More rich in Finland than ever before
Image size 33 Kb

The misses and TV stars that have traditionally adorned the covers of Finnish magazines are now having to share the limelight of publicity with a new category of celebrities: the young nouveaux riches. Members of "old money" families have generally shunned publicity. The man listed at the end of 2000 as Finland's richest person, press mogul Aatos Erkko - the main owner of Sanoma-WSOY - rarely makes a public appearance. By contrast, many of the young people who have recently come into big money are delighted to be seen at society functions and in newspaper and magazine columns. There are now nearly 15,000 more (markka) millionaires in Finland than five years ago (Euro 1=5.95 markkas).

The Finns whom wireless communications and the Internet have made rich needed only ten years to accumulate a fortune equal to what the traditionally wealthy put together in a century. That emerges from a book, published in November 2000, which lists the country's 100 richest people. The daily Helsingin Sanomat drafted its own list of billionaires around the same time. The name at the head of it was that of Risto Siilasmaa, principal shareholder in the data-security company F-Secure, with 6,724 million markkas (Euro 1,120m). Aatos Erkko came second with 5,190 million (Euro 865m), but in November was again firmly on top. That was because F-Secure's value, which had been based more on expectations than on results and substance, had fallen sharply. To the misfortune of especially small investors who had sought to get rich quick, Finland has seen several stories of the same kind.

Since the beginning of 1999 people in Finland have been accumulating wealth at a rate that was never possible in the past. Some of the digitally wealthy have played it safe and already managed to sell their holdings. For example, JOT Automation's founder Veikko Lesonen, 42, disposed of his shares for 820 million markkas (Euro 136m) in March. A couple of months later, the company's capitalisation had roughly halved - a fate that befell many other advanced-technology firms as well. Risto Siilasmaa, whose billions are notional property, converted some of his holdings into only a modest 21 million markkas (Euro 3.5m) during the spring. Lesonen generously plans to invest some of his millions in a foundation to provide bankrupt entrepreneurs and their families with financial support.

Image size 10 Kb

In a class all their own among the recently rich are Nokia executives, whose incomes have been boosted by lucrative options. They, including President and CEO Jorma Ollila, earned 87,408,315 markkas in 1999, which averages 1.7 million (Euro 0.3m) for every single week of the year. (In 1995 Ollila earned 2.8 million (Euro 0.5m), which it now takes him less than a fortnight to pocket.) The head of Nokia Networks, Sari Baldauf, earned about the same in a month as the Governor of the Bank of Finland did in a whole year - 4.8 million markkas (Euro 0.8m). For comparison: Finnish Formula 1 star Mika Häkkinen's annual wage was 61 million markkas (Euro 10m). The average monthly income of wage-earners in Finland last year was 12,100 markkas (Euro 2,000).

Lamborghini men

The incredibly young new rich are swaying on the crest of the wave that the digital revolution has set in motion in the economy.

The Finnish Internet magnate Jaakko Rytsölä, 27, suffered a severe financial haemorrhage when he took to the road in the far North. Not because of a slump in technology share values, but because he had been doing 70 kilometres an hour in a 40-km zone and was stopped by the police. His fine: Euro 77,112.

The hair-raising sum was calculated correctly. In Finland, speeding fines depend not only on how much the driver has exceeded the limit, but also on income. The more you earn, the more you pay is the principle. Until recently, it was left to the well-heeled themselves to declare their incomes to the police, which many chose to do with a great deal of imaginative rounding down.

Now, as technology king Rytsölä discovered to his cost, technology has come to the police's aid: all they have to do is access the tax office's official lists via their mobile phones and just one little burst of speed can easily cost some of the wealthiest Finns the price of a luxury car - at least. As Rytsölä puts it: "If you earn, don't drive."


The share price of Internet, telecoms and contents provider Saunalahti (renamed Jippii Group in October 2000) has swung wildly up and down over the past year, but its main owners, brothers Jaakko (26) and Antti (24) Rytsölä are still doing fine. The young gentlemen hit the evening-tabloid headlines after they had each bought a car that had never before been even seen in Finland: a Lamborghini Diablo VT Roadster worth 2.65 million markkas (Euro 0.4m). A little later Jaakko added a red Ferrari Modena 360 sports car costing "only" 1.7 million (Euro 0.3m) to his fleet. It has a Formula I gearbox and a 400-hp engine. When he was caught speeding in it, he received the biggest fine ever handed down for a traffic offence in Finland: 300,000 markkas (Euro 50,000) and got his name in the paper yet again.

The millionaire's heart is pure gold. A front-page banner headline reported that Rytsölä had donated 100,000 markkas (Euro 16,600) to pay for a heart operation for a 1½-year-old Estonian girl called Triinu-Liis Paist. "We've got to get the little girl into shape," commented the donor.

The media also keep a close eye on the lives of the young people who have inherited their wealth. Billionaire Jussi Salonoja (24) often features in the headlines as an eligible bachelor. He owns the Espoo Blues ice hockey club.

Millionaires, who are hardly ever talked about nowadays, have likewise become far more numerous. There were 3,500 of them five years ago, over 18,000 now. They are by no means young, publicity-seeking impassioned hotheads. Research shows that today's average Finnish stock millionaire is a 50-year-old man, who lives in Greater Helsinki and speaks Swedish as his mother tongue. The Rytsöläs and Lesonens are only the visible tip of the iceberg. Families that have been wealthy for a long time are getting steadily richer. The millions being generated on the stock exchange are accumulating in the hands of the few: the richest half of one half per cent of Finns own 70 per cent of the total value of shares. But there is no sign of the envious becoming fewer in number.

See also:
WTF-O The genesis of Nokialand