50 years have passed since the Finnfocus 68 export trade show was organised on the Finnpartner ferry by Tower Bridge in London 7–11 October 1968. It was the largest, or at least the second largest, event organised by the Helsinki School of Economics Student Union (KY), preceded only by the construction of KY Building on Pohjoinen Rautatiekatu. ‘The floating export trade show’ was attended by 150 Finnish exhibitors, whose aim was either to access the UK market or strengthen their presence therein.
Arrangements for the exhibition were made by 150 business students from the Helsinki School of Economics. An office of six people was in charge of the activities in Finland, and in England, an office of two people. A Finnfocus committee led the arrangements for the trade show, chaired by Reino Routamo.
‘Whenever Finnfocus is being discussed, the first question is: Whose idea was the exhibition? I would say that it was a child of its time. Independent peace organisation Committee of 100 in Finland had been formed a few years earlier, and students' opinions veered to the left both in Europe and in Finland. In this climate, business students were slightly offside, so the KY student union felt a need to do something commercial’, active Finnfocus participant Antti Wuorenjuuri explains.
‘We were thinking in small groups as to what could be done, and gradually an idea of an export trade show floating to England emerged. This came about particularly because Amer-Tupakka Oy, a tobacco corporation established by KY in 1950, owned vessels and ferries, which could be borrowed.’
Pointless tinkering around the edges, or...
Arrangements for the export exhibition began in the summer of 1967, only slightly over a year before the event. The beginning was not easy, as the project was regarded as a pointless student activity. The project only received State aid for export promotion after the Minister of Trade and Industry got excited about it. The Finnish Foreign Trade Association was reticent about the project, thinking that the project poached on its territory.
Antti Wuorenjuuri recalls how much voluntary work the Finnfocus export fair required, as well as learning English and export marketing. ‘Native English-speaking language teachers at the School of Economics provided us with special training for half a year. In turn, the Finnish Institute of Export, which had been established a little earlier, organised education in export marketing for us. International trade and export marketing were not yet taught at all at the School of Economics. Reading the book ‘Valmiin puutavaran kauppa’ (The trade of sawn timber) by Huugo Raninen was considered sufficient.’
‘Teachers of the School of Economics were excited about the project, although, until then, internationality had equalled one German scholar as an exchange student. Of course, we were already familiar with AIESEC training.’
Big and unprecedented exhibition
Upon Finnpartner’s departure from the Port of Helsinki to London, the project had already reached such a reputation that the students were accompanied by President of the Republic Urho Kekkonen, Prime Minister Mauno Koivisto, Minister of Trade and Industry Grels Teir as well as people carrying the Finnish honorary titles of vuorineuvos and kauppaneuvos, and, of course, professors and students of the School of Economics.
‘I am proud to see what my students have accomplished and I believe in concrete results’, President of the School of Economics Pekka Heinänen declared.
Intended for invited guests, the trade show was visited by 9500 professionals from different sectors and deals worth 200 million Finnish marks were concluded. The main themes were fashion, interior design and building. In addition, exhibitors from the field of packaging, hiking and recreational facilities, food industry and banking participated in the trade show. Famous designer Antti Nurmesniemi was in charge of the visuals and the use of the exhibition space, together with the renowned graphic artist Martti Mykkänen.
In London, the ferry was also visited by Princess Margaret with her spouse Lord Snowdon, and the mayor of London, Lord Mayor. Princess Margaret also attended the successful fashion show organised by BSc (Econ) Lenita Airisto, in which five Miss Finland winners from the 1960s presented Finnish fashion.
‘Sunday Times and the world's largest evening newspaper Evening News published a number of texts and photos during the trade show about Finnish fashion, design and the fashion show organised on the ferry. I can still remember the positive attention even after all these decades’, Antti Wuorenjuuri says.
Former students of the School of Economics who took part in the Finnfocus arrangements got together at the School of Business on Friday 12 October 2018 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the event (in the picture below). Many memories were shared at the joyous party, such as that, as late as ten years after the exhibition, whenever the promotion of export was under discussion in Finland, it was illustrated by an image of m/s Finnpartner by Tower Bridge.