Emil Wilhelm Wahlforss
Wilhelm Wahlforss in 1920s.
|Born||25 June 1891
|Died||June 20, 1969
|Other names||Vikkelä-Ville, "Quick-Willy"|
|Alma mater||Helsinki University of Technology|
|Spouse(s)||Siri Johanna née Wrede (1917 →)|
|Parents||Henrik Alfred Wahlforss and
Emilia Elisabeth Långhjelm
Wahlforss was born in Helsinki, the capital of Grand Duchy of Finland. His father Henrik Alfred Wahlforss was an appreciated chemistry teacher in Polytechnical institute. While doing significant research, his work, which was written in Swedish, remained without international attention. Another hindrance for his success was his drinking problem. He died in 1899 when Wilhelm was just eight years old.
Studies and early career
Wahlforss graduated in Swedish Normal School in Helsinki in 1911. He went to study in his father's former workplace which had been in the meantime renamed University of Technology. At first he orientated into textile industry, but soon he focused on heavy machinery, of which he also wrote his master's thesis. Wahlforss graduated MSc in Mechanical Engineering in 1916.
Wahlforss started his working career as draftsman in Nobel arms company in Saint Petersburg in 1916. He came back to Finland already in the same year to work in Turku for Turun Rautateollisuus which was then led by Freiherr Carolus Wrede. In the next year Wahlforss married Wrede's daughter Siri Johanna Wrede and went to work for Fiskars.
During the Finnish civil war in 1918 Wahlforss was a leader in White Guard. His personal involvement is unclear but it is strongly suspected that the troops he led participated in executions of dozens of Red Guard soldiers in Nummi.
In 1919 Wahlforss returned from Fiskars to Turun Rautateollisuus where he worked as technical manager until 1921.
In 1921 Wahlforss got an opportunity to demonstrate his business skills – he was appointed General Manager of Lehtoniemi shipyard and engineering works, which was another company partly owned by Carolus Wrede. The company operated in Lehtoniemi and Taipale close to Varkaus and had fallen into trouble after losing its market in Russia. Wahlforss worked hard travelling around Finland and making new customer contacts. The order book never became very long but Wahlforss managed to improve the financial result of the company. He left the company in 1925 to work for Sofia Zweygberg which was a wholesale company in Viipuri.
Ab Wärtsilä Oy, an iron works in Värtsilä, Northern Karelia, was in financial problems; the company was deeply in debt due to a long-time unprofitable operation. Wahlforss had gained reputation as a capable restructurer and hired as General Manager of the company. Wahlforss repeated the same as he had done before – he started to travel around the country to introduce the company products, but soon he realised that the company would not become profitable by producing just raw iron bars. Wahlforss decided to step up in degree of processing and soon the company started producing nails, band iron, radiators and other products. With these actions Wahlforss managed to lead the company result slightly to positive side in period 1927–1931, but it still did not manage to shorten its debts.
New problems came in 1931 during the Great Depression; Wärtsilä's financial situation got alarming and it was on verge of bankruptcy. The trading was stopped in Helsinki stock exchange. But two factors saved the company; the first one was galvanised wire production, which Wärtsilä had started right before the depression as the first company in the Nordic Countries. The second one was the company personnel which agreed about lowering of salaries in order to save the company. Already in 1932 Wärtsilä could pay dividend to its shareholders and the same trend continued in the following years.
Robert Mattson, the major shareholder of Kone ja Silta company, died in 1935. Kone ja Silta was a big industrial company that owned a big workshop in Hakaniemi in Helsinki, but also the Hietalahti shipyard and Crichton-Vulcan in Turku. Mattson's shares were kept in strongroom in Pohjoismaiden Yhdyspankki (PYP) as deposit for debts. Rainer von Fieandt, who was a board member in Kone ja Silta, Wärtsilä and PYP, organised together with Wahlforss a gigantic acquisition – Wärtsilä, an East Finnish company with 700 employees, took over the leading metal industry company of Finland in 1935. The transaction was fully funded by a loan given by PYP.
The new Wärtsilä Corporation lead now four units which all were barely profitable; therefore, many financial specialists expressed their doubts on the future of the company. However, Wahlforss restructured and developed the corporation determinedly during the 1930s. In 1938 the total number of employees reached 6 000.
The acquisition put Wahlforss on pedestal; he was the chairman first in the Finnish Metal Industry Association in 1937–1942 and thereafter in the Finnish Industrial Union 1942–1946. During the Second World War he travelled to USA to purchase weapons. After the war ended, Wahlforss participated in negotiations about war reparations with Soviet Union representatives and he was sent to Paris to attend as an expert attendee in the peace treaty negotiations in 1947. Over 40% of all war reparations which consisted of metal products were produced by Wärtsilä. At the end of 1940s number of personnel in Wärtsilä reached already 11 000.
Until 1954 Wahlforss was a member of delegation that negotiated about Soviet exports. In his negotiations with Soviet representatives he gained a legendary reputation; Wahlforss could only speak a couple of words in Russian and he did not know very much about naval architecture – but he was a true businessman and therefore he made a number of ship deals with Soviet Union.
Wahlforss resigned from the position of General Manager in 1961 but he remained as board member until his death in 1969.
Wahlforss entered into politics at the end of 1950s and he was selected with a large number of votes to the köping council of Espoo in 1960 municipal elections as a member of SFP. However, Wahlforss was used to make decisions quickly and he did not get used to political processes. He also could not apply his knowledge of economics. He left the council just after one and half year during the term.
Wahlforss participated in the so-called Honka alliance which was a wide-spectrum political project for overthrowing Urho Kekkonen in presidential elections of 1962. The alliance failed and got revealed and after this the personal relationship between Kekkonen and Wahlforss remained cold. Despite of this, the men co-operated successfully in the Soviet trade relationships; Kekkonen promoted actively exports of the Finnish companies and Wärtsilä was the biggest individual Finnish exporter to Soviet Union.
- von Knorring, Nils (1995). Aurajoen veistämöt ja telakat (in Finnish). Espoo, Finland: Schildts Förlags Ab. ISBN 951-50-0735-6.
- Hoffman, Kai (2013-11-01). "Biografiakeskus – Vuorineuvos Wilhelm Wahlforss (1891–1969)" (in Finnish). Helsinki, Finland: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.
- Knorring: Crichton-Vulcanista Turun Telakkaan. p. 126–135.