The first Finnish billionaire, Antti Herlin, is a traditional industrial tycoon.

Finland acquired its first billionaire in mid-April when the value of shares held by 49-year-old Antti Herlin reached ten-digit figures in euros. Behind the billion euro fortune lies the success story of Kone, well known manufacturer of elevators and escalators.

Kone, now listed on the Helsinki Stock Exchange, has been owned by the Herlins since 1924, when Antti's great grandfather, Harald, bought the Kone shares from Strömberg, which is now part of the international ABB Group.

Over the years Kone has spread over the world, and holds about 10 per cent of the global elevator and escalator market, placing it among the strongest players in this field.

From the outset, power in Kone has been handed down from father to son. Harald Herlin appointed his son Heikki Technical Director in the 1920s and later on Managing Director. Heikki Herlin's tenure as MD lasted for 32 years, which in Olympic terms meant from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

In 1964 Heikki entrusted Kone to his son Pekka, who served as Managing Director until 1987. Thereafter, Pekka still wielded the most power in the company but allowed Managing Directors from outside the family to carry operative responsibility.

Antti Herlin's era in Kone started when he was appointed Chief Executive Officer in 1996. Three years ago he became Chairman of the Board.

Antti Herlin now pilots Kone together with Matti Alahuhta. Alahuhta was previously in charge of Nokia Mobile Phones and Networks and was a member of the five-strong dream team behind Nokia's success story. He had been a candidate for the post of President and CEO of Nokia, but instead, Olli- Pekka Kallasvuo was appointed to succeed Jorma Ollila. Alahuhta has not abandoned the telecoms world altogether since leaving Nokia; he now sits on the Board of Directors of British Telecom.

Even though Antti Herlin acquired the top position at Kone through inheritance, he is indisputably one of the most influential figures in Finnish business life.

The respect he enjoys is obvious from the key positions of trust that he holds. He is Chairman of the Board of the Technology Industries of Finland, which is the interest group for the engineering, electronics and electrotechnical industries, and Deputy Chairman of the Board of the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK).

Open competition

In his public pronouncements Antti Herlin has vigorously advocated an improvement in the operating preconditions for industry.

“Even the Germans are prepared to be flexible, but in Finland the trade union movement only talks about more rigidity. It is important to remember that the entire technology industry operates in open competition. The rules of the closed world do not work,” Herlin asserted recently in the business magazine Talouselämä.

In media portrayals, Antti Herlin used to be displayed as a laddish character, but in recent years he has started to look and sound more like a traditional stalwart of Finnish industry.

The role of industrial tycoon is quite far from young Antti Herlin's career plans, considering that after his matriculation examinations he took up agriculture.

He studied cattle raising in the US, although the only academic qualification mentioned in his curriculum vitae is an honorary doctorate from St Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance.

Even though agriculture did not become Antti Herlin's main occupation, he has not grown apart from it. He is an active cattle breeder despite being allergic to animals. The family, a wife and four children, lives on Thorsvik manor, the family estate in Kirkkonummi, west of Helsinki.

- Courtesy Virtual Finland/Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland