Aatos Erkko (1932-2012)
Architect of the present Helsingin Sanomat dies at 79.
Aatos Juho Michel Erkko, for many decades the most significant newspaper publisher in Finland and the architect of the present Helsingin Sanomat, died in hospital in Helsinki on Saturday at the age of 79 after a lengthy illness. Erkko's role was pivotal when Sanoma Oy, now the Sanoma Group, rose to become Finland's leading media corporation from the 1960s onwards to the present.
The grandson of the founder of Helsingin Sanomat, Erkko was the paper's editor-in-chief from 1961 to 1970 and the CEO of Sanoma Oy from 1965-1976 and the company's Chairman from 1972-1999.
Aatos Erkko took over the reins at Sanoma after his father Eljas Erkko in 1965.
Helsingin Sanomat became the company's flagship, and Erkko edited the newspaper in his own image.
He believed firmly in the significance of the content of journalism, and understood that quality content came with a large price-tag.
Together with the newspaper's editorial team, he set about a radical reform of the newspaper in the 1960s.
The changes that he wrought led in time to Helsingin Sanomat's emergence as the largest quality independent broadsheet daily in the Nordic region.
In the early 1970s, he moved from an editorial role to become Chairman of the Board of Sanoma Oy, and the work carried out in collaboration with the operative management saw continued growth and prosperity for the company over the decades, including a fusion with publishers WSOY, listing on the Helsinki Stock Exchange, and a gradual process of international expansion that continues to this day.
"Erkko was at heart a newspaper man. The liberal ideology of the Erkko family towards the publishing of newspapers was to give the editorial staff of the paper the journalistic freedom to write, and then to analyse the results afterwards", writes former Helsingin Sanomat editor-in-chief Janne Virkkunen.
Aatos Erkko was an international Finn. He maintained his family's traditionally strong and high-level links with the United States, and was also familiar with the Royal Court in Sweden.
It may have been that the role of a publisher, though carried off with aplomb and no little success, was not his first choice.
Erkko himself recalled later in life that what he would really have preferred was a life at sea enjoying the freedom to move.
Nevertheless, the traditions of the family set certain obligations, and limited his marine ambitions to a love of steamships and support for maritime museums among his many charitable commitments.
Aatos Erkko was the largest individual shareholder in the Sanoma Group.
He married Jane Erkko in 1959. The couple had no children.
Though one of the wealthiest - and indeed most powerful - men in Finland, Erkko never lost the common touch, and was in many respects a very private person for one in such a prominent position in the society.
Stories abound, both within the newspaper business and outside, but one enduring image in the mind of Helsinki residents is of his dogged refusal to slip into the pampered world of dark-windowed limousines.
An apt example comes from Ruth Goldway, the wife of a former US Ambassador to Helsinki in the 1990s, who wrote in her book Letters from Finland (1998): ”I was standing on a tram stop until the tram came and he [Erkko]entered the tram. So I could witness a remarkable moment - even the richest man in Finland uses public transport”.