Ulla Tuomarla appointed as CEO of Kone Foundation 

Ulla Tuomarla Lauttasaaren kartanon edustalla

Ulla Tuomarla. Kuva / Photo: Lauri Alaviitala

Docent Ulla Tuomarla, PhD, has been appointed CEO of Kone Foundation as of 1 July 2022. The role of CEO is new at the Foundation, with its establishment completing the organisational reform that has been underway at the Foundation in recent years.  

Ulla Tuomarla has a background as a linguist and university lecturer in French translation, joining the Foundation from the position of Vice Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Helsinki. Tuomarla has been deputising the Foundation’s Executive Director during study leave since 2021. 

According to the Foundations Act, the CEO is an institution that enables a clearer division of authority and responsibilities between the Executive Director and the Board of Trustees than a senior officer. The CEO is accountable to the Foundation’s Board for the fulfilment of the Foundation’s purpose and manages the operational activities in accordance with the Foundation’s strategy, rules and instructions of the Board.  

Kone Foundation’s Board of Trustees decided to move to a CEO structure as part of the organisational reform carried out at the Foundation, which has previously involved creating a unit structure for the Foundation. The Foundation has four units – grants, Saari Residence for artists, finance and administration, and communications and public relations – which are headed by a unit director. Organisational development has been needed, as the Foundation has grown strongly over the past decade: the grant funding has increased sevenfold and the number of employees has risen from 6 to 19.  

Ulla Tuomarla will be in charge of one of the largest Finnish foundations. Kone Foundation’s mission is to support and foster freedom in research and the arts. Kone Foundation supports humanities, social sciences and environmental research, as well as artistic work. The grants awarded by the Foundation enable long-term and independent professional work for around 1,000 researchers and artists each year. In 2021, Kone Foundation granted a total of EUR 49.1 million in funding for research and artistic work. 

With a long career at the University of Helsinki, Ulla Tuomarla has solid experience in administrative management positions in the academic world. From 2018, she was in charge of teaching at the Faculty of Arts as Vice Dean, and before that she headed the Department of Modern Languages. In her academic work, she has studied the language of the media in particular, but also the stylistic features of fiction. In recent years, Tuomarla’s research has focused on hate speech. 

“A good leader is genuinely present” – Four questions to Ulla

What do you think is good leadership?

A good leader is able to see the bigger picture and looks further ahead. A good leader is also sufficiently available to the work community, genuinely present in interaction situations, and can tolerate dissenting opinions as well. A good leader brings out the best in employees and also takes care of his/her own well-being and competence development. 

You have been working at Kone Foundation for 1.5 years now. What does Kone Foundation and Finnish foundations look like to you? How do you see the future prospects of Kone Foundation? 

Grantmaking foundations have become familiar to me in the role of researcher, as I have received and applied for funding at different stages and for different projects. It has now been very interesting to take a peek at the foundation sector from within. There are many different types of foundations in Finland, which is an asset. The future prospects of Kone Foundation are excellent, and the importance of foundations in Finnish society in general is very significant. 

You have had a long career as a researcher. Will you be able to maintain your researcher identity in your new position as CEO in some way?  

That remains to be seen, but I strive to maintain my own expertise. After all, I also have long-standing experience of doing research alongside or in between administrative work. In my experience, research days recharge my batteries, as immersing oneself in one’s own research topics is very rewarding.  

Your job as CEO will start in earnest after the summer holidays. How are you planning to spend your summer vacation? 

Mostly at a summer cottage in Sääksmäki. My goal is to achieve the familiar childhood atmosphere where time does not pass. It was frustrating as a child, but now I cannot think of anything more wonderful. I have spent the summers at my family’s summer place throughout my life, so it has become very dear to me. Although I am fond of travelling, I like to enjoy the Finnish summer.