Good brothers and the best of sisters

Tarja Vikström starts a series of columns in which we learn about the Kone Foundation’s 60-year history.

An old-fashioned lift is waiting at Tehtaankatu, Helsinki, but I take the stairs in the name of exercise. The dark-coloured stairwell is imposing. Like the stairwells of old, valuable buildings in Eira are. A simple, brass sign on the door has the words Koneen Säätiö engraved on it. I ring the bell. I have come to meet Anna Talasniemi, the foundation’s executive director, to discuss the commemoration of the foundation’s 60th anniversary.

Anna and I, plus Laura Sahamies, Communications Coordinator, and Kalle Korhonen, Head of Research Funding, sit down in a spacious room, and I admire the view over the rooftops of Eira. The Kone Foundation people do not want an ordinary, “pompous” history of the foundation. That would be boring to read, and would not comply with their slogan “Bold Initiatives”. I promise to write something different. I think it will be a piece of cake – until later when I realise that I have made a mistake.

After interviewing the people in charge of the foundation’s operations and a few ex-members of the board, and after reading piles of newspaper clippings, letters, and minutes, there is no doubt about it: The 60-year history of Kone Foundation is a profoundly conventional story of change and growth. It is a journey from the good old boys to the even better sisters, from amateurs to professionals, from the personal to the societal, and from technology to the arts.

The foundation, established in 1956, was a playground for the good old boys from the very beginning and remained so for several decades. Kone Foundation provided grants for many good causes every year, but its operations were not systematic or coherent yet. It was not until the 1990s that the foundation became more organised. Further, for several decades, Kone Foundation existed alongside Kone Corporation, as a kind of footnote to the successful company. When people talked about Kone Corporation, they did not mention the foundation, but when the foundation was mentioned, the talk turned to Kone Corporation. It was not until the early 2000s that the Kone Foundation – boosted by economic growth and renewed, goal-oriented operations – reached new horizons and established its current identity.

In this series of articles, we look at the story of Kone Foundation from four different perspectives. First we will look at the time when the foundation was established, learn about President Heikki Herlin (often referred to by his Finnish honorary title “vuorineuvos”), and look at some of the stories about the grant process in the 1950s and 1960s. In the second part, we will meet Professors Emeritus Risto Alapuro and Erkki Haukioja, previous members of the Kone Foundation Board of Trustees. In the third part, we will discuss the years of change and growth after the turn of the millennium, when the dust of the good old boys from by-gone decades was finally shaken off and Hanna Nurminen and Ilona Herlin laid a new foundation for Kone Foundation’s operations. Finally, we will take a look at the foundation’s whole 60-year history, and show where the money came from and where it went, and how Kone Foundation became a significant promotor of Finnish culture and science.


Read the first part Grant applications submitted by the president of the corporation


Tarja Vikström, MA