Koskisen Group30.05.2018

Kari Koskinen 60 years: a word about passion and courage

Kari trying out his birthday present – a Wiilubike made from Koskisen veneer.

Kari trying out his birthday present – a Wiilubike made from Koskisen veneer.

“…John III was only 18 when he became Duke of Finland in 1556. At the age of 25, he set out to propose to Catherine Jagiellon, the sister of Poland’s king. This was interesting in the sense that the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania had a population of close to 10 million! From the small Grand Duchy of Finland with just 200,000 inhabitants, John III was brave enough to go courting a princess...” 

One of Koskisen’s owners, Kari Koskinen, tells about a book on the history of the Swedish royal family that he has read.  

“Catherine Jagellion was also coveted by the Russian ruler Ivan the Terrible, but the princess chose John III, who was 11 years younger than her, and moved to Turku. A furious and discourteous exchange of letters followed between John and Ivan,” Kari adds with a grin. 

John III’s colourful life has invaded Kari’s thoughts to the point that he wants to share the story with the reporter, and why not? It’s up to the birthday boy to choose how to spend the time allotted for the interview on his special day. So, Kari, who has just turned 60, has decided to talk about history, culture, the Italian language, music, nature, sailing and, of course, wood. When listening to him, it is easy to read between the lines: Kari wants to talk about passion.  

“When leafing through a book about local history a hundred years ago, Kari’s eyes were caught by the name of his grandfather, Kalle Koskinen, the Founder of Koskisen.” 

Some of Kari’s great passions are history, different cultures and languages. According to Kari, you cannot understand the world without knowing history and different cultures. That is why he reads a lot and especially enjoys delving into specific historical events and personas.  

When leafing through a book about local history a hundred years ago, Kari’s eyes were caught by the name of his grandfather, Kalle Koskinen, the Founder of Koskisen. Kalle Koskinen, who had lived in Lappila, had “shown great courage in preventing robbery and acts of violence in the area” during the civil war a hundred years ago. To thank him for this, a group of local farmers went to set Kalle free from a war camp in Lahti in 1918. 

When listening to these historical tales, you cannot help but think that the man telling them has been courageous himself, never afraid to take risks. Maybe that explains his fascination with stories of past heroes. 

Kari at the plywood office in the 1990s. Increasing customer orientation was already in full swing.

Kari at the plywood office in the 1990s. Increasing customer orientation was already in full swing.

“Kari did not want Koskisen’s plywood to lie around in the warehouse until someone happened to need it.” 

It was in 1985 that Kari Koskinen’s father Kalevi asked him to head Koskisen’s plywood mill. Many doubted that a young boy from Turku would know anything about managing a plywood mill. And he didn’t – at least not about the management method that had been applied for decades and that Kari thought was conservative. The rebellious young man who was going through a punk phase decided to take on the challenge and show everyone what he was made of. It was time to create something new. 

Kari may not have known much about making plywood, but then again, he was more interested in who ultimately uses plywood and how. Kari did not want Koskisen’s plywood to lie around in the warehouse until someone happened to need it. He wanted to see the person behind the plywood, listen to their wishes and manufacture plywood that would fit the intended use to a tee. 

Now in 2018, this approach is at the very heart of the company. At the end of the day, the customer is Koskisen’s employer, and all Koskisen employees want the customer to get exactly what they have ordered. This is a mentality that they have learned from Kari. Kari would love for everyone working in plywood production to know the intended end use and the user of the plywood they are making.  

Today, Kari Koskinen is one of Koskisen’s owners, a member of the Board of Directors and a developer of Russian operations. A lot has changed in thirty years, but at 60, Kari still feels the same about one thing as he did when he was 30: courage, creativity and passion are always needed. And Kari has these characteristics in spades.  

“When Kari starts his car engine, heavy metal music blares from the loud speakers.”  

In addition to history, Kari loves music. Over the years, his music tastes have evolved enormously: besides punk, he now listens to pretty much everything from classical music to blues. When Kari starts his car engine, heavy metal music blares from the loud speakers. He also likes Italian singer Alessandra Amoroso’s emotional songs because they combine music with what he thinks is the world’s most beautiful language.  

Kari’s areas of interest do not go unnoticed at the office. Many colleagues have noticed that when Kari takes an interest in something, he becomes fully immersed in it. He doesn’t do superficial. This is a trait that has proven useful at work too. Anna-Maaret Roppola, who has worked under Kari’s leadership for 15 years, says that in problem situations where many would have given up, Kari pushed until a solution was found: 

“He is so committed to everything he does. The way he always examines and analyses things has been a source of inspiration for all of us who have worked around him. We owe much of our love for this industry to Kari. I believe that many of us employees agree on that.” 

Kari Koskinen, Peter Barnes and Reimer Hartwich exploring new markets for plywood during their US tour.

Kari Koskinen, Peter Barnes and Reimer Hartwich exploring new markets for plywood during their US tour.

One of those people is Peter Barnes, from the UK representative office, who has worked with Kari for a long time. Peter emphasises Kari’s enthusiasm and dedication. He recounts a story about when he and Kari were helping to set up an exhibition about the history of plywood at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London last year. 

“Whereas others would have spent half an hour on the exhibition, Kari toured it for two or three hours. He asked a lot of questions and wanted to know if there was anything he could help with. He is always so keen,” Peter says. 

Over the years, he has developed a huge passion for wood and plywood. Kari never was one to follow in others’ footsteps; instead, he was always busy creating new and original concepts, from sales office operations to plastic-coated panels and a new large panel size. Competitors have followed suit. Kari wants to point out that wood professionals – the production workers – are also responsible for some of the good and feasible ideas. He would love to hear more of them. Kari also sees endless new opportunities in wood: 

“I’m certain that production by-products can be used to make many new products going forward. In future, cellulose fibres can replace cotton and substances derived from wood can be used as ingredients in medicines and cosmetics. I would especially like to see more wood-based solutions to replace plastics. Something I don’t understand at all is the use of wood side-streams as fuel. No forests on earth will supply enough wood to replace oil. Instead, it would be wiser to consider how much more environmentally friendly it would be to build houses with wood instead of concrete. The carbon dioxide emissions from concrete production make up seven per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, which is four times more than the carbon footprint of global air traffic.”

Communing with nature and the sea, as well as sailing, are Kari’s favourite pastimes.

Communing with nature and the sea, as well as sailing, are Kari’s favourite pastimes.

“At the office, Kari is considered a big encourager and a good leader, but also a little absent-minded and always up for a good laugh.” 

Kari spent his birthday with his wife in Helsinki, exploring the island of Vallisaari. Nature is important to Kari, including forests and watercourses. Sailing is one of his favourite ways of spending time in nature. Many colleagues have had the chance to accompany Kari on one of his sailing trips. Koskisen’s Business Manager Heikki Kiesilä recalls a very special trip to Lake Puula in South Savo: 

“There was a light summer breeze, not exactly sailing weather, but Kari wanted to go sailing. We lifted the sails and when we got to the middle of the lake, the wind died completely. We paddled back to the shore using one paddle, a hatch door and caps.  

At the office, Kari is considered a big encourager and a good leader, but also a little absent-minded and always up for a good laugh. Once, Kari lost his sunglasses and looked for them all day. He finally found them – on his head. 

“What is really fun about Kari is the twinkle in his eye. He is really a little boy at heart! That’s a great strength for us in the work community. No matter how big, serious and challenging the tasks at hand are, they can be approached with a smile. This is the atmosphere that Kari has created here,” says Koskisen’s HR and Communications Director Minna Luomalahti

We can learn a lot from Kari Koskinen: Don’t copy others; do something new that comes from you. Learn to laugh at yourself and at life. Life is not so serious! Have the courage to share your ideas. And be bold. 

Bold is also how Kari wants this article to end, which is so like him, as many would certainly agree: 

“To conclude, I’d like to recommend to everyone Klaus & Klaus’s song An der Nordseeküste, because it never fails to put you in a good mood!