From the Finnish Export Association to Finpro
Founded in 1919 in the back office of a shoe shop in Turku, the Finnish Export Association's first chairman and primary source of funds was Commercial Counsellor Edvard Åström. In the spring of 1921, the association moved to Helsinki and began to seek out its own position alongside the sawmill and paper industry's export association.
From the day it was established, the association began to build an international network of representatives and placed correspondents and contact people in different parts of the world. Initially, it promoted mostly agricultural products and collected produce, and exports by the budding industrial products sector, with markets being sought in eastern Europe. During the 1930s, these were joined by a so-called "fourth group" products: furniture (the most important), gift items, sports equipment and equipment for small dairies, among others.
In 1938 the association changed its name to Suomen Ulkomaankauppaliitto (Finnish Foreign Trade Association in English, Finlands Utrikeshandelsförbund in Swedish)
Exhibition activities were launched in the 1930s, but were cut short by World War II and only began again in 1946. Following devaluation of the Finnish Markka in 1957, interest in exports grew at a rapid pace and it became increasingly common for both sectors and companies to include participation in exhibitions as a systematic element in their marketing activities.
At the beginning of the 1960s, prospects of liberalisation in foreign trade created powerful feelings of optimism in Finland towards exports, and views regarding the market-specific consolidation of operations in the export-promotion field strengthened. In 1964, the decision was made to arrange major events annually in selected countries rather than hold separate exhibitions as had previously been the norm. Additional staff were recruited to handle the planning and execution of campaigns.
New companies joined the association as a result of this campaign activity, and the number of business contacts and expertise regarding target countries increased. The first major happening was the Finn Finnland campaign in Stockholm in 1966.
Export promotion efforts are concentrated in the Foreign Trade Association
The optimism regarding exports generated increased interest in exporting and several different organisations were operating in the export promotion sector. A clear change took place in 1968. All funds directed in the traditional manner towards export promotion activities disappeared from the state budget, as the government wanted to establish its own organisation to carry out such operations.
The private sector did however manage to persuade the government to return some allocations of funds to its budget proposal. A condition was however attached, according to which the private sector would have to agree to consolidating export promotion organisations. In 1970, it was decided that the planning, preparation and production of export promotion operations would be concentrated in the Finnish Foreign Trade Association.
The Finnish state and the private sector agreed to invest equal amounts in the association's operations and this resulted in a 50% increase in its budget. Funding provided by the private sector was divided between organisation and company members.
To support its managing director, a strong board was appointed. Connections with the Teollisuusliitto (lit. "Industrial Association"), later Teollisuuden & Työnantajain Keskusliitto (Union of Industries and Employers), were of particular importance to the association's operations.
Items excluded from the Finnish Foreign Trade Association's remit included the training of export personnel, queries regarding export credits and guarantees, and trade policy.
From export promoter to experts in internationalisation
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Finnish Foreign Trade Association developed into a multi-faceted promoter of exports. Campaign operations were organised according to sectors, and export co-operation groups became a significant element in joint activities involving companies and the association.
Advice on exporting was extended to Finland's provinces in the 1980s through local offices. In connection with these offices, joint export managers were appointed to provide services for SMEs.
In the autumn of 1992, commercial secretaries who had previously been under the control of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs were transferred to the Finnish Foreign Trade Association. This was a significant event in the association's history. In connection with this change, the job description of commercial secretaries became more focused. Targets introduced included basing their activities on assignments received from companies and making regular attempts to achieve improvements in exports by companies and groups of companies.
In 1995, a framework agreement between the Finnish Foreign Trade Association and the Ministry for Trade and Industry (KTM, now the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, TEM) was signed. This stated that co-operation between the association and KTM would be on a purchaser/producer basis. In September 1997, tasks handled by the association's local offices were transferred to the new TE centres (Centres for Employment and Economic Development).
In 1996, the Ministry for Trade and Industry commissioned an international assessment of the association's activities and in subsequent years, the Finnish Foreign Trade Association renewed its management, the tasks it was executing and its operational strategy. The change was announced to the public with a new image and a new name: Finpro has been used since 4.3.1999.
Regional co-operation and sector-based networking
In December 2000, the Ministry for Trade and Industry established a committee to promote exports and company internationalisation. Central tasks of this new body were to specify the roles of the different actors promoting exports and internationalisation, to define the levels of resource available and to clarify the need for co-operation. Operations carried out by Finpro follow the lines established in this committee's recommendations.
Regional co-operation with other Finnish service organisations and so-called "innovation-environment" operators was strengthened, among other things, by the opening of the joint www.yrityssuomi.fi service portal in February 2002.
The rapid nature of changes in world markets mean that export centres have to be concentrated in areas where demand is growing. The new regional and sector-based co-operation model employs the resources and expertise located in different export centres more efficiently and makes Finpro's international sector-based skills available to benefit Finnish companies by making them more competitive in their target countries.
For its part, networking with local partners and subcontractors in target countries guarantees the quality and competitiveness of orders placed with subcontractors in connection with each assignment.
Marketing services moved to a Finpro subsidiary
Services involving marketing and marketing communications produced by Finpro were incorporated into Finpro Marketing Oy (now Entre Marketing Ltd) at the beginning of 2002. The focus of this subsidiary's operations is twofold: service concepts in exhibitions organised in different global locations and communication programmes which support marketing activity by Finnish companies.
Finpro sold its stake in Entre Marketing to Beltton-Yhtiöt Oy in the spring of 2007.
The tiny Finnish Export Association has now grown into the Finpro concern, an organisation whose almost 400 employees in Finland and export centres all over the world supply Finnish companies with internationalisation services.
Eino Grönros (1919 – 1927)
Jaakko Kahma (1928 – 1953)
Ilmari Voionmaa (1953 – 1963)
Lennart Henriksson (1963 – 1970)
Harri Malmberg (1970 – 1979)
Kaarlo Yrjö-Koskinen (1979 – 1983)
Pertti Huitu (1983 – 1997)
Seppo Härkönen (1997 – 2001)
Tapani Kaskeala(2001 – 2006)
Jorma Turunen (2006 – 2010)
Kari Häyrinen (2010 -