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Alumni of the School of Business returned to their old school 70 years after they started their studies

Budding internationalism, friends, choral singing and a secure post-graduate job are at the forefront of memories.
Vuosikurssin -49 alumnit Helga Dahlgren (vas.), Olli Nuotio ja Kristina Puranen
Alumni Helga Dahlgren (on the left), Olli Nuotio and Kristina Puranen, who started their studies at the Helsinki School of Economics in 1949. Photo: Roope Kiviranta / Aalto University

On 3 December, Kristina Puranen, Helga Dahlgren and Olli Nuotio, who started their studies at the School of Economics seventy years ago in 1949, visited the School of Business at Ekonominaukio 1. Ingmar Björkman, Dean of the School of Business, and Jonna Söderholm, Head of External Relations, had the pleasure and honour of presenting the new facilities of the School of Business in Otaniemi to our former students and of giving them an account of the activities of the School of Business today as part of Aalto University.

The class of 1949 started its studies on 17 October 1949 in the main building of the Helsinki School of Economics, as the school was then known, in Töölö. This class was also the first one to begin their studies in the new building, and were initially the only students in the building. At the time, earlier classes still continued their studies on Fabianinkatu. The construction of the Runeberginkatu building was far from completion in autumn 1949, and at first only the wing of the building facing the Sammonpuistikko park was used. Professors and lecturers spoke on a microphone in one of the of large lecture halls. The voice was played in other halls through loudspeakers which, in the best case, enabled students to hear the teaching. The completion of the large lecture hall (later, the assembly hall) changed everything, also bringing some order to lectures. However, students still had to go to the old School of Economics laboratory on Fabianinkatu for practical commodity study.

A total of 293 students had been accepted for the class of 1949, of whom 275 to 280 began their studies. As there had been only around one hundred students in each of the previous classes, the fact that student numbers had almost tripled became apparent in everything. In spring 1952, the year of the Helsinki Olympic Games, fewer than 100 students graduated from the class of 1949; in the autumn, slightly fewer, and, later, many enough to make the total number amount to approximately 250. The delay in graduation was affected by the fact that many students worked alongside their studies and that no student financial aid and student loan systems were in place at that time.

There was already a strong demand for economics graduates; KOP and PYP (since 1975, SYP) – major Finnish banks at the time – were ready to hire everyone who had studied commercial accounting as their main subject. Many new graduates with an economics degree advanced to become bank managers. All in all, the graduates of the class 1949 found excellent employment: for example, three became “vuorineuvos”, an honorary Finnish title granted for remarkable merits in industry; one was granted a similar honorary title of “teollisuusneuvos”; several became company CEOs; one became an ambassador and one the Major-Domo of the Presidential Palace. While students were not really encouraged to become entrepreneurs, many nevertheless became and were successful in their chosen fields. Only one student in the class continued his studies to gain a doctorate. He was Veikko Orpana, who earned his doctorate abroad and later served as a professor at Lappeenranta University of Technology.

Pleasant memories and a good starting point for life

Kristina Puranen reminisced how she, after having graduated in the 1952 Olympic Games year, received a scholarship from the Foundation for Economic Education and left Helsinki for London in order to take up studies at London School of Economics (LSE), carrying with her a recommendation letter from Mikko Tamminen, Professor of Economics. Her aim was to strengthen her competence in English and in economics.

‘Once at LSE, I was asked why I was there. I replied that I had a recommendation letter from Professor Tamminen and that a student from the Helsinki School of Economics had previously studied there. I was told that yes, that was true, but the previous person had been a soldier blinded by war, so he was welcome but that I didn't need a study place. Fortunately, I was friendly directed to London City College where I studied for three months,’ says Kristiina Puranen.

Kristina Puranen also spoke about one of her friends during her study time, who had gone to Sorbonne University to study and from which life had taken her to Cambodia and from there via Vietnam back to France and further to Finland. Familiarity with Vietnamese culture proved useful when refugees from Vietnam began to arrive in Finland in the late 1970s. At that time, this student friend acted as an interpreter for the Vietnamese and as a contact person for integration. Thus, an international orientation showed its first signs among the students of economics already 70 years ago.

Olli Nuotio for his part recalled an oral examination in commercial law for the Bachelor's Degree in Business held by Professor Kalle Kauppi, which lasted more than 7 hours! Nuotio explained how he had started to wonder after the lunch break, halfway into the examination, how much longer the exam would last, as he also needed to take a train. Only after seven hours did he pick up enough courage to ask about the matter, at which point Professor Kauppi told him that the examination itself had ended a long time ago but that he had not seen any reason to stop their earlier enthusiastic discussion on very interesting commercial law.

‘With my studies in the fields of business law and insurance theory, I started to feel that I am a strong lawyer. My work in the field has been suitable and meaningful for me, and I did not continue my studies for a doctorate, even though the school enquired me about this. I also remember that there were few lectures available on these subjects for a bachelor's degrees,’ says Olli Nuotio.

Both Helga Dahlgren, Kristina Puranen and Olli Nuotio have warm memories of Helsinki Academic Male Choir KYL, which was founded on 22 November 1949 as a mixed-voice choir and whose founding members all three are. Initially, there were 24 singers from the class of 1949 in the choir and 11 from the precious classes. The choir and the revived Kauppakorkeitten Orkesteri (KO) (“School of Business Orchestra”), which Kristina Puranen and Olli Nuotio also joined, music and, in particular, singing became an important part of the joint activities of the class 1949. Academic cultural competitions and, of course, sports competitions were also actively organised between student unions and students' associations Helga Dahlgren also emphasises the importance of friendships forged during the study years - many of the study friends became good life-long friends who have kept in touch with each other until recent years.

The alumni's visit ended with a speech delivered by Olli Nuotio, the final words of which were as follows: "Now we have a great deal to digest and consider. Everything at the modern School of Business is amazing and stunning. We wish the School and the entire university all the best for the future.’

Ingmar Björkman, Dean, and Jonna Söderholm, Head of External Relations, thanked Olli Nuotio for his kind words and emphasised the importance of alumni for the School of Business. ‘You are really valuable to our school; an excellent school spirit was born already during your time and even earlier, forming a foundation on which it has been easy to build activities during all these decades. Thank you for your visit and warm greetings to all the other alumni of the 1949 class who were unable to come to the Ekonominaukio Square today.’

Further information:
Emilia Nevalainen
Manager, Alumni Relations
School of Business
[email protected]

Text: Terhi Ollikainen

Dekaani Ingmar Björkman ja ulkoisten suhteiden päällikkö Jonna Söderholm isännöivät alumnien vierailua
Ingmar Björkman, Dean of the School of Business, and Jonna Söderholm, Head of External Relations, hosted the alumni visit. Photo: Roope Kiviranta / Aalto University
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