My Kauppis Memory: The 1986 jubilee year symposium featured presentations from future Nobel prize winners
The years roll by, and we all get old together. My shared journey together with the School of Business has now lasted exactly 50 years, from 1971 to the present day. Half a century is of course enough to accumulate a lot of memories, as I was first a student for five years, then spent forty years in different teaching, research and administrative roles that were mostly within the Department of Accounting, and now for the last five years I have been a professor emeritus. One of the memories that has stayed with me most relates to a time almost 35 years ago. It was 1986, the year when we celebrated the Helsinki School of Economics (HSE) reaching the mature age of 75.
At that time, in the mid-1980s, the casino economy and stock market craze of the late 1980s was still on its way, and nobody yet had any idea of the monetary and economic crisis that would follow in the 1990s. In HSE, as everywhere else in society, there was strong faith in the future. One particularly significant event during the 1986 jubilee year was the symposium International Symposium on Recent Developments in Business Management Research, which was held at the end of August in the Korpilampi Congress Centre in Espoo. The school’s president at the time was Professor Arvi Leponiemi and the chancellor, and former president, was Jaakko Honko. I recall that Leponiemi was chairman of the symposium’s organising committee and that Professors Markku Kallio and Kristian Möller were members. Also involved were Päivi Oinas, who was working as an economic geography assistant, as well as I myself, who at the time was a doctoral researcher at the Institute of Basic Research.
As this wasn’t just any old international seminar, but rather a special symposium for the jubilee year, the programme and arrangements were designed to fit the occasion. The idea was to bring together business economics researchers from different sub-fields to present the most recent research and to discuss topical issues and the future direction of the field as a whole. With all its different elements, it ended up being a five-day event, from 24 to 28 August, and an abundance of interested presenters signed up to speak on areas such as marketing, accounting, finance, organisational research, and so on. Among them may well have been the likes of Eero Kasanen, who had just completed his doctorate at Harvard University, and another American PhD holder, Pontus Troberg. Both of these later became close acquaintances of mine, both as colleagues and, of course, in their managerial duties as well, with the former serving as president of the school and the latter as head of the Department of Accounting.
Hopwood, Williamson, Holmström...
In keeping with the special nature of the jubilee year symposium, the main speakers were renowned international researchers working at the forefront of their field. One of these was the late Professor of Accounting Anthony G. Hopwood, who at the time was at the London School of Economics. He was a very highly respected researcher and influencer at that time, particularly within the international academic research community for management accounting – quite literally ‘second to God’. His renown within research circles was only the greater for having been the one who, around a decade earlier, had established the Accounting, Organizations and Society (AOS) journal, for which he served as chief editor, and thus gatekeeper, for over thirty years. Today, AOS is one of the most internationally prestigious scientific journals in the field of accounting. It has long been on the FT50 list, and some of the researchers from the Department of Accounting have indeed managed to get their research published in it.
In addition to Hopwood, a couple of other renowned researchers were invited to Korpilampi. Indeed, although they were already well-known and respected within the scientific community back then in the mid-eighties, their international reputation and renown as researchers increased significantly later on. The reason for this was that both of them received a Nobel Prize for Economics, one of them 23 years later in 2009, and the other exactly 30 years on, in 2016. These two academics were the recently departed Oliver Williamson, who developed transaction cost theory, and Bengt Holmström, who researched management incentive systems.
To celebrate the jubilee year, and to boost the success of the symposium, it was decided to provide the invited main speakers with appropriate compensation for their efforts. After considering together with the school’s treasurer Marjukka Helenius how we would make the payments, we decided for some reason that we would simply pay them in cash rather than using international bank transfers or even checks. So I then received from Marjukka a stack of white (sic!) envelopes stuffed with dollars and was given the task of distributing these to the speakers at Korpilampi – and also obtaining from them, of course, confirmation that they had received it. I considered it a significant sign of trust on the part of our treasurer that I was given a bunch of envelopes containing such a large amount of cash.
I remember well the moment when I handed the envelope over to Oliver Williamson. It happened soon after he had finished his presentation, and he was still collecting up his things in the auditorium, which was otherwise empty at that point. I went up to him, thanked him for the interesting presentation and handed over the envelope. He looked at me with a somewhat surprised expression, thanked me and said ‘You are very efficient’. Neither before that moment nor afterwards have I ever received that kind of compliment from a Nobel prize winner. Perhaps there was good reason for it, however, as Williamson had received his payment cash in hand just a few minutes after he had finished his presentation.
As is often the case in scientific symposiums, the intention was to gather together the presentations and research papers from the event in a single ‘proceedings’ publication.
In the end, Holmström shared with me one of his articles which had been approved for publication the following year in Econometrica. I tried to obtain from the publisher copyright permission to republish the article in the compilation, but to my disappointment my request was denied. For Williamson, however, whose presentation on transaction cost theory was based on a previously published article, the publisher gave permission. The end result, and for me a concrete memento from the 75th anniversary of Helsinki School of Economics, was the publication of Proceedings of the International Symposium on Recent Developments in Business Management Research (Helsinki School of Economics Publications B-84, Helsinki 1986). It contains a total of 20 research papers, among them one from a later Nobel prize winner. And if the publisher of Econometrica had just been a little more obliging, it would have contained not one such paper but two.
Read also: The School of Business 110 years
In 2021, we ask former and current members of the School of Business community (especially faculty and staff) to share their memories of the School. These memories will comprise the ‘My Kauppis Memory’ series of stories.