Mathias Julius Hjalmar Tallberg was born on 25 th May, 1857. His father’s name was Carl Wilhelm and his mother’s Sofia Wilhelmina. After the death of his first wife, Carl Wilhelm migrated from Pori to Turku, and took up a post as a bookkeeper of the Kalela prison. A year later he remarried; his new wife, Sofia, was the daughter of a Swedish tanner, Henrik Enlund. Carl and Sofia had altogether five children: four sons and a daughter. The youngest of the sons was named Mathias Julius Hjalmar. Julius lost his father when he was only 13 years old. The elder brothers were adults by then. Hence, Julius was eight years younger than the family’s second youngest son. The family did not have much property, and therefore the loss of their father caused them great financial difficulties. At that time Julius was attending the third grade at school in Turku, but had to leave school to find a job. His first job was at Julius Torckell’s hardware shop.
Young Julius proved to be a born salesman and a shop manager. He was active, and boldly suggested improvements in the shop. Moreover, he was appointed as a senior salesman when he was well under 20 years old. His new duties included keeping the accounts. Julius studied along his work although working days were very long in those days, and did, for instance, pass his accounting course with flying colours. Julius was exceptionally creative. For example, he suggested the proprietor of the shop to arrange a Christmas Season Sales Exhibition – the very first one in Turku. It was a huge success. Similarly, he advised the owner to establish a gun powder and dynamite business, which also proved to be a success. Julius learned how to manufacture fire works on his own, and yet another success followed. When Julius resigned at the age of 21 and moved to Helsinki, Torckell sold his hardware shop and concentrated on the gun powder and dynamite sales only. The business idea originally developed by Julius had become the most profitable field of Torckell’s business.
On 1 st June, 1878 Julius started as an accountant at Stockmann’s Trade House. Comparing to the year of 1870, when the population of Helsinki was 32,000, it had amounted to 43,000 inhabitants in only ten years’s time. Undoubtedly, it was a swift increase. The houses in Helsinki were mainly made of wood, and typically had one or two floors. Industry was scarce. According to the statistics from 1860, there were only 45 factories and 800 industrial workers in Helsinki. Ten years later, in 1870, there were almost 100 factories and 1500 workers employed in them. It was only then that the actual growth began: five years later the amount of factories was already 150 with nearly 3000 workers. Also, service industries flourished: there were as many as five hotels and an abundance of restaurants and cafés in the town.
Strange as it may seem, Julius, who was known to be hard-working and conscientious, initially had the idea of establishing his own enterprise after a minor neglect while still employed at Stockmann’s Trade House. On a beautiful summer morning, he went for a swim in Kaivopuisto. He could not resist the temptation of the sea, and was late coming to work. Julius was reprimanded by his superior, and was laid off because of being unpunctual and disobedient. It can be assumed that this incident affected his will to be his own master.
At the same time Julius had developed an acquintance with two men who both worked in construction business. They were Constantin Kiseleff, an architect, and Elia Heikel, a building contractor. One day Julius walked into their construction company asking for a loan to open a new construction supply business. Both Kiseleff and Heikel believed in Julius’s talent to such a degree that they became business partners. Hence, on 13th March a new shop opened. It is still known by its name today: Oy Julius Tallberg Ab. Seven years later Julius, who was not yet 30, bought the other partners’ shares for himself. The status of a limited company was later claimed in an arrangement made in 1923-25. The very first premises were situated in Konstantininkatu 14 adjacent to the construction business of Kiseleff and Heikel in the Kruunuhaka district of Helsinki.
The beginning of the business was modest. Every weekday morning Julius started off from Kruunuhaka to the market place with a box of nails under his arm. In those days nails were sold by piece. The peasants selling their own products in the market place were keen buyers of nails and other merchandise, which the village blacksmiths were not able to manufacture. Soon his business was flourishing.
After a few years the shop moved to a better business location to the future centre of the city, to a house where Aleksanterinkatu 19 stands today. Three years later the company moved yet again, and this time to a place where the Stockmann department store is located today. In 1887 Julius bought the other proprietors’ shares for himself, and continued business on his own. He elaborated the operations at an incredible speed. He expanded the shop; increased the wholesale business in Helsinki; and founded warehouses around Finland. Likewise, he owned gun powder and dynamite warehouses in many locations. Julius also managed to obtain partnerships in various hardware and construction businesses around Finland.
In fact, Julius’s energy never seemed to cease. He acted as a pioneer in many fields. He established Finland’s first cement foundry, which produced the facade of Kämp, the House of Estates, the National Archives, and Johannes Church. Moreover, he started up the first mortar factory in Finland; opened a wallpaper shop, a sales agency representing Husqvarna, and a tile factory. He was also a co-founder of many other companies: Finska Forcit Ab, Ruskealan Marmori Oy, and Lojo Kalkverks Ab, to mention a few. At the same time Julius was involved in his own construction business, to a degree that it was said that he himself was his best customer. One of his most ambitious ventures was building a business centre of his own to the location in Aleksanterinkatu 21. This building, still a Tallberg landmark in the centre of Helsinki, appeared a real palace in comparison to the other buildings in the centre. The new premises were complemented with special departments for machinery and tools. Julius defined the operational policy of his new store by stating, ”The store aims at obtaining only first class merchandise and keeping the stock of supplies as sufficient as possible.” To realise another dream he shared with Eliel Saarinen, Julius Tallberg bought the neighbouring plot of land to build the City Passage, which connected the Tallberg trade centre to the railway station.
The most remarkable land purchase was buying Lauttasaari. However, the purchase itself was almost accidental. Being an active member of the city council for the growth of Helsinki, he found Lauttasaari to be an ideal setting for the needs of the constantly spreading city. The Wawulin family, who owned the island for its major part, offered it to the city, but the city council turned the offer down considering it to be too expensive. Nevertheless, Julius Tallberg refused to give up, and bargained for a lower price. He managed to buy the island for himself, and offered it to the city council for the same price - only to be rejected. Some people suspected that Tallberg was exploiting the situation. So, the island remained Tallberg’s property, and did cause problems for its new owner since all his funds were practically tied up in the island. However, he managed financially and had no regrets about the deal ever since.
The main building of the Lauttasaari manor, which is still in use, was already built in the early 19 th century. At that time the manor and most of the island belonged to Claes Wilhelm Gyldén. In 1871 the manor was passed into the ownership of the Wawulin family. During their ownership Russians were building fortifications on the shores of Lauttasaari – and were ruining the landscape according to many. Also, the building of villas and the separation of estates took place during the Wawulins’ stay on the island. In 1911 they offered their land to the city for the first time. There were then 100 rented plots and 17 parcels of land owned by private persons. The land around the manor was 255 hectare in area.
Already the Wawulin family heirs had plans to parcel Lauttasaari for villas, but it was not until Julius Tallberg began the single-minded work to increase the number of inhabitants on the island. There was no bridge, and only steamboats operated between the island and the mainland. Julius started an internal tramline pulled by horses from the pier to Katajaharju, and in the spring of 1914 he acquired a steamferry, which operated between (the current beginning of) Lauttasaarentie and Ruoholahti. Horses pulled trams until the autumn of 1917 when the track was taken to pieces. The ferry, however, continued its route until the opening of the bridge connecting Lauttasaari to Jorvaksentie and the mainland in 1935.
Drumsö Casino, Lauttasaaren Kasino, was a popular café located in Hevosenkenkälahti, and was built and founded by Julius Tallberg. Also, a beach was made next to the Casino. It is still in keen use today. All in all, the development of Lauttasaari was rapid when Julius Tallberg was in charge of the various projects on the island. He was probably inspired by his membership in the city planning committee whose long-term member he was. The city architect, Birger Brunila, drew the first draft for a city plan for Lauttasaari already in 1913, and it was eventually confirmed in 1934. Julius Tallberg also donated the plot for the very first club on the island, the youth club (Lauttasaaren nuorisoseura/Drumsö ungdoms förening), which had been founded in 1909. A house was built on the plot by voluntary help. The private telephone network of the island was donated to Helsingin Puhelinyhdistys at Tallberg’s initiative, and life without electricity became history in 1922. As early as in 1917, Julius Tallberg spoke for a bridge to the city authority, but had to settle for the city to provide a road, water pipe and tramline as far as the west bank of Salmisaari.
Felix Nylund’s statue of the Three Blacksmiths, Kolmen Sepän Patsas, in the centre of Helsinki was donated to the city by Pro Helsingfors Foundation whose founder Julius Tallberg originally was.
Julius Tallberg was an open-hearted and sociable man. He was not only interested in his own working environment, but his interest in social issues was also notable. A member of the Helsinki City Council by the age of 31, Julius Tallberg contributed significantly to the development of the city. He was known to be very outspoken. The following extract from a newspaper column was written by Tallberg, and in it he criticises the city bureaucracy in a way which illustrates his outspokenness when he wrote, ”There is only one local politician, a man with a mission, in this dear city of mine who is equipped with enough vision, courage and the operational eye of a businessman. No doubt Julius Tallberg could lead the city into a productive path, and should have the power of some sort of a managing director in the city…” Julius Tallberg did a remarkable job in developing the financial market of our country. For instance, he acted as a board member in O.Y. Suomen Kaupunkien Hypoteekkikassa (mortage institution) since its foundation in 1885 until 1917.
In the 19 th century there was neither work democracy nor labour unions. It was a self-evident fact that any disputes were solved merely by the owner of the company or factory. Moreover, there were many employers who acted as despots and were feared by their employees. Fortunately, there were born leaders such as Julius Tallberg, too. He demanded much of his employees, but was a fine example of a diligent, punctual and fair person himself. It is said that he was more social than many of today’s people. He tried to look after his employees in all possible ways both at work and off work – a feature not common at all in those days. He organised annual parties to his employees and their families. These occasions were memorable experiences for those who took part in them. In the early days of the company, the personnel had summer outings to Lauttasaari, where Julius Tallberg had had a villa already long before actually buying the island. When the number of personnel increased, the outings were given up, and the personnel were entertained in parties held in the restaurants of the city. There was a remarkably warm and patriarchal bond between the employer and his employees.
At the beginning of the 20 th century, society could not offer many social benefits to its citizens. Health insurance and national insurance pension were non-existent. The only way to gain social security was to save money for a rainy day although this was not possible for everyone. Julius Tallberg had his employees’ interests and welfare in mind, when he founded a pension fund for his personnel. It was operational until the 1990’s.
Likewise, Julius Tallberg supported generously the physical exercise of his personnel, and the sports club bearing his name was aleady formed in 1908.
Julius Tallberg was a man of action. He built a large company out of a single shop, which employed more than 100 people by the time of his death. He also had many partnerships in other companies. He had tens of block of flats built, and took part in various building projects around the country. He was active in local politics; participated in the activities of many non-profit making organisations; and was one of the founders of Pörssitalo (stock exchange) and Pörssiklubi. He also inaugurated many foundations and donated significant sums of money for social purposes. One of these was Pro Helsingfors-säätiö (Pro Helsinki Foundation) whose sole purpose was to care for the esthetic value of Helsinki, and to protect nature. Among other things, the foundation donated the statue of the Three Blacksmiths by Felix Nylund to the city of Helsinki.
Julius Tallberg was married twice. In 1880 he married Bertha Ågren, who died in 1911. Two years later 54-year-old Julius remarried. His new wife was Alli Ahrenius. Altogether nine children were born out of his first marriage during 1881-1898.
When Julius Tallberg died on 13 th May 1921, he was visiting Nauheim’s spa in Germany. His death left a huge gap in the lives of many. He was buried in Helsingin Vanha Kirkko (the Old Church) on Thursday 26 th May.
After Julius Tallberg’s death, the management of the company was left to two of the eldest sons. They had been helping their father already: the eldest since 1904 and the second son since 1906. The sons had received managerial education both in Finland and abroad. The responsibilities were divided so that Gunnar was acting as the managing director and was also in charge of Lauttasaari, and other so called sidelines. Bertil directed the actual core business, i.e. the hardware and construction business. Because of his ill health, Gunnar resigned in 1928, and transferred his responsibilities over to his brother.
After the death of Gunnar Tallberg in 1931, Bertil appointed Judge Aarne Castrén as a board member of the company. He fully relied on Castrén’s administrative and legal expertise. All in all, Aarne Castrén remained a board member until 1969. The last six years of his membership he acted as the chairman of the board of directors.
Under the leadership of Bertil Tallberg, the company struggled through the years of recession in the 1930’s when industrial production was extremely low, and the number of unemployed high. Social security was practically non-existant still. And the recession meant poverty and misery to hundreds of thousands of people. Therefore, every single job was a stroke of luck. The company itself was fortunate enough to find a niche in the market. Even though industries were doing poorly, people did build around the country, and at that time the company was a construction supply business most of all. Hence, both construction firms and private builders needed supplies – and they were all bought from the Tallberg’s. The company survived the difficult times with minor damages. During the war the company was led by women and elderly people since all the fit men were at the front. A fine example of the management of the company was that all the employees remained as such during the war: the recruited men were paid half of their wages throughout the war. Naturally, such public relations activities cost the company considerable sums of money, but was evidently a very welcomed help to the receiver and his family.
The post-war years would have been prosperous for a construction supply company, if there had not been a crying need for supplies. All construction supplies were rationed. Moreover, the German agencies acquired before the war were lost almost completely. New agencies could naturally have been an option, but the same problem remained: there was nothing to sell. Whenever a quantity of goods was received for sale, it was divided as evenly as possible between the customers. Somehow those difficult years were pulled through, too, and life gradually returned to normal. Bertil was determined to shift the focus of the company to a more technical direction. The hardware business became more clearly a supplier for industry. Bertil held the managing director’s position until 1949, and then took over the duties of the chairman of the board. He held this position until 1963.
Bertil’s eldest son, Eric, had already started working in the family business along with his studies in the beginning of the 1930’s. He was appointed as managing director succeeding his father. During Eric’s time in charge of the company, it expanded outside Helsinki. The decision about a branch in Hanko was made in 1961, and since then more of them were opened at a rapid pace. At first most of these branch offices operated as sales offices
for the department of Atlas Copco, but their operational range diversified quickly. Sales offices were also established to Tampere, Kuopio, Kokkola and Turku. A large warehouse for raw materials was placed in Hyvinkää and branches were opened in Rauma and Karhula. Eric Tallberg resigned at the end of year 1975, and continued as the chairman of the board until 1985.
The most well-known construction project for the period of time was evidently City-Center, also known as ”Makkaratalo” in Finnish. Viljo Rewell, the architect of the building project, hardly could have guessed the impact of his stroke of a pen when he first designed the projection of a car park. The office and shopping complex was completed in 1964. Its ownership has gradually been given up since.
Viljo Rewell’s design ”Makkaratalo” has still been in the headlines in the 21 st century. For instance, Piccadilly Circus style flashing neon lights have been planned to the facade of the building.
The fourth generation in the company management was represented by Peter Tallberg, M.Sc. (Econ.). He took over during the years of recession, but was able to steer the company through the crisis. In his leadership the company was yet expanded and developed. The first considerable expansion was the acquirement of the Kotka office at the end of the 1970’s. In 1979 the company bought a controlling interest in both Kekkonen Oy and Oy Soffco Ab, and they became subsidiaries of the Tallberg company. With the purchase of Oy Soffco Ab, a large office building in Kilo, Espoo was transferred to the ownership of the company. Over the years the real estate property of the company had accumulated substantially. The greatest source of rent income was naturally from the City Block in Helsinki, but the real estate property amounted due to operational activities, too. As a result, the company had gathered a substantial real estate property although Lauttasaari for its most parts was no longer in the possession of the company.
By the 1980’s the operations had diversified into various business areas. Therefore, the operations of Oy Julius Tallberg Ab and its subsidiaries were divided into four divisions. The first division was formed by Atlas Copco, the machinery department, and the subsidiaries of Oy Soffco Ab and Kekkonen Oy. The second division focused on raw materials; the third consisted of consumer operations, hardware business, and Nautica. The fourth division concentrated on administration and finance. During this time the number of personnel reached record levels, i.e. ca 700 persons were employed by the company. In fact, the parent company alone had branch offices in 11 locations around the country by the end of the decade.
At the beginning of the 1980’s, massive modifications were conducted in the City Block in Helsinki. Simultaneously, a worldwide steel crisis, weak economic fluctuation, and devaluation weakened the financial performance of the company. Shortly before the Christmas of 1982, the managing director expressed his frustration for the situation in the company news bulletin, JT-uutiset, by stating, ”The prices of raw materials compared to the manufacturing expenses have never been as low as this year. The difficulties of the international steel industry have triggered a crisis in different levels of the trade industry. The outlook of metal industry is not the best possible, but the situation in the various levels of trade industry is less likely to worsen. Hence, there are some grounds for cautious optimism that profitability will increase, and that a healthier competitive situation will exist.” The renovation and opening of the City Passage did actually bring about a positive change in consumer operations at least temporarily, and gave a sense of hope in the midst of difficulties.
In spite of the diversity of the operations, the overall situation of the company was clearly gloomy at the beginning of the 1980’s. Success in hardware sales would have required a multiple volume as competition was cutting the margins low. Although part of the technical wholesale business was on a sound basis, the credit losses caused by constructors’ bankruptcies damaged the company, too. The consumer operations acted more like a golden facade to the hardware sales operations rather than a profitable independent business. The shops selling household utensils, interior design, sports gear, leisure products or boats could not form the cornerstone of the company. Fortunately, Oy Julius Tallberg Ab never reached the point when it would have been defined as a problem company, since the company lay on a finacially solid basis after all, and its rent income was substantial. The losses of operational activities were coverd by rent in order to postpone radical changes in the operations in hope of a better future.
The turn of the years 1985-86 was a time of dramatic change in the company. Peter Tallberg resigned from his duties as the managing director towards the end of 1985. An extraordinary General Meeting held on 7 th January, 1986 accepted his resignation from the board of directors along with two other members. In addition, Bank Manager Jaakko Lassila was elected as a new board member.
The unprofitable, but wealthy company had started to draw the attention of takeover bidders, mainly because of its real estate property. The ownership of the company had scattered along generations, and most of the present owners did not have a firm link to the operational activities of the company anymore. In 1984 some members of the large family had already given up their ownership in a transaction for which it was necessary to sell the property in Kaivokatu 8. For this reason, part of the remaining owners were indeed willing to sell their shares when buyers interested in the substantial real estate property of the company started to emerge in the market.
News broke out that SKOP and Haka had taken the control of the company already. However, it is not the number of shares that count, but the number of votes. This soon became clear to the parties involved in the takeover. To avoid outside ownership and the splitting of the company, the chairman of the board of directors, Thomas Tallberg and some of the other owners, manoeuvred a successful counterstrike, which guaranteed the concentration of ownership again after it had been spread during four generations. KOP played a remarkable role in the counterstrike – for the second time in the history of the Tallberg family. Over 70 years ago the Swedish-speaking Julius Tallberg, who belonged to the ”Swedish side”, was not granted a loan he desperately needed, although he offered a considerable part of Helsinki as collateral. He had, after all, invested all his assets in buying Lauttasaari. However, the 700,000 mark loan was arranged from Kansallis-Osake-Pankki, whose director then was J.K. Paasikivi. This marked the beginning of a long-lived and loyal business relations, which were yet honoured by Managing Director Jaakko Lassila seven decades later, when special arrangements were made for the company to stay in the possession of the Tallberg family, and thus to avoid the company’s quick rundown by SKOP.
The financial manager of the company, Sven Olof Granberg, acted as the managing director for a short transitional period until Heikki Aurasmaa, Lic.(Eng.) was appointed as managing director on 1 st May, 1986. For the first time in the family history, the managing director was not a member of the family. Around the same time it was decided that the company would concentrate on its core operations. In the annual report of 1986, it was stated that ”The organisation was reformed on 1 st September, 1986 in order to focus on the main operations of the company, i.e. as a supplier of materials, hardware and machinery. The strategy work in progress aims at concentrating on all-inclusive construction deliveries and on fields closely linked with it, i.e. technical wholesales and agency-based operations. Real estate operations remain an essential part of the company’s long-term activities.”
According to a joint decision, all the other activities were renounced. However, the laborious process was still unfinished at the beginning of the 1990’s. The new policy was implemented only in part. For example, the boat sales were even expanded towards the end of the 1980’s. One reason for the slow implementation processs was the owner’s will to avoid any unnecessary lay-offs. After all, approximately 300 jobs were at stake at the time when the government was causing massive unemployment with its senseless economic policy.
The struggle of the company continued until the mid 1990’s due to the recession at the beginning of the decade. It brought about devaluation and extremely high interest rates. Those business areas which were known best and were believed to be the most profitable in the long run were focused on. Therefore, Risto Tuuri, the company’s managing director during 1990-1995, did a remarkable effort in reorganising the operations and the structure of the company. Henrik Lindblom preceded him for a short period of time as the managing director At the beginning of the 1990’s, a controlled shutdown of the boat sales was carried out, and an arrangement for implementing the reorganisation of machinery sales by merging the machinery operations of Hytec, Starckjohann and Tallberg was commenced. Also, Ramirent Oyj, a company quoted on the Helsinki Exchanges, was set up after a successful manoeuvre. The Tallberg Group owns over 20% of its shares nowadays. Over the recession years a decision was made to invest in a new, high-quality housing project in Lauttasaari.
Since 1989 the Tallberg Group has consisted of its independent subsidiaries together with their parent company. The parent company provides for the financing of the subsidiaries, and has taken an active role in their development. The parent company still owns a substantial real estate property, such as Aleksanterinkatu 21 (including a part of the City Passage), industrial premises, and warehouses. Moreover, the company has other investment property, such as the controlling interest of Julius Tallberg Real Estate Corporation, which was quoted on the Helsinki Exchanges until 2010. The property also includes a considerable share of Ramirent Oyj, a construction machinery rental company. Additionally, the investment portfolio includes the 6 th largest share of ownership in Fiskars Oyj, and other well distributed investment property.
In 1995 the company turned full circle when Martin Tallberg, M.Sc.(Econ.) was appointed as managing director of the company. His appointment meant the return of a family member in charge of the company after ten years. After the diffucult years, the operations have been crystallised further, and those operations in which neither adequate market share nor profitability could be reached have been given up. Similarly, potential business areas have been reinforced by buying Roboma Oy and by merging it with Tallberg Maalauslaitteet Oy. Thus, Tallberg Roboma Oy whose annual turnover had already risen to over 30 million marks (over 5 million euros) became the leading company in surface coating and painting technology.
The Tallberg Group currently rests on three distinct pillars. In addition to the parent company, real estate operations are represented by Julius Tallberg Real Estate Corporation, whose real estate base market value is over 110 million euros. During the last five years, the company’s property base has significantly grown, and it is expected to continue its substantial growth.
The Tallberg Group has been serving Finnish industrial and commercial companies for 130 years. Today, the Group’s operations and holdings are concentrated in real estate investment, industrial wholesale and long-term equity investments. The Tallberg Group consists of three independent operating subsidiaries whose parent company is Julius Tallberg Corporation. Consolidated revenue is approximately EUR 25 million and the Group´s value balance sheet is around EUR 300 million. The Group employs about 25 people.
The Group´s strengths are its special expertise and customer-oriented service, and its aim is to establish long-term, dependable business relationships. The Group´s profitability is good and its financial structure is on a firm foundation. This creates good conditions for growth and profitable expansion in the selected lines of business.
Julius Tallberg Corporation is the Group’s parent company. It sees to its subsidiaries’ financing and participates in their development. The parent company also manages its own real estate and its long-term equity investments.
Julius Tallberg Real Estate Corporation is a real estate investment company that specializes in commercial and industrial investments and in further development of these investments.
Ekomans Oy engages in industrial project sales. It supplies industrial and municipal customers with dust extraction and central cleaning systems as well as air pollution control equipment.
The real estate building in Aleksanterinkatu 21 and the City Passage in Helsinki are the most visible symbols of the life’s work of Julius Tallberg. However, the effort put on by the people who have worked for the company throughout the 130 years of its existence has guaranteed that there is much more left of his life’s work today. Only few companies are able to match the strong image of reliability and high quality of the Tallberg Group. In a word, these values have been carefully cherished throughout the years, and there is a close link between the era of Julius Tallberg and the Group today. The three cornerstones of the company reflect the interests of Julius Tallberg: Firstly, he too was interested in real estate investments, after all he was planning and organising their financial basis in his time. Secondly, he took an early interest in supply and machinery sales, i.e. technical sales. Thirdly, also Julius Tallberg had many partnerships in companies other than his own. It is fair to say that the spirit of Julius Tallberg still continues to live even today.