I have often returned in my thoughts to year 2011. It was a memorable year to serve as Dean of the School of Business and Conferrer of Degrees at the spring conferment ceremony. The year was full of centenary events: the 100th anniversary celebration, the conferment ceremony, the alumni gala. In preparation for the centenary events, I read ‘Vuosisadan tilinpäätös’, a historical account of the school by Karl-Erik Michelsen. As I read about the founding of the Helsinki School of Economics, I was greatly impressed by the vision and foresight of the leaders of the time. At the beginning of the 20th century, Finland was changing from an agrarian society to an industrial one. The Helsinki University of Technology was established in 1908 to train engineers needed by the country's developing industries. The Helsinki School of Economics was established three years later to meet the needs of the developing service sector. The civil service training provided in the early years of independence focused on jurisprudence, but Michelsen argued that this was insufficient because ‘the activities of industrial companies, banks, insurance companies and commercial houses obey the laws of business.’
Foreign trade was flourishing. There was a need for people with language skills who understood about taxation, customs duties, finance and the transportation sector. A century ago there was no suitable education available for senior managers, and Michelsen points out that the curriculum also lacked courses on marketing. The time was ripe for a private business school in Finland. However, there was concern about where to find the necessary funding. Finland was a poor country at the time. As a partial solution, the Foundation for Economic Education was established, and it functioned during the first few decades in the same way as the HSE Support Foundation today. Even some of the salaries of the professors were paid by the Foundation for Economic Education.
Insightful, future-oriented thinking
It is astonishing how timely the thoughts of the founders of the School of Economics still are. The first Rector Kyösti Järvinen was a central founding figure. They pondered many important and timely questions. How to maintain a good balance between theory and practice in business education? How to maintain good collaborative relationships with the business world? Is it important to conduct research and train doctoral students? What foreign languages should be taught? How important is statistics and mathematics for business students? How important is the school's own building (campus)? How best to internationalize the school? How best to use the scarce resources available to build a library that will serve both students and researchers? Which legal form would be best for the school: private or public? Good questions indeed. The curriculum for the first few years was so well crafted that many of the courses were still the same when I studied at the School of Economics at the end of the 1960s!
However, systematic doctoral education at the School of Economics and its internationalisation on a broader scale took time to materialize. In fact, it took 50 years. Former Rector and Chancellor Jaakko Honko was instrumental in achieving both. The Department of Basic Research was founded at the end of the 1960s. It served as the center for doctoral education. The internationalisation process, meanwhile, received a significant boost from Finland joining the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management (EIASM) at the beginning of the 1970s and the significant support received from different foundations in the form of travel grants. I have personal experiences of both the Department of Basic Research and EIASM, and I can say that in their time they played an important role for both the School of Economics and, indeed, for myself. As a graduate student, I was touched by the fact that Rector Jaakko Honko took an interest in the progress of my studies at EIASM and that he later served as chair at the public examination of my doctoral dissertation. In fact, the importance of EIASM extends beyond the School of Economics and Finland to Europe as a whole.
The world is changing at an unprecedented rate. The driver of this change is digitalisation in its many different forms. Chancellor Emeritus Matti Lehti, who was a pioneer in the digital service economy in Finland, has often emphasised the importance of digital services. It is important that universities renew and reform in order to be able to respond to the challenges that lie ahead. I hope that at the 200th anniversary of the School of Business it will be said that our generation, which was in charge of the school at the end of the 1990s and in the first decades of the 21st century, demonstrated the same wisdom and foresight as the predecessors.
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.