In June 1967, your Editor-in-Chief arrived at the quayside of Helsinki’s main market in a “Baltic Steamship Line” boat from London to work as a computer programer at Helsinki University’s Nuclear Physics Computer Department.
Professor Laurikainen was in charge of the department and my boss was Tuomas Hirvonen, an older student.
I had been invited to work as a Fortran programmer on an Elliott 903 computer owned by the University that summer because there were a lack of programming skills in Finland. I had just finished 2 years of computer mathematics at my grammar school called the Royal Liberty (!) In London I was getting ready to do my B.A. degree now that my A-levels were finished.
The above photo from 1966 of me and my school mates standing around the Elliott 903 computer and looking studious! I am on the right.
I was an 18 year old boy when arriving in Helsinki, with a smattering knowledge of self-taught Finnish using Teach Yourself Finnish, written by Arthur H. Whitney.
My first lunch at the University cafeteria that summer was a creamy spinach soup with half a boiled egg – quite strange, I thought!
… and that was the start of my life in Finland. I came back the next summer to write software at the university, followed by 3 summers at Postipankki.
Heikki Tuominen, the CEO then, was a wonderful leader, and he offered me a full-time job in their new capital markets department in 1972, after I finished my Bar Finals (Barristers’ professional law exams) in London and after working 1 year in 1971 at Kleinwort Benson, a British merchant bank.
Postipankki was a great place to work that allowed staff to develop innovative financial products and start important new international partnerships. We had a lot to do to get customers in competition with the big arrogant incumbent banks like KOP and the Union Bank of Finland (SYP). Just like today, those 2 Finnish banks were running a tight banking cartel where they controlled 80% of the market.
Later In the 1970’s, Postipankki set up a new bank in London, and became 15% owner of Indosuez Helsinki Oy and Indosuez Stockholm AB. Our staff got international experience in London, New York, Singapore and Paris. The 2 big banks hated to see competition in “their market” but our progress was strong and meaningful, until Postipankki was bought up by the “competition”.
Later in 1983, I joined Banque Indosuez as head of their new investment bank in Singapore and built up the business over three years before spending a few more years running part of their dealing room in Paris and in New York.
Around 1988, I returned to Helsinki to join OKO Bank where I stayed for a few more years before being appointed to run and develop Municipality Finance Plc., (Kuntarahoitus Oy).
Municipality Finance (MuniFin) lasted a whole decade and was the most dramatic and far-reaching job that I have ever undertaken. The staff was strong and professional and we developed a cost-efficient bank for the municipalities with new funding instruments from the domestic and international capital markets. We received a “AAA-rating” with efficient IT solutions and strong lasting banking relationships with the world’s biggest banks. We joined forces with the other Nordic municipal banks to sell our solid Nordic story to investors in Asia, Europe and in the US. We also benefited from understanding politicians who put our interests first before that of the Finnish banks who took us unsuccessfully to the European courts by claiming that we were receiving “State Aid”.
MuniFin is still doing very well like the other Nordic municipal banks!
Then came my last full-time work that lasted almost 12 years with big Finnish and Swedish exporters. I started working for Swedish Export Credit Corporation in Helsinki, then in Singapore and finally in Stockholm between 2002 and 2013. I worked on big projects in Russia, Iraq, India, Thailand, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, etc., with the big Swedish engineering companies and with the EBRD. The result was also another language, Swedish, and a great deal more experience in international business.
In 2013, at almost 67 years old, I “retired”, meaning that I started to receive my pension, but that has not meant that I stopped working. My days are filled with investing in start-ups, being a board member in various companies, and in a not-for-profit private school in Helsinki, and in a Swedish think tank.
But the most important is running this newspaper FinnishNews/NordicWeek because I want to give back to Finland what I have been so lucky to have received…
…and that brings me to the key topic of this story. I have often wondered why some Finnish politicians want to raise their voices when they see foreigners wanting to come to Finland.
Naturally nobody want to see criminals or those with bad intentions to come here but why should a well-organised country like Finland not welcome hard-working, studious young an old people to arrive on our shores? Finns have been able to leave for the USA, Canada, Sweden, Norway, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, etc, in huge numbers… most of them have been seeking out work and a better living – why cannot we reciprocate and welcome such well-intentioned people?
In 1971 and in the ensuing years I had the choice and the opportunity to stay in the UK or go elsewhere. I have actually lived and worked in 6 different countries and “tasted” the difference between them, but only one has been my true home, and that is Finland, a country that has adopted me. I left England because I found the politics based on a very strong class system, where money buys the best education, homes, and healthcare. Those at the top of the pile are unwilling to share much – their system is designed to maximise their profits from the rest… and under Blair, Brown, Cameron, May and Boris, things have become even tougher for the masses. The Amazon and Uber Gig Economy (AGE & UGE) are a rich boy’s wet dream – the money can be raked in…
I have never objected to paying taxes here in Finland and I am still paying large amounts without ever having received any public support myself. I paid for my own tertiary education in England, I have never been unemployed and I have worked consciously since 1971 here and elsewhere, and am still at it!
Brexit, Trump, Putin and other right-wing nationalist nonsense has infected the world with corruption, falsehoods and lies that are not far removed from the 1930’s when Hitler started to rave about blue eyed fair-haired Aryans. My father stood up against Hitler and fought for honest democracy and that is what we must do today… even though the UK is suffering from amnesia about their past, we in the Nordic countries must continue the fight.