Ajk kotisivu Pekka Pihlanto
Antti Paasio in Focus

Adventures in the Academic World in Companionship with Antti

Teoksessa: P. Malinen (toim.) Professor Emeritus Antti Paasio: 10 Years Ahead of His Time, Yet Usually Late.
Turun kauppakorkeakoulun julkaisuja. Sarja C-3:2015.

Professor of Entrepreneurship

I learnt to know Antti Paasio as he started his studies at the Turku School of Economics in the beginning of the 1970's. In those days, I acted as a research assistant in accounting. It was told that the son of Prime Minister Rafael Paasio had started at our school. A friend of mine mentioned that he had heard Antti's own story about his first days at the School. Always when Antti's name was mentioned by the teacher, everybody curiously turned their heads to see the fellow. Publicity and the role of a celebrity seemed to be Antti's destiny. It was probably only after the triumph of the Social Democrats ended in Finnish politics – and most of politicians named Paasio retired from its front lines – that Antti got some peace.

Without a doubt Antti's political relations were useful for him, especially at the time that the Social Democrats were a regent party in Finland, but they were also harmful. Antti has revealed later that it bothered him when he was told – time after time – why some less competent applicant was selected for a position instead of him. Of course, the explanations didn't touch the real reasons for his rejection.

The management of the School utilized Antti's political relationships later: for instance, some decades ago when the School was struggling for its independence. Many of these battles ended successfully (till 2010 when the TSE was merged with the University of Turku).

At last Antti's star began to rise. He received the position of a research assistant in 1973. He finished his Ph.D. in accounting in 1981 – on Business Cybernetics and Accounting. Professor Jouko Lehtovuori acted both as his commodious instructor and his official opponent. Professor Lehtovuori had a chair at the Helsinki School of Economics whilst serving simultaneously as a visiting professor at the TSE.

At the time, cybernetics was a new and lively discussed innovation in the social sciences. Its relevance was also heavily argued, but Professor Lehtovuori was an open-minded scholar and gave his full support to Antti's research project, even if his instruction work might have been faltering a little. However, the most important thing was professorial support and acceptance – as I myself realized when preparing my dissertation under Professor Lehtovuori’s guidance.

Antti was appointed as a professor of entrepreneurship at a very early stage of his career. Professor Lehtovuori gave his helping hand to this process as well, but regardless, Antti was certainly the most competent and most suitable among the applicants.

A locally well-known entrepreneur, Matti Koivurinta, donated this professorship to the TSE. It was said that Mr. Koivurinta had accepted Antti's appointment even if the donator officially had no role in the appointment. Some wondered how a well-known Social Democrat could be appointed as a professor of entrepreneurship. So narrow-minded the opinions of some folks could be in those days.

By succeeding so well in his position, Antti brought shame on these skeptics. Antti created the illustrious Center for Business Research and Education (CBRE), which also became well-known internationally. The Center concentrated on research projects in firms and public organizations, but also on scientific research. Its work contributed strongly to the success of many business enterprises and public organizations both in Finland and abroad.

The well-known saying is also true in Antti's case: "No man is a prophet in his own land". This is because the support that the Center needed and should have received from the TSE was never totally realized. The Center was later divided in two, and Antti stayed on as head of the other part, called Business Innovations and Development (BID).

After the TSE was merged with the University of Turku, BID was removed from the TSE to the direct supervision of the university’s management. Many people interpreted this move as a positive sign: the university management had realized the importance of innovations and business development and wanted to considerably invest in it. The reality, however, was something else: from the outset of 2014, BID was merged with two other institutions within the University organization. As I see it, the originality of BID was drowned in the large Brahea Institute – the other two parts of which hardly represent neither innovativeness nor internationality, which are the strengths of BID.

With the above brief review completed, I would like to concentrate on an anecdotal level on the encounters I’ve had with Antti during the past decennia.

Encounters with Antti around academic circles

As far as I can gather, I met Antti the first time when I was acting in the role of temporary teacher and Antti was still a student. The head of the Department of Accounting, Reino Majala, delegated me with his cash flow exercises during his official tour. Some of the students were talking with each other, disrupting the lecture atmosphere. However, Antti intervened in the ballyhoo and efficiently calmed them down. Antti also answered my questions actively and with knowledge – usually students were reluctant to say anything publicly during lectures. No wonder I immediately got a favorable impression of him.

As mentioned above, Antti started working as a research assistant of accounting. Practically the whole group of personnel in the department participated as a habit in the conferences and other academic meetings – both domestic and international. At first, the international trips were directed to the Nordic Business Studies Conferences (Nordiska Företagsekonomiska Ämneskonferensen), which were held in the Nordic countries – in Stockholm, Arhus, Helsinki, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Bergen, and even Turku.

Antti was immediately noted as a fluent speaker of Swedish. Danish participants claimed that they speak "Nordic" (nordiska), but it was as obscure as their native language. Antti was totally open for discussions – in both the "Nordic" dialect and in Swedish. The nuisances of travel integrated our group, and everybody got to know his/her colleague very well. Once we were rushing in Helsingör to the Copenhagen train with our luggage. Antti sprang ahead, and cheerfully shouted hurry-up remarks to us "weak-legged" companions. And good that he did: everyone catch the train at the last minute.

There were also domestic conferences. We participated in the NordData conference in Helsinki. Everybody was nervous about their own presentation. It had to be given in English – in spite of the fact that sometimes there might only be Finnish speakers in the audience. I think it was at this very conference that I defined – in "vino veritas" mood at a get-together party – Antti's character by saying him that there was a hard chitin shell around him which, however, starts to crack under favorable circumstances. This definition describes – or at least described at the time – the basic impression I got from Antti. After becoming friends with him, the shell started to break little by little, but not totally. As far as I know, Antti never told his sorrows to friends. Instead, a cheerful and an apparently light attitude towards life, as well as a certain reserve, were typical of him.

Throughout the period we were also preparing our licentiate thesis, and after that our dissertations. As mentioned, we both enjoyed the unorthodox but stimulating supervision by the now legendary Professor Lehtovuori. Sometimes it took place in Helsinki, in the culturally rich atmosphere of the Elite Restaurant, which was favored by artists – and very often at Hämeenportti, a famous student restaurant in Turku near the TSE. Professor Lehtovuori was excellent in fostering the optimism and self-confidence of the doctoral students. This was indeed needed, but the important decisions concerning the dissertation had to be made independently by the doctoral students. Antti later described the feeling before the huge work of dissertation preparation by saying that he felt as if he were standing by an enormous pile of timber, a small axe in his hand.

Sometimes Professor Lehtovuori might get stuck at Hämeenportti even if the students were already waiting for him in the lecture room. Occasionally, we had to persuade him to come to the cathedra as he moaned over his hangover in his room. Antti was the only person at the department who had the guts to go before the waiting students in order to announce the delay of the lecturer. Once Antti had to go a couple of times to the lecture room in order to calm down the students, who were clearly becoming overly impatient.

As a result of Antti's diligence – and perhaps to some degree the supervision – Antti finished, as mentioned his Ph.D. He arranged the traditional after-dissertation dinner on board the sailing ship Finland's Swan (Suomen Joutsen) which was (and still is) docked by the River Aura. The Skipper's Saloon was an apt venue for celebrating for a sailor like Antti. He had placed the guests to the table according to their academic rank without consideration for their administrative positions. This was unusual, and perhaps predictably, it seemed to distress at least one highly positioned administrative officer who didn't have an academic merit of mention. Antti never flattered authorities.

It was exactly this situation where I started a little tradition at the Department of Accounting. As a present, I gave Antti tenor saxophonist John Coltrane's album called Giant Steps. In my opinion, the title symbolized Antti's dissertation work, and later it was noticed to anticipate Antti's achievements rather nicely – his many giant steps. Every time I play this album, I remember Antti and his Ph.D. jubilation night. In my opinion, Coltrane's innovative music symbolizes a person's individuality, creativity and determination. All these are human qualities which an academician as well as an artist needs in his or her work.

In International Arenas as well as Home Waters

The European Accounting Association (EAA) was founded in 1977. Its aim was to provide an international venue for accounting researchers to meet colleagues and present their scientific contributions. The Nordic orientation also changed to an international one at our department. In EAA congresses, Antti communicated and established useful networks with colleagues from various countries – utilizing his fluent English. He mastered finely personal PR work. In small talk, he didn't hide his background as a son of the Prime Minister of Finland.

In 1978, personnel from our department visited the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management in Brussels. Every participant prepared papers which were collectively published as a book. Presentations were given in the Institute and also in some local firms. During this excursion, I learned to know Antti still better, because we shared a room. After a hilarious evening, the celebration sometimes continued at the hotel. Once, a very expensive bottle of champagne was taken from our room's mini-bar and promptly consumed. The very next morning the cost of the bottle was collected under a reticent atmosphere from those who had shared the nectar.

On a couple of evenings, a group of us visited a jazz club by the Grand-Place. It might have been my idea, but Antti also liked jazz. Once we visited Montmartre Jazz Club in Copenhagen. The music was fine – so fine that it lullabied Antti to sleep – obviously, in order to be able after a while to continue listening with new vigor.

In 1994, the EAA congress was held in Venice. After the official program, we explored the nightlife of the town. We decided to have a snack in a typical Italian restaurant near San Marco. An arrogant male waiter imagined that he knew better than us – the customers – what we should eat. Antti returned the man’s comments by remarking: "We are persons who know what we want!" The waiter's style changed immediately.

At the EAA congress in Bergen in 1996, there was, among other things, a cruise on board a ship which usually sails a route called Hurtigruten. The rest of the evening was spent in harbor, in an Irish pub. The mood was uproarious, and we were planning to elect Antti the next rector of the TSE – the election was in the near future. As usual, however, ideas invented by a pint or two were not realized.

Whenever the subject is Antti, it’s impossible to neglect the sea and sailboat. Once, we were returning from a visit to Administrative Manager Arno Leino's summer cottage on Antti's sailboat. I was allowed to stand at the helm, and I was too eagerly – and loudly – concentrated on recalling the adventures on the seas of the world of my ancestors, the "Old Pihlmans", who were sea captains and ship-owners. So of course it had to happen that the towrope of the dinghy behind the boat became entangled with the propeller. Antti's mood was not the best possible as he tried to cut the rope with a knife, his head occasionally under water. The helmsman was subsequently changed for the rest of the trip.

Another time, we research assistants made a trip to Velkua by car. We took a bath in my old smoke sauna, which my aunt had heated up for us – the process takes at least five or six hours. Antti told me later that when we were having an after-sauna coffee in my aunt's house he noticed an old photograph on the wall. It presented a troop of Velkua Defence Forces men with their uniforms and rifles – taken perhaps at the outset of the 1920s (my grandfather and father were also in the picture). Antti's feelings were understandably mixed. But time cures all wounds: the descendant of a Red Guardian and the son of a White Defence Forces officer can be friends – over seventy years after the Civil War had ended.

The Director of CBRE and BID

I also came to contact with Antti in the Center for Business Research and Education (CBRE) and BID, which were founded and managed by Antti. I served some time as a Chairman of the Board of the CBRE. I considered my position a sign of a great confidence by Antti.

Board meetings were due to Antti easygoing. He was able to lighten in a right way the meeting also when there were difficult problems on agenda. He told that one of his principles in management was that at the workplace there must be fun – "every day people should laugh at least a little bit", he said. The mood at the Institution and in its coffee room was always relaxed.

As I understand it, Antti's management style was soft and human oriented. One of his employees expressed by saying that Antti doesn't command, but instead, he suggests. In spite of his military rank, captain, he isn't neither army-style commander nor manager, who makes a big deal of his position as a superior. Nothing of the kind. I think that in a crisis situations he tended to withdraw rather than run amok in order to further his case.

Antti's management style seems to give considerable freedom to employees. People do not need to be guided by the hand. Instead, the results show how an individual or project is doing. For a person lacking self-confidence, this style may be a problem, but an independent personality flourishes in a permissive working environment.

Antti seemed to keep a certain distance from his own superiors. He gave his personnel the freedom to act, but he also expected freedom himself and, therefore, didn't like if his superiors were overly controlling. Control mentality has constantly increased in universities during the past few decades. Most likely, Antti felt it as a repressive bureaucracy – like many others working in the academic world.

I got the impression that Antti was a quick decision-maker. When somebody came to Antti with a problem, the answer was usually given like lightning, without a great deal of consideration. However, Antti wasn't often available at the office to give advice, because he travelled all over the Europe and sometimes also outside the Old World, dealing with his surprisingly large contact net. The management of the School didn't always understand that this important internationality couldn't be created by staying home behind a desk – as well as the fact that internationality occasionally requires considerable travel expenses.

Ending: the arrogant lunchers

During my stay at the institutions managed by Antti, I wasn’t subjected to any accountability over my doings. I had a desk and chair at the CBRE/BID for over ten years since my retirement in September 2003. In the spring of that year, we were returning by car from the rector's reception, and I was reflecting on what to do and where during my Emeritus period. Antti said immediately: "Welcome to the CBRE, there'll be a place for you". My problem was settled.

I worked there for the most part day-in day-out, writing articles, papers and a couple of books. Antti gave me free hands to do whatever I liked. Sometimes I asked him if a critical Letter to the Editor was suitable for sending to a newspaper, or if it might be harmful to the institution. Antti replied without hesitation that in a university there should always be tolerance for critique.

I attended the institution's strategy meetings and cruises, Christmas lunches, and so on. Antti was always a cheerful host, who was easy to approach for conversation and joking by everybody. This created an atmosphere of freedom, typical in the institution: I must stress that I have met various types of managers in my life, and Antti was a clearly positive exception among them.

During my ten years’ stay at the institution, Antti and I had the habit to have lunch together – usually a rather long one – once a month at the Svenska Klubben restaurant (the Swedish Club). We started to place ourselves at the Tower table, which is indeed situated in a round tower of this old building. The personnel of the Club soon got used to these always happy fellows, who liked to have the restaurant's specialty, Arrogant wine. As Antti joked, it suits us, because its name describes us so well.

Very rarely – and only briefly – we concentrate on the dark sides of life. The strongest memory of these sessions – which still continue – remains an optimistic attitude to life. We had lived for decades in the same work community at the TSE, and therefore we have lots of material for memorizing our legendary supervisors, teachers and other persons. Of course, also current political and university political problems are dealt with. Antti has remarked several times that our lunch is one of the highlights of the week. I feel exactly likewise.

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