oil company, it was also a subsidiary company of the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company with offices in the Netherlands and Great Britain. As a result he travelled across the Atlantic frequently, and it was slow because air travel was not yet available.
In 1937 van Eck reached the age of 57 and began planning his retirement. The world had become unstable with the Nazis and Japan threatening to create problems. It was a critical time for an international oil company, and early retirement appeared to be not an option.
The expertise of a van Eck was needed. As a result he was offered the position as one of the Managing Directors of the Royal Dutch Shell Company, a definite promotion. It also meant he had to move to London. The move was not enticing because of the potential war problems; New York was much safer than London.
From 1937 to 1946, van Eck was in virtual constant travel between the various hot spots in the world, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany before the war in 1940, to Indonesia until 1941, and to many other world-wide locations even during the war.
Van Eck’s transatlantic travels were on troopships. Apparently he was able to arrange that because oil was a most strategic component of any war. Air travel had also started and he flew across the Pacific Ocean a few times. Reading about all his travels during the war raises the issue of safety. He was fortunate to survive it all.
Van Eck was able to retire in 1946 when he reached the age of 66. Following his retirement he moved back to the USA.
On the family side, van Eck married Agnes Tillman in 1914 when he was 34. They had five children consisting of John , Agnes , Fred , Henrietta Marie , and Bart Reinter .
Jan Carel van Eck had a productive but busy life. He also appeared to have had a happy and satisfying private family life. He was born on April 8, 1880 and passed away in 1965 at the age of 85.
Information was derived from family correspondence and from private memoirs, all supplied by Van Eck family.
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