Ruka, Pyhä, Aava, Pikkujätti – Kari Jussi Aho and his siblings are the second generation steering their family business
Kari Jussi Aho, Chair of the Board of Aho Group Oy, already decided at the age of 13 or 14 that he definitely wanted to study at a school of business and only at the Helsinki School of Economics (today Aalto University School of Business).
‘Our family had bought the Ruka ski resort back then. As I was very interested in brands, I thought that the ski resort brand could also be worked on. I was accepted to the School of Economics in 1980, and that was the fulfilment of my dreams. I chose marketing as my major and I especially enjoyed studying that subject.’
Kari Jussi says that he was privileged as a 20-year-old when he started marketing Ruka and creating the brand from scratch. ‘My father gave me the authority to do something and all my exercises, seminar works and my master's thesis at the School of Economics were somehow related to Ruka. At that time, my friends worked on invented topics, but I got to work with things and results that are still visible in Ruka today.
‘Pekka Ala-Pietilä was the chair of the student union’s KY-Ski club at that time. Apparently, he had investigated my background and, as a result, he invited me to participate in their activities and the board. In a few years' time, I was the chair of the board.’
‘After KY-Ski’s trips, the chair of the club was fairly often reprimanded by the president. The trips were fast-paced, and the turns of events did not always rise the School of Economics’ profile. We did survive the reprimands, though. At least back then, KY-Ski's parties were the most popular student parties in Helsinki!’ Kari Jussi recalls the fun times.
Kari Jussi and four siblings
There are five Aho siblings. From the oldest to the youngest they are Kari Jussi, Miia Porkkala, Annakaija Lappalainen, Antti Aho and Ville Aho. Miia, Antti and Ville also joined the School of Economics after Kari Jussi, and each of them also became the chair of KY-Ski. Only Annakaija became a physician, just like their parents before her.
‘All my siblings who studied at the School of Economics also tried to utilise the school's lessons in developing family businesses and succeeded in doing so. Each of them took on a new development target. Later, students at the School of Economics wanted to make their master’s theses on Ruka and even later, on Pyhä. We knew how beneficial they would be both to ourselves and the development of the site, so we strive to provide assistance and time for questions as far as possible.’
‘Back then, the School of Economics graduates graduated on average after seven years, so I made that my target time as well and graduated in 1987. I also amassed a large group of friends in the School of Economics, and I got lifelong friends. Many customer relationships were also created during those years.’
Managing director of the Pyhä ski resort
Kari Jussi planned to go abroad after graduating to learn more, but something else happened: ‘I started as managing director of Pyhätunturi shortly after graduating in 1988. That was the end of my international career dreams.’
‘In 1998, we made a generational change. Our father, the founder, Juhani “Jussi” Aho (1930–2018), who also served as chief physician in the Finnish Air Force, passed the baton to us children. Our mother Eila (née Vahermo) was a dentist, but our father said that ‘without my unique wife, mother of the family and public relations manager, things would not be the same as they are now (in 2008).’ Dear friends and supporters have also been a prerequisite for success.’
‘In the 1980s, entrepreneurship was undervalued. It was not trendy, so I was an exception. The general attitude was that those who become entrepreneurs, even in a family business, did not manage to get anywhere else. Today, we have completely different ideas about entrepreneurship and creating an enterprise.’
Kari Jussi says that in all his duties and positions of trust, it has been a pleasure to get together with professionals from different companies.
‘I have listened with interest to how the leaders of large Finnish listed companies take control of things, and they have shown interest in family entrepreneurship. Everyone has learned something new and been able to expand their views.’
Two different sectors and a large close family
The Aho Group consists of two groups and two different sectors. One of these is the tourism business in Ruka and Pyhä, and the other one is health care, which encompasses the Aava medical centre, the Pikkujätti paediatric centre, the Docrates cancer centre and one start-up.
‘Although there are five owners, we have succeeded in working in a good spirit. The next generation consists of 13 cousins. We hope that our children are interested in ownership, but they will be able to decide on their role.’
‘We have carefully documented the ownership strategy of Aho Group, but from time to time we must discuss its interpretations. It is not worth it to forcibly keep companies in the family, but we hope that the starting point is opportune for our offspring and that our family business continues under the leadership of our family. It is an opportunity for our children, but everyone should be able to choose their own education and job. Entrepreneurship requires numerical and analytical competence, interaction skills and enthusiasm.’
‘We meet our extended family a couple of times per year without discussing business at all. We ski or eat crayfish.’
In 2008, Aho Group Oy received the Family Business of the Year award from Perheyritysten liitto (Federation of family businesses). ‘The recognition came as a surprise, but it's great. With the recognition, we came up with the idea to commission a video of our father's story (in Finnish, link at the end of this story).’
Ownership is an excellent donation
Aho Group is one of the donors of ownership at the School of Business. ‘In the projects of the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) in which I am involved, I have reinforced the idea of my ‘double role’, i.e., that I am both an entrepreneur and an owner. When we announced the EK's Finnish Ownership Action Plan in autumn 2017, the societal significance of ownership became even clearer to me. At the same time, several other parties were sending the same message, such as Perheyritysten liitto and the Government of Juha Sipilä. Aho Group's task is to implement the owners’ will in its companies so that ownership is at the core of our operations.’
‘When a company starts to succeed, ownership becomes more pronounced. In my opinion, equity saving and the prosperity of the people of Finland are absolutely essential. I am a member of the board of the Economy and youth TAT. There young people are taught how to manage their own finances responsibly.’
‘Everyone should try to take control of their finances. For example, if you saved 3 euros to invest in shares every day, considering the compound interest effect, it would amount to almost 300,000 euros in forty years. In other words, almost all Finns could become owners. Ownership should be everyone's business and on everyone's agenda. As a child, I had some people that invested in equities in my immediate circle – examples are valuable in many respects, including this one.’
Interview in May 2022: Helena Salminen and Terhi Ollikainen
Text: Terhi Ollikainen
Watch the video (in Finnish): ”Jussin tarina”