‘Zero two hundred, six zero, six zero.’ Kovanen speaking.

CEO Eeva Kovanen has led a family business from personal transportation services into an investment company
Kovasen vesipullot auton istuinten käsinojine päässä
Water bottles with Kovanen's labels in Kovanen's car

Eeva Kovanen is the second-generation head of the Kovanen Capital family business. Growing up, her whole family and especially her father Heikki were interested in societal issues.

‘At home, we closely followed and talked about what was going on in the world, and we have always wanted to make a difference. This is why we also started supporting the professorship in ownership at the School of Business. The appreciation of entrepreneurship has increased a lot in Finland, and now hopefully the same will happen to ownership. For some Finns, ownership is still a little difficult to accept, but as we get scientific evidence on this topic that has not been studied much, we hope that our understanding and appreciation of ownership will increase.’

Eeva Kovanen considers that entrepreneurship and ownership overlap. ‘If you think of yourself as an entrepreneur, you are often thinking about work itself, but the owner is also responsible for others. Of course, an entrepreneur can also have a lot of staff. Perhaps your idea of yourself starts to shift to ownership at the point when you no longer have operational responsibility and a new generation is working in those tasks. At that point, you no longer think of the company as part of you, but as its own subject,’ she says.

Kovanen Capital's business activities consist of capital, real estate and stock exchange investments. In direct investments, it aims to play the role of an active owner as a capital investor, one who offers target companies human capital in addition to physical capital.

‘We provide human capital by participating in board work or acting as an advisor. Sometimes we also do some projects, but specifically projects, so that we do not intervene in actual operations.’

Eeva Kovanen
Eeva Kovanen feels that it would be very useful for all business school graduates to take more than just a couple of basic courses in accounting. Photo: Helena Salminen

In 2011, the company’s family ownership became limited to immediate family as Heikki Kovanen bought his brother and brother’s family out of the business. At the same time, Heikki started a generational change to pass the company on to his daughters Eeva and Hanna.

2017 was a year of major changes. Until then, Kovanen's business operations also included the largest full-service transport company in Finland and the food logistics company Kovanen Logistics Oy.

‘We sold Kovanen Logistics Oy in early 2017 and wanted to focus on developing passenger transport until we sold it in June 2017, too. We didn’t intend to sell our passenger transport company but when the winds of change were starting to show in the market and the whole passenger transport sector was about to become deregulated, investors saw the possibilities in it. We felt that Cabonline, the leading taxi company in the Nordic countries, had the resources, digital competence and level of internationalisation that would enable Kovanen to grow and develop.’

Eeva says that another thing she learned at the School of Business was that using outside consultants is worth it. ‘Ownership means there is a lot of emotion involved but an outsider can look at matters more objectively. We worked on selling the passenger transport company for almost two years. In the middle of the sales project, my sister and I both had children, so a third generation – a new generation of successors – was born in the family company. After having a baby, it was easier for me to opt out of business operations and say that I am on maternity leave, although I was actually focused on the company sale in the role of the owner. Personally, I would not have liked to sell the taxi business, but as the owner it was the most sensible and correct solution.’

‘School of Business and accounting were never the plan...’

Eeva Kovanen graduated with a Master’s degree in business and economics from the Turku School of Business, and her father Heikki and sister Hanna Honkasalo graduated from the Helsinki School of Economics. Hanna was actually one of the first graduates from the Aalto University School of Business.

‘I was always going to go to study law after SYK (Finnish coeducational school) and I was supposed to be a lawyer. For some reason, I ended up at the School of Business and chose accounting as my major. I did exactly what my father had suggested, even though it was not in any way my plan. My accounting studies proved to be very suitable for me, as did my role in our family business. My sister studied marketing and is now responsible for the marketing and brand of our company like she wanted to. Together, we think about target companies. The division of responsibilities has always been very natural and clear for us.’

In Eeva's opinion, all business school graduates should study more than a few basic courses of accounting, or at least it would be worth it. ‘Accounting and finance studies have been very useful for me. I also learned good lessons at the bank where I worked for a few years before I started full-time work at our family business. There I learned some things that even I as an entrepreneur's child didn’t know. It certainly didn’t hurt that I got to see how things work somewhere else before I started developing them in our own company.’

Finnish Family Firms Association – bank of human capital

Kovanen has been a member of the Finnish Family Firms Association for almost the entire time the association has existed. The association celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.

‘It is important to me to belong to the Finnish Family Firms Association because of its mental support. The joys, sorrows and challenges are very similar in different family businesses. Many family entrepreneurs feel that it is necessary and natural to join the association when, for example, a generational change is coming and you hope to get support for it. As a family entrepreneur, I personally feel that I have a societal responsibility to belong to the association to help spread understanding of the footprint and significance of family businesses in our society. A member of the association can make an impact.’

‘My father involved my sister and I in the activities in the company from so early on that his confidence in our competence grew naturally. This facilitated our father's transition from operational management to the chair of the board. Grandchildren also came to my father's life at a good time, which made it easier to change generations.’

Eeva Kovanen is also an active member of different boards, and her board experiences include the board membership of the Finnish Family Firms Association.

‘I’m also continuously learning about topics that interest me. I take care of my brain and general wellbeing by playing piano that I always played in a goal-oriented manner at the Sibelius Academy's youth training. I have many physical hobbies: I ski, telemark, run, and play golf and tennis. Speaking of tennis, our Kovanen taxi customer service number was derived directly from tennis and was 0200 6060. That is the kind of result we are still striving for today in our family business.’

P.S. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Federation of Family Businesses, in a jubilee publication ‘Perhepörriäinen’ the youngest generation was asked what they considered a family business. My five-year-old niece said this: ‘A family business is where my mum and aunt work and even my grandpa when he is not retired.’

Interview: Helena Salminen and Terhi Ollikainen
Text: Terhi Ollikainen

A family business is where my mum and aunt work and even my grandpa when he is not retired.

Eeva’s five-year-old niece in ‘Perhepörriäinen’

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