On The Road In Finland

It's early May of 1995 and I've just launched my two-year invasion of Europe. Here's the planned itinerary for the rest of 1995: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, northern tip of Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. It's then over to Ireland, Scotland and England. I should hit London in November. With over 100 companies to visit, London is my single biggest stop in Europe. In December I head to Portugal where I'll spend the winter visiting companies in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece. It's then up to Austria, Switzerland, Germany and France.

FinnAir Oy

As one who considers any flight over 30 minutes an eternity, I'm feeling mighty proud of myself for surviving the long and torturous ride from San Diego to Helsinki.

After retrieving and speedily assembling the bike in the terminal (you better believe I'm antsy!) I'm out the door and ready to confront the usual problem of getting out of the airport. Airports were not built with bicycles in mind and in many cities the road out of the terminal instantly turns into freeways. Holy smokes, I'm not even 100 yards from the terminal and I'm on a bicycle path running parallel with the roadway! A four-foot wide divider separates the asphalt-paved bicycle path from the roadway.

Helsinki Airport lies 15 miles north of Helsinki in suburban Vantaa (population 100,000). A heavily wooded area less than a quarter mile from the airport entrance hides the three-story headquarters of Finnair. Founded in 1923, with the Finnish government owning a 60.7% share, Finnair is Finland's national airline.

Locking my bike amongst the dozen or so other bikes (with bike rack space available for many more) I enter the 140,000 square foot building and come face to face with a 7-foot long Finnair model plane on display. Parts of the plane are painted with cartoonish figures I've never seen before. Turns out these characters are immensely popular in Finland and Japan. Popular enough for a real Finnair plane to be painted with the figures. It's similar to Southwest Airlines painting Shamu the whale on one of their planes.

Usko Maata, Director-Corporate Communications and, Laura Noreila-Manninen, Managing Editor-Information Department, give me a warm welcome and answer questions.

Built in the 1970's to originally house Finnair's training center, the pilots got the boot last year when corporate offices were relocated here from downtown Helsinki.

It's noontime that means I'm invited to the cafeteria to partake in one of Finland's oldest traditions: every Thursday it's pancakes and pea soup for lunch. I'm told it's served everywhere in Finland (including schools and military bases). Me eat pancakes for lunch? No way, but you know that old saying about when in Rome. Hmmmm, these are pretty good. Tastes more like French toast. The soup? Not bad at all.

I can't see CEO Anti Potila's middle office on the third floor because he's in a meeting but do note the nine airline trade magazines spread out on a coffee table outside his office.

The boardroom is quite functional. Four past CEO's line the walls, I count four model planes, spot a small Finnair flag and no plants. Five black tables form the boardroom table (which can be reconfigured) and 28 red suede chairs surround the tables.

A tanning room is included among the facilities in the basement fitness center. The weight room contains a punching bag, which I check to see if a picture of the CEO has been pinned on it. Nope.

Maata says saunas are very big in Finland and I'll find most companies equipped with them. Instead of say, playing a round of golf with a customer or client--you invite them for a sauna. It goes something like this: you spend time sweating, sitting half-naked on wooden benches in a hot, claustrophobic room and then retire to a nearby lounge area drinking cocktails by a fireplace. Finnair has a sauna for employees and one for executives. Checking them both out, I don't need to tell you which is the nicer of the two.

The highlight of my visit comes next when I'm whisked several miles away to Finnair's flight training complex. This place is a steady source of revenue for Finnair. It's mandatory for airline pilots around the world to be tested twice a year. Though most major airlines have their own flight simulators--many airlines can't afford the price tag. Finnair rents out time on their various simulators. The training complex is booked up seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

Peter Louhivuori, Marketing Manager-Flight Training, gives me the VIP tour of the place and guess what? I'm in luck because there's a 10-minute opening between time slots on the $25 million MD-11 simulator. Louhivuori motions me to slide into the pilot's chair in the cockpit as he sets the huge 400-passenger plane for take off. The feeling is unbelievably real as I push the throttle forward and thrust us into the air. Unfortunately things go smoothly for only a minute as Louhivuori instructs me to land. To make a long story short---I crash the plane way short of the runway. We try again and the result is the same-I crash. Pilots are waiting to use the simulator so I'll never know if three's a charm or a strikeout.

Latest annual report available is 1993. Revenues were FIM 5.5 billion. In May of 1995, one US dollar equals about four Finnish marks so, FIM 5.5 billion equals roughly $1.4 billion. (For more information: FOY)

Amer Group Ltd.

Walking to the receptionist's desk in Amer Group's large lobby I pass a dozen or so silver metallic tables and chairs scattered about. Atop each table sits a placard with words in Finnish. Asking for the English translation I learn it's: "no smoking". It holds no significance until a few minutes later when I'm thumbing through the annual report and find out this marketing and manufacturing conglomerate is Finland's largest cigarette manufacturer (thanks to a licensing agreement with Phillip Morris back in 1961).

Amer Group's history is unusual: Four Finnish commercial and technical organizations (The Engineering Society of Finland, The Student Union of the Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration, The Land and Water Technology Foundation, The Association of Graduates of the Schools of Economics) established the company back in 1950 as Amer Tobacco for the purpose of generating revenues to finance commercial and technical education and research in post-war Finland. Over the years it's evolved into it's present form, which includes being the world's second largest sports equipment manufacturer (Wilson Sporting Goods, MacGregor Golf Company and Atomic Group) and the oldest and largest importer of cars (Toyotas, Lexus, Citroen, Suzuki) in Finland. Revenues in 1994 were FIM6.7 billion, net income FIM220 million ($1.7 billion in revenues and $55 million in profit). Though the four Finnish organizations mentioned above control only 13% of the shares, they control over 90% of the voting shares.

Mia Martikainen, Executive Secretary to the President, gladly answers questions and gives a thorough tour of the impressive granite-clad four-story headquarters three miles north of downtown Helsinki. Built in 1987, the 180,000 square foot, company-owned structure anchors the corner of a busy intersection. I note bikes passing by the front entrance and off to the sides are several bicycle racks. I'm quickly finding out Helsinki takes biking seriously because sidewalks are painted with lines down the middle designating one half for pedestrians and the other for cyclists.

What are Broker, Dealer, Trader and Investor? Names given to the company's four conference rooms by these wild and crazy Finlanders. The 300-seat theater-style auditorium gets plenty of use for public functions and ranks as one of the nicest I've seen.

WOW! That's the only word I can think of to describe Amer's plush sauna complex in the basement. Methinks this will be the standard used to judge all others. Probably 20 people can comfortably fit into each luxurious sauna. Afterwards you can take a dip in an almost Olympic-sized swimming pool OR depending on your sanity--take a jump into an ice cold plunge pool. You then retire for drinks and conversation into a large, but cozy, wood-paneled and marbled-floor room. The heavily padded comfortable brown sofas form a square around an open fireplace.

Martikainen apologizes for walking me to CEO Seppo Ahonen's office from the basement via a back staircase but, says it's faster. Kidding her, I say I now know Ahonen's escape route for ditching pesky writers. Hmmm, a working fireplace, four black chairs and four real plants in Ahonen's top floor corner office but, nary a computer or family picture to be found. Unlike their American counterparts, I'm told Finland CEO's do NOT display pictures of their families. A flower arrangement occupies Ahonen's coffee table along with a bowl of fresh fruit. Don't see any cigarettes but, Martikainen lets me take a peek into a back room where I spot a new MacGregor golf bag.

There's an outline map of the world covering most of a marble wall in Ahonen's office. I've see quite a few like these where little dots or tiny lights are used to pinpoint various company operations around the world. So what's the big deal? Martikainen says the good-sized, diamond-like object marking Amer Group's headquarters on the map is in fact, a real diamond.

Finland companies have a Board of Directors but most also have a Supervisory Board. Lining the walls outside Amer Group's boardroom are charcoal drawings of past Supervisory Board members. The boardroom itself contains nine black chairs surrounding two black tables. A sampling of the company's cigarette products can be found in the center of the tables.

Amer Group displays quite a bit of art throughout the place (sculptures, paintings, photography) and includes an art gallery located in the building (with it's own separate entrance). Part of the company's art collection consists of some 17,000 works by Finnish artists of original illustrations for children's books and magazines, the oldest ones dating from the early 1900's. (For more information: AGPDY)

Valmet Corporation

Hate running to catch the train home? Get a job at Valmet's seven-story headquarters because commuter trains stop alongside the building. Located five miles north of downtown Helsinki and built in 1992, Valmet occupies and owns three and a half floors in the reflective glass structure. Owns floors? That's right, the company that built the building ran into financial problems and ending up selling floors to Valmet.

With over FIM 8.3 billion (US$2.1 billion) in revenues, 75% of Valmet's sales comes from the manufacture of paper and board machinery. Valmet builds those huge, block-long machines used by the paper industry. A smaller percentage of Valmet's revenues comes from its other subsidiaries including Saab-Valmet (which builds Saab convertibles), Aviation Industries, Valmet Automation and Power Transmission.

My tour guides are Seija-Ritta Laakso-Senior Vice President Corporate Communications and Sinikka Pulkkanen, secretary to CEO Matti Sundburg. About 120 employees work here with only executives having access to the sauna and golf simulator. Everyone though has access to the bike racks located next to the front entrance and I count three bikes--all unlocked.

Three real plants and one computer highlight CEO Sundburg's sixth floor corner office. No family pictures displayed on his U-shaped table. The view? Mostly railway tracks. (For more information: VAABA)

Kymmene Corporation

When riding into a big city from the outskirts, I use the downtown skyline as a directional beacon (i.e. I just ride towards the big buildings). No can do here in Helsinki because this city of a half-million people has no skyline! The tallest structure is a church steeple and that can't be more than 10 stories.

With their name in big letters atop a nine-story building, Kymmene Corporation, a forest products company, makes it easy for me to find their headquarters across the street from the railroad station.

According to Markku Franssila, Vice President-Communications, the company's roots go back to 1872 and Kymmene in Finnish means "river". The company's logo is a green griffin (which looks like a winged lion) and Franssila isn't sure but assumes the color green has to do with forests and trees.

Kymmene has leased space in the building since 1991, with 130 employees occupying seven floors. Built during the war (1942), it's a pretty unexciting place. Revenues in 1994 were FIM 18.9 billion (US$4.7 billion) and net income FIM 1 billion (US$250 million). 65% of company's revenues comes from manufacturing magazine paper, newsprint and fine paper. 23% of revenues comes from panel and sawmilling. I mention the last category because it's responsible for what sits in the middle of the boardroom table; a bowl of wooden (plywood) tulips. (For more information: KYMM)

Kesko Corporation

I get the bum's rush at Kesko Corporation, a wholesaler for consumer goods (foodstuffs, agriculture and building supplies) and Finland's third largest company with 1994 revenues of US$5.7 billion.

The six-story, block long, red brick structure with the company's name atop is about a stone's throw away from the waterfront. The security guard/receptionist in the small lobby entrance puts me on the phone with Raisa Simolin, secretary to CEO Eero Kinnunen, who proceeds to inform me, "yes, we received your material and, no, we do not wish to participate". (For more information: KESK)

Huhtamaki Oy

They sure don't let me leave empty-handed at Huhtamaki, the world's 10th largest confectionery company. Though I have absolutely no room on my bike I'm given a box of XyliFresh sugar-free chewing gum. The gum is big in Europe and will be introduced this year in the USA--the company's first attempt at international brand building. I'm also given another box containing samples of a few of the company's many familiar products: Jolly Rancher, Payday, Heath, Milk Duds, Good & Plenty, Whoppers and Super Bubble.

Since 1990, headquarters have been the 7th floor of a 10-story building fronting the downtown Helsinki waterfront. First you have to identify yourself and be buzzed into the building and then upon stepping out of the small claustrophobic elevators onto the seventh floor--buzzed in again.

My visit is fun thanks to the following people who meet with me: Timo Peltola-CEO, Markku Pietinen-VP Corporate Communications, Nocola Lindertz-Communications Assistant and, Riitta Seppala-Communicator.

Sculptures big and small seem to be everywhere as I'm given a tour of the floor. Limited to Finnish artists, the company's art collection (460 paintings, 81 sculptures) includes a bronze bust of Heikki Huhtamaki, who founded the company in 1920. Greeting visitors near the reception area is Waino Aaltonen's "Dancer", a cubism/futurism bronze created in 1928.

Poking around Timo Peltola's office I tell him he's the first Finland CEO to have family pictures on his desk. A bowl of candy sits in the center of the coffee table and of course I check out the brand. Peltola mentions sales of it's Donruss trading cards being off because the only two sports it prints cards; baseball and hockey--were both on strike. The view from Peltola's office definitely ranks among the best in Helsinki; it's an unobstructed straight-out view of the harbor area and all the action going on including the coming and going of the huge ferry ships transporting passengers, freight trucks and autos to and from Helsinki to Sweden.

Revenues in 1994 were FIM8.3 billion, net income FIM442 million. Though 60% of the company revenues comes from it's Leaf (confectionery) sector, 29% comes from its Polarcup sector (manufactures food containers, food & beverage containers) and remaining 11% from its Leiras sector, which manufacturers pharmaceutical products-including the controversial Norplant contraceptive implants.

Lunch here gets a mixed review. The sign above the entree reads: minced meat and noodles--which is the Finland way of saying, spaghetti with meat sauce. Dessert is apricot soup, a runny almost water-like substance with no texture. (For more information: HUHKI)

Nokia Corporation

Having an office or boutique on a fashionable four block-long stretch of street known as the Esplanade in downtown Helsinki means you have the most prestigious address in town.

Nokia Corporation occupies a beautiful five-story former bank building built in 1899. Located on the Esplanade, it takes two hands to open one of the massive front doors. Made out of wood, the doors exterior sides contain intricate carvings. There's no receptionist or security in the lobby but, there's a button on a ATM-like screen. Pressing the button, a voice asks what I want. I mutter about how I hate talking into a box and not being able to see who I'm talking to when all of a sudden the security guard's mug comes on the screen. Hey, this is pretty cool! He can see me and I can see him up in his second floor booth.

Shaking hands with Philip Ellison, Information Manager, you can imagine my surprise when he says he's from Los Angeles. How did you end up here? is the first question posed. Seems his wife is in the diplomat corp and was assigned here last year so, he made the BIG move. What has it been like? Ellison says he's learned to appreciate the seasons more (especially summer). He also mentions how expensive everything is here. Jeez, you don't have to tell me, FIVE dollars for a Big Mac! Ellison makes a foray back to the States twice a year and stocks up on CD's because they're practically double the price in Helsinki. Customs officials have given him a hard time because he brings back so many they think he's reselling them for a profit.

In the States this building would be designated a landmark structure. That's pretty much what it is however, as Nokia is severely restricted as to any changes it can make to the interior or exterior. I ask Ellison why his high ceiling office looks like an apartment. It was, he explains, the top several floors were apartments. Getting between floors requires walking up and a down a five-story winding, spiral marble staircase or using the spiffy-looking turn-of-the-century black metal elevator. You open the metal mesh, step into the heavy ornate metal cage, lock yourself in and it's a smooth ride back in time.

One hundred employees work in the place. CEO Jorma Ollila's fourth floor office overlooks the park fronting the Esplanade. A large 10-foot tall, antique porcelain heater oven sits in the corner and has the responsibility of warming up the parquet-floored office. I see a computer, count one real plant, several family pictures and a Nokia-brand TV and VCR.

Nokia, 1994 revenues of US$6.4 billion, net income US$763 million, is an international telecommunications and electronics company and in July of 1994 became the first Finnish company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Besides being the world's second-largest manufacturer of mobile phones and supplier of GSM/DCS cellular networks (behind Motorola), Nokia is the leading tire manufacturer in the Nordic countries and I'm not just talking about passenger and delivery van tires but, those all important bicycle tires.

Walking around the company's product showroom I'm impressed with Nokia's vast array of products but, what I want to know is; why does the security guard/receptionist on the second floor use an Ericcson phone? While asking the guard to show how he splashed his mug on the ATM-like screen in the lobby I reached over and checked the two phones lying on the desk--one was a Nokia and the other an Ericcson. Since Ellison is a super nice guy, I let him off the hook easy. (For more information: NOKS)

Unitas Bank Ltd. and Kansallis-Asake

Unitas Bank Ltd. and Kansallis-Asakae (two bank holding companies), located on the same street several doors down from each other, are in the process of merging to form Finland's biggest bank. I hope they get their act together because I waste an hour at each office trying to meet with someone, anyone and leave so frustrated--I almost go and buy a bottle of Finlandia vodka. I end up walking down the street to Union Bank of Finland's main bank branch and Kauko Tammilehto, Information Officer, explains in broken English the situation. The merger between the two hasn't been finalized, no one knows who'll be the CEO, if either holding company's current headquarters will be the new home of the merged banks or even if there will be a new name or keep one of the current. Yeah, but what happened to the letters I sent to each CEO? Why can't my letters be tracked down? Tammilehto shrugs his shoulders. (For more information: UNBKA)

EffJohn Oy AB

Effective September 1, 1995, Silja Oy Ab will replace Effjohn Oy Ab as the company's name. Why? To better reflect the company's core business: Silja Line, a passenger ferry operation conducting business in the Baltic Sea. Over 13 million passengers are carried annually on the ferry traffic routes between Finland and Sweden. Silja Line transported five million of those passengers and the company's share of the market between the Finnish mainland and Sweden rose to 63%. Silja also operates ferries in the English Channel.

Effjohn occupies all five floors in a turn-of-the-century building near the Esplanade and it comes as no surprise to find the small second floor lobby area decorated with nautical items including a large ship's steering wheel mounted on the wall and a glass enclosed scale model of Ariadne, a passenger steamer built in 1914 and used in various capacities until it was scrapped in 1969.

Roughly 200 people work in the building. Furnishings throughout are sparse including CEO Robet Ehrnrooth's second floor office with a view of the Esplanade. Two paintings of ships, a scale model of a ship and a picture of a horse (he likes to ride horses) highlight Ehrnrooth's place of work. The two half-circle, thickly padded chairs visitors sit in across from Ehrnrooth's desk look odd but comfortable. Eeva Korhonen, Vice President-Corporate Communications, who's been showing me around, says they're smoking chairs from the gone but not forgotten, former passenger steamer Ariadne.

How's business? I ask Korhonen. "Business is down" she replies. The culprit? The Estonia disaster on September 28, 1994 (the sinking of the ferry ship). Traffic has decreased, even with a lowering of fares. Revenues were FIM4.4 billion, net loss FIM 133 million in 1994. (For more information: EFFDA)

Kemira Oy

Boy, red brick structures are popular in Helsinki. Occupying a company-owned, red brick building two miles from downtown is Kemira, an international chemical company, 72% owned by the government of Finland.

I receive a great welcome and tour from Botho Simolin, Vice President-Communications. He's very flexible and generous with his time, considering he had no inkling as to who I was or what I was doing when I arrived at their front door on my bike.

Built in 1986, the roughly 190,000 square foot, company-owned, eight-story structure houses 400 employees. Conference rooms are named after cities having plants (Rotterdam, Brussels and Savannah to name a few).

Plenty of recreation perks including an indoor swimming pool, an indoor full-size basketball court, billiards, weight room (including a punching bag) and of course, saunas.

CEO Heimo Karinen, Chairman and CEO, lets me check out his top floor, half-circle office. Karinen says he's a sailor and likes the fact he can see the nearby Gulf of Finland from his desk.

Revenues in 1994 were US$2.5 billion, net income $US49 million. (For more information: KEMR)

Metra Corporation

Metra, the world's largest manufacturer of medium-speed diesel engines (Wartsila Diesel) and through its Sanitec division-Europe's largest producer of bathroom ceramics, calls a seven-story, former factory its home. The company-owned, block long, red brick structure sits about a half-mile from downtown Helsinki.

Nothing to write home about here as Eeva Kainulainen, Vice President-Corporate Communications, walks me around. CEO Georg Ehrnrooth's modestly furnished corner office has a view of Finland's Parliament Building located a mile away, contains no computer, no family pictures and one lonely looking plant.

The highlight of the visit? Getting stuck in the elevator. Many elevators here are unlike those in the States. Metra has the ones where you look through a small hole in the metal door to see if the elevator is there and available, then you open the door and step in. As I mentioned earlier, every elevator in Helsinki is small and claustrophobic. Anyway, the security guard/receptionist used his passcard to open the elevator door, pushed the floor button for me, then stepped out. So, upon reaching the fourth floor to meet with Ms. Kainulainen, I had no clue as to getting out the door because it doesn't open automatically and no buttons to push. The elevator goes down back to the lobby and I find myself yelling for help. The security guard (who doesn't speak a word of English) shows me how to PUSH open the door to exit. I sheepishly nod and head back up, resigned to my fate as fodder when the security guards get together and swap stories about not-too-bright visitors.

Revenues in 1994 were FIM10.1 billion. (For more information: META)

Stockmann Oy AB

The 297,000 square foot flagship store of Stockmann is the largest department store in Scandinavia. Anchoring one of the busiest intersections in downtown, the nine-story mammoth building takes up a whole city block and one can see from its exterior where additions have been added on over the years. Running department stores all over Finland, and five in Russia (four in Moscow) isn't the only retail trade the company operates. Stockmann's, founded in 1862 by G.F. Stockmann, is the leading car dealer in Finland (Audi, Chrysler, Ford, Nissan, Volkswagen), runs Finland's biggest mail order company, operates 14 supermarkets, a clothing retail chain of 60 stores and a group of bookstores. Revenues in 1994 were FIM5.5 billion.

After making my way up escalators, stairways and elevators I find myself on the executive offices on the eighth floor. A bronze bust of Founder G.F. Stockmann greets you upon entering the area. Riilla Uard, Communications, answers questions.

It's hard to believe but, back in 1930 when G.F. Stockmmann applied for permits to build his flagship store the site was considered in the boondocks, the city granted his request under the condition he build a street leading out to his new store. He complied and as a result-Stockmann owns the land under the prime downtown street for about six blocks. So? So there's a six-block long Stockmann warehouse UNDER the street.

Nothing fancy about the furnishings in the executive area or CEO Ari Heinio's corner office except for his desk. Waaaay back a long time ago Stockmann manufactured its own line of furniture. Heinio's desk was one of those built.

I'm taken for a ride on one of only three known continuos moving elevators in Finland (maybe the world?). Built back in the 1930's, it's now only used by employees because of the danger factor. One elevator is continually going up while the other is going down. Grabbing a handle as it passes, you hop on or off VERY quickly. You definitely have to be quick to use them.

Birgitta Ivars, Heinio's secretary points out the oddest tidbit to me, as I'm leaving. On the hallway wall is a cheap-looking, hand-painted plate. Who's the artist? Pablo Picasso. (For more information: STMNA)

Repola Ltd. and Enso-Gutzeit Oy

Enso-Gutzeit (1994 revenues FIM17.7 billion, net income FIM1.6 billion) and Repola Ltd. (1994 revenues FIM28.6 billion, net income FIM2 billion) are forest products companies with similar headquarters within blocks of each other. Repola's seven-story office building was built in the 1960's and is company-owned. Enso-Gutzeit's six-story structure was built in the 1960's and is company-owned. Both are low-key, identifying their headquarters by small plaques mounted outside the front doors.

Yrjo Rouhunkoski, Information department-Enso-Gutzeit and Sini Paloheimo, Information Officer-Repola, answer questions. Both buildings have impressive neighbors. Repola's is across the street from the National Archives and Bank of Finland buildings while Enso-Gutzeit sits across the street from the Presidential Palace and a cathedral.

Disappointed in not getting to see the boardroom at Repola because forest products companies usually have impressive boardroom tables made out of exotic wood. Disappointed in seeing Enso-Gutzeit's because the square-shaped table seating 24 looks ordinary although the pinewood walls and Finnish birch in the elevators snazzy up the place. (For more information: ENSOR and REPIS)

The Pohjola Group

Several connected buildings on a nine-acre site four miles from downtown Helsinki comprise the headquarters of The Pohjola Group, an insurance holding company. With over FIM12.9 billion in assets, Pohjola is Finland's second largest insurance company. Built in 1969, over 1,600 employees work in the 910,000 square foot complex.

My contact person turns out to be CEO Jukka Rantala and we meet in his corner office located on the top floor in the tallest building (11-stories). Besides paintings on the walls, I noticed quite a few sculptures of bears walking to Rantala's office. Turns out many years ago the logo for the 104-year old company was a bear. Now, the bear is gone but a part of it still occupies the company's logo. The Pohjola Group's logo is a "P" but it's done so that it looks like a bear's paw (I know it's hard to visualize but take my word for it). The company's extensive art collection totals over 1,000 works by Finnish artists with the major part of the collection consisting of modern art, from the 1950's to the present. Speaking of art, an indescribable eight-foot tall bronze by Pullinen Laila titled, "The Way, The Truth And The Life 1977" graces the 11-story atrium lobby.

Nothing fancy about Rantala's office. He's an avid biker and says he rides to work in the summer. Rantala runs me by the executive sauna down the hall. It's pretty nice but, no one has even come close to the plush sauna complex at Amer Group. With both Finnish and Swedish being the official languages in Finland I've been asking Finlanders how many languages they speak. Rantala rattles off five: Swedish, Finnish, English, German and a touch of Russian.

Plenty of recreation perks for employees in the basement: an indoor lap pool, indoor tennis court, a full-size basketball court, two pool tables, two Ping-Pong tables and a pistol & rifle shooting range. Employees wanting a different kind of recreation can use fully equipped woodworking and textile-making rooms next to the pistol range. (For more information: PHJAA)

KONE Corporation

Though only about a half mile from Pohjola's headquarters, it's pretty tricky finding KONE Corporation's headquarters because it's tucked away in a large complex of residential apartments and fronts the entrance to a park.

Wow, the sides of the seven-story building are sprayed with graffiti and it looks like it's been there a while. I guess the company doesn't care about appearances. Taking the elevator up to the seventh floor to visit KONE Corporation is VERY disappointing. Why? You'd think the world's third largest elevator company (after Otis and Schneider) would have one of its latest models zipping guests up the top floor.

My contact turns out to be John Simon, editor of the company employee newsletter and a transplanted New Yorker from Manhattan. Simon married a Finnish woman and has lived here for years but, still has that distinctive New York accent.

Asking Simon, "how many people work here" turns complicated when I'm informed this really isn't the corporate offices. CEO Pekka Herlin hangs his hat down the road about a half-mile in Munkkiniemi (Monk's Point) Manor House, an elegant two-story mansion overlooking the water. Company president Anssi Soila works out of a Belgium office but, keeps an office here. Since Simon says it isn't possible for me to have a look at the manor house down the road I make due with this place. About 80 people work in the top two floors. The Egyptian consular's office occupies one of the lower floor in this blah building. Built and originally owned by KONE in 1973, the company is now just a renter.

Thumbing through the annual report is fun because it's filled with pictures of beautiful still-in-use turn-of-the-century elevators around the world. Revenues in 1994 were US$1.63 billion, net income US$54 million. KONE in Finish means "machine". (For more information: KONSB)

Neste Oy

The last company I visit in the Helsinki area lays claim to being the biggest in Finland. Founded in 1948, Neste is a state-owned oil/gas/chemical and energy company (currently planning to lower its ownership) with 1994 revenues of FIM49.2 billion, net income FIM1.5 billion.

Headquarters fronts the water in Espoo, a city of 160,000 people, six miles from Helsinki. It's tough to not see the place because in this country of short buildings; the 18-story tower is the tallest building in Finland.

Next to the security guard/reception desk stands an expensive-looking six-foot tall Patek Philipee clock. The clock's time, according to the security guard, is EXACT because it's relayed electronically from Geneva.

The large lobby contains a company display showing its various products and divisions at work. I count six model oil and gas tankers on display. All enclosed in glass, the biggest model tanker is 10-feet long, two are six-feet long, two are four-feet and one is three-feet. The other side of the lobby contains a piano.

Matti Saarinen, VP-Corporate Communications, greets me in the expansive lobby and after a few minutes of conversation-turns me over to Kimmo Lehtosuo, Manager-Corporate Security Unit, because "he knows all about the facility". Yeah, but it turns out Lehtosuo doesn't want to share any of that information with me. Lehtossuo treats me as though I'm a spy. Ask him a simple question like "who gets reserved parking spots?" and he answers "what relevance does that have?".

Asking Lehtosuo if I can see the CEO's office and boardroom gets a quick "no". "Does the CEO have a corner office?" I ask. "I won't answer that", he replies. Trying again I ask, "Is he on the top floor?" Lehtosuo says, "I won't answer that for security reasons". Knowing this is going nowhere I still continue, "What does he have a view of?" Lehtosuo answers, "I'm not going to say".

Built in 1975, the 285,000 square foot, 18-story high-rise is connected a new addition completed in 1994. There's a total of five Neste buildings in the immediate vicinity having a combined total of 1,100 employees.

According to Lehtosuo, recreation facilities in the high-rise includes among others: a swimming pool, tennis court, bowling and, a golf simulator. Of the above mentioned items, I can only verify the pool because believe it or not, he actually walks me down to the basement to see it.

My leaving ends on a somewhat sour note. When first arriving I told the security guard/receptionist about my unusual hobby of collecting company visitor badges and he eagerly handed one over. I probably have one of the world's largest collections. Anyway, when leaving I tell this to Lehtosuo (me and my big mouth!) and mention the guard handing over a badge. "You can't have it" says Lehtosuo. I give it back and walk out the door. I'm unlocking my bike and getting ready to hop on when one of the security guards runs out and well, let's just say he winks, shakes my hand and accidentally drops SOMETHING in my backpack.

Sampo Group

Seventy miles west of Helsinki on the Baltic Sea lies Turku, population 170,000. With 1994 revenues of FIM5.6 billion, Sampo Group is Finland's largest insurance company.

Though the large block-long by block-wide, seven-story building in downtown Turku is referred to as the "Head Office", I find out from Tuomo Paasi, Editor-In-Chief-Sampo Group Information, that the executives have moved to Stockholm.

Sensing my disappointment, Paasi suggests going to lunch and afterwards a tour of the place. I agree. Turns out we don't go to the cafeteria where the masses eat but, upstairs in the executive dining room. Mmmmm, the steak is good, so is the fish and all the fancy appetizers. I could get use to this kind of food. My stomach drops a notch though as I look out the window and see it starting to SNOW.

Built in 1938, the company-owned building is similar to quite a few insurance company headquarters visited in the USA. With that I mean it's got that big, bulky, fortress-look to it. Going down to the basement is a surprise because a tunnel goes under a city street to another Sampo building a block away. The tunnel takes us past a company fall-out shelter built during the Cold War era. Paasi says Russian bombs during World War II damaged the main building. From the second building there's another tunnel under a city street connecting to a third building still another block away. The newest saunas are in the third building so, Paasi grants my request to check them out.

Punching bags seem to be big in Finland and I find two in the weight room. Nope, no pictures of the CEO taped on the bags.

Funniest moment comes when walking down a hall and Paasi asks if I'm Catholic. I tell him I was baptized Catholic. He then says, "so you must believe in heaven and hell" and with that said we turn a corner and come face to face with a pair of continuous-moving open elevators. Paasi points to the one going up and says, "that's probably the one you want to catch". (For more information: SMPOF)

Raision Group

It's 10 miles from Turku to suburban Raisio and the ride turns out to be for naught because Steven Von Hellens, Information Officer-Raisio Group, says I picked a very bad day to visit because meetings are going on and no one is available to answer questions.

Raisio Group, founded by farmers in southwest Finland in 1939, is now Finland's largest foodstuffs producer. It's market share of wheat flour is 57%, malts 46%, food oils 53%, French fries 50%, and potato flakes 60%. Revenues in 1994 was FIM3.5 billion, with 48% coming from foodstuffs, 28% chemicals and 24% animal feeds.

Though the three-story headquarters building isn't big, it's situated inside a fenced-in, sprawling complex of towering flourmills and a chemical plant. (For more information: RTEVS)

Tampella Oy

A hundred miles northwest of Helsinki lies Tampere, population 170,000. It's Finland's second, third or fourth largest city-depending on who's doing the talking. Folks in Tampere claim THEY are the second largest, while I heard the same line from the locals in the cities of Turku and Espoo.

Tampella, a mechanical engineering firm founded in 1856, leases space in a 100-year former textile factory. Located downtown next to the river, the red brick structure is home to 200 employees. Walking me around the sparsely furnished offices, Jorma Sillman-controller, says the company will be moving in several years because the multi-building factory site will be redeveloped.

I as a consumer wouldn't buy what Tampella manufacturers but, other companies do. Tampella manufactures rock drilling and mining machinery, chemical recovery and power boilers plus, hydraulic hammers and breaker boom systems. Revenues in 1994 were FIM3.2 billion, net loss before taxes FIM198 million. (For more information: TAMP)

This and that on Finland

The amount of graffiti in Finland totally took me by surprise. It's EVERYWHERE. Los Angeles almost pales in comparison.

Did you know Finland and the United Kingdom were the only two western countries during World War 11 not under enemy occupation? Did you know Finland, in area, is the sixth largest country in Europe?

Kids in Finland love to wear hats and jerseys of American sports teams. The favorites seem to be Los Angeles Raiders (football), San Francisco 49ers (football) and the New Jersey Devils (hockey).

Riding around Finland I saw lots of wild rabbits. So? The rabbits around here are HUGE. They're bigger than cats and I kid you not--bigger than most of the dogs.

My rides around neighborhoods results in this conclusion: cactus is the plant of choice for Finlanders to have on display in their windows.