Antti Ahlström – a great man and a peasant
Antti Ahlström, peasant and entrepreneur
Antti Ahlström was born in a rural community in Merikarvia in 1827. From 1866 to 1874, his main branch of business was shipping. The marine business generated the initial capital he needed for building his sawmill empire. Purchasing the Noormarkku ironworks in 1870 marked an important turning point in his career: the peasant became a true businessman with nationwide influence.
After Antti's death, his wife Eva (1848–1920) took over the management of the company. She was a strong-willed woman who kept up the business as it was. Later, the family's eldest son Walter (1875–1931) became the managing director of the company. Entering new territory, he soon established a groundwood mill in Kauttua.
In 1907, the family business became a limited liability company. However, the company's entire stock remained in the Ahlström family's possession.
In the winter of 1909, Walter Ahlström was invited to bid for the property of Paul Wahl & Co against another major corporation, Gutzeit & Co of Norway. Ahlström won the bidding competition, and Paul Wahl & Co was merged with A. Ahlström Corporation in March 1910.
From wood to paper to conglomerate
World War I was a profitable time for business. Loans taken out for investments decreased in value due to inflation, and plank wood inventories accumulated during the war generated huge profits when rebuilding boosted the demand in 1919.
During Walter Ahlström's tenure as the managing director, most of the company's sawmills were shut down. The shift from mechanical to chemical wood processing and increasingly also to paper manufacture represented a new trend, in a similar manner to the glass and engineering industries.
In 1931, the Ahlström Group was the biggest industrial company in Finland with more than 30 production sites and over 5,000 employees. Then, in the late 1930s, the Second World War stopped the positive development in the Finnish economy. Due to the new borders drawn as a result of the war, Ahlström lost its Karelian production plants and forests and experienced the same post-war hardships as any other company.
After the war, Ahlström had industrial operations in Varkaus, Karhula, Strömfors, Iittala, Pihlava and Kauttua. In 1948, its production plants employed a total of 11,000 people.
The great changes of the 1970s and internationalization in the 1990s
In 1963, Ahlström bought the Italian company Cartiere Giacomo Bosso S.p.A. With this acquisition, Ahlström became a pioneer of internationalization. However, in the times of the oil crisis and after the global recession, organic economic growth was unstable throughout the Western world. Environmental protection also became a challenge for industry. As early as the 1970s Ahlström was complimented for its environmental activities.
The 1990s was a decade renowned for very quick internationalization. Whereas 17 percent of Ahlström's personnel were outside Finland in 1985, the corresponding figure in 1998 was as high as 73 percent. In the 1990s, Ahlström Corporation divided its businesses into four groups: Ahlstrom Paper Group, Åkerlund & Rausing Group, Ahlstrom Machinery and Ahlström Pumps. The Pyropower and glass-industry units were sold. Ahlstrom Paper Group's position was strengthened by acquiring units such as the Taylorville filter paper mill in the USA and the French specialty paper manufacturer Sibille-Dalle. Krister Ahlström was the managing director of the company during 1982–1998, and Juha Rantanen became the managing director in 1998.
Specialization and splitting into three separate companies
In line with its new strategy compiled in late 1999, Ahlström specialized in specialty papers and fiber materials. The company sold its share of the electrical supplies group Lexel, as well as all of its Finnish power plant shares. At the beginning of the 21st century, Ahlström sold its pump business, Ahlström Machinery and Åkerlund & Rausing. At the same time, the company bought the Ascoli specialty paper mill in Italy and the nonwoven business of the American company Dexter.
On June 30, 2001, the Group was demerged into three new companies. The core of its industrial business is the Ahlström Corporation, which went public in 2006. The other two companies, the investment company Ahlström Capital Oy and the family business A. Ahlström Corporation, remained in the possession of the Ahlström family.