Pentti Kouri (1949-2009)
Investor and prolific art collector dies in Los Angeles
Economist, investor, and collector of contemporary art Pentti Kouri passed away in Los Angeles on January 22nd 2009, after a severe illness. He was 59 years old, born on February 12th 1949 in Kemijärvi in Northern Finland.
Kouri is said to have been one of the all-time most significant Finnish economists and art collectors.
At the age of only 21 years, after graduating from Atlantic College in the USA, Kouri was hired by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and started to work for the IMF’s research organisation in 1970.
In 1974, Kouri got his Ph.D. in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and later served as a professor of economics in Stanford, Yale, Helsinki, and New York universities.
Later he became a venture capitalist, managing for example the global financier George Soros’s investments to Finland.
However, Pentti Kouri is best known for his participation in the so-called "Kouri-deals" in the late 1980s, the goal of which was no less than to rearrange the entire Finnish financial system.
The financer and the actual risk-taker in the transactions was the Finnish bank Kansallis Bank (KOP), involved in a power struggle with another major Finnish financial institution Union Bank of Finland (SYP).
The attempted cornering operation eventually led to the resignation of the KOP General Director Jaakko Lassila.
KOP is no more, swallowed up by SYP, which itself has morphed into the Finnish component of Nordea.
The shares in the deals were sold at large profits, while it is not certain who the actual beneficiaries were. The Finnish police, the financial authorities, and the Finnish tax authorities were all investigating the case, but Kouri was never charged with any wrongdoing.
In the aftermath of the deals, Kouri suffered the loss of his reputation. Finns blamed him for speculating in stocks and even - as a poster-child of "casino capitalism" - for the massive recession that hit Finland in the 1990s.
Kouri did not take these allegations well, which is why he rarely visited Finland any more.
In 2001, the Kouri Capital group led by Dr Kouri himself and George Soros was declared bankrupt.
In his book Suomen omistaja ja elämäni muut roolit (”Owner of Finland and other roles of my life”, 1996) Kouri repeatedly stresses that he acted under his own name, which cannot be said of the other participants in the Kouri-deals.
Pentti Kouri was an extremely intelligent person, who had a firm belief in his own ideas, regardless of how intuitive they might have been.
Kouri’s entire life was a search for new visions, and sometimes he got carried away and lost his instinct of self-preservation. He called his experiences and ideas often ”fantastic”.
At the end of the 1980s, Kouri began to collect art in New York, where he lived most of his adult life.
In an interview with Helsingin Sanomat in 1992, Kouri declared that art is the only area where spiritual values still exist.
The works of art collected by Kouri in the 1980s and 1990s eventually ended up in the hands of Finland’s Ministry of Education.
Because of Kouri’s tarnished reputation, the ministry insisted that the collection must not be called the "Kouri Collection".
Last October, in the exhibition at Kiasma, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, the collection of American modern art belonging to Pentti Kouri was officially called the Kouri Collection for the first time.
”Now I can come to Finland again”, Pentti Kouri had said to his friends with some emotion.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Art Review: Hard core minimalist exhibition at Kiasma (21.10.2008)
Pentti Kouri (Wikipedia)