Gunn-Britt was there in the beginning
In the early days, a passion for the transport industry and hard work, but also a stable and supportive family, made the difference for Ahola Transport, remembers Gunn-Britt Ahola.
The mid-1950s were a turbulent time for Finland. Inflation, weak state finances and political disquiet permeated the country and the future was anything but secure for employees and entrepreneurs.
In these troubled times, Helge Ahola decided to start up his own transport company in Kokkola. Together with his wife Gunn-Britt, he took a leap of faith and, equipped with courage and passion, bought his first truck from his previous employer. Gunn-Britt remembers the critical, but also determined, decision.
“I told him I was in and that I would support him. It was an easy decision to make,” she says.
In spring of 1955, the first truck owned by the family rolled into their driveway. In the window stood Gunn-Britt with their first-born Hans, barely a year old, in her arms.
A tough start
Five years later, Hans would get to sit behind the wheel of the truck for the first time, igniting the passion that he would need when he took over the family company twenty years later – but the road ahead was long.
Despite the uncertain times, Helge Ahola saw that there was a demand that he and his truck could meet. Finland in the 1950s suffered from a major transport shortage, especially for gravel and other materials used to build the foundation for the future welfare state of Finland. However, before that came the general strike of 1956 which went down in the history books as a major event in the country’s development. Gunn- Britt Ahola remembers it well.
“In January, there was a month-long gen¬eral strike. It was around 30–40 degrees below zero the entire winter.”
Times were tough but Helge kept his truck, his family’s main source of income, running. One morning it was so cold that Helge was forced to light a fire under the truck to get it started.
Gunn-Britt also worked hard, and together, they were able to create a successful business and family life.
“Those were uncertain times, so I spent a few years sewing leather jackets,” she says.
Working hard for their dream
For Helge, the company was a long-held dream. He had driven a truck as an employee before but hoped to start his own business someday. Before he and Gunn-Britt married, he had bought a gravel truck but had returned it and went back to working as an employee. Together with Gunn-Britt, he found the courage to take the leap and become an entrepreneur.
“We didn’t have any definite plans though – time would tell. The company developed as the times improved, and we bought more trucks,” says Gunn-Britt.
Soon the business began to take off, but not without some hard work.
“It took a long time – it was tough,” she recalls.
A focus on family
Even though Gunn-Britt is humble about the role she played in the company, it was essential. She came from a family of farmers and was very practically minded. In the early days of Ahola Transport, she gave Helge the confidence and support he needed, but she also dealt with a lot of practical matters.
“I took care of the family and helped Helge as much as I could. Later, I began to man¬age the invoices and calculate the drivers’ wages.”
Helge and Gunn-Britt had six daughters and four sons, a large family that the couple always put first. But combining a company with family life was no easy task.
“We did it somehow. Making time for the family was important for Helge.”
Home and family was important to Gunn-Britt too. She wanted the home clean and tidy when the weekend came along, so they could enjoy each other’s company.
Sons take the reins
Their home had, in any case, become the base for the company. Its first office was located in their family home, and an old nearby barn became the company’s first garage. Helge led the company with a great passion.
“It was his main interest until his health began to give way,” says Gunn-Britt.
In 1982, Helge passed away and his eldest son Hans suddenly had to take over the family company at the young age of 27. He was soon joined by his brothers Nils, Rolf and Lars.
“It felt good because that’s how it was meant to be,” says Gunn-Britt.
It was still a tough time for the family. Their youngest daughter was just seven, but Gunn-Britt took care of the family and supported her son Hans as he took over the reins, just as she had supported Helge when he first started out. Gunn-Britt was 49 at the time but did not have a driver’s licence. Just a few months after Helge’s death, she started taking driving lessons to be able to care for her family.
Company close to her heart
Gunn-Britt also continued to work at the company, but wanted to slowly make way for the younger generation. Even though she was self-taught, she knew all about administration, but began to step aside and instead took on the cleaning and tidying of the office.
Ahola Transport had long been the apple of her eye. Today, she is more than proud of what the family company has turned into. The company’s success, in her view, results from the hard work that the family has always stood for.
“I’ve always wanted it to be a success and to create jobs for others,” she says.
When she meets her sons and daughters who still work at the office in Kokkola, she always asks them how Ahola Transport is doing and whether there are enough deliveries. The company’s success, in her view, results from the hard work that the family has always stood for. “I think it’s hard work and a blessing from God,” says Gunn-Britt and emphasises that faith has been an important guide along the demanding road that she, Helge and the company have travelled.
Due to the company’s major growth and its rise to the forefront of digital development in logistics, she feels that it is hard to take it all in.
“So much has changed and I don’t understand everything.”
The pensioner still lives in the family home in Kokkola, where both her children and the company took their first steps.
Gunn-Britt has experienced a lot in her 85 years. Her family and the family business have always been close to her heart and a visit to the office is always an experience in itself. “A lot has changed since the early days,” says Gunn-Britt
The history of Ahola Transport:
The first years
• Helge Ahola establishes the business in 1955.
• Ten years later, oil transports start up, and continue for more than 30 years.
• Hans Ahola begins working as a gravel truck driver in 1972 and six years later becomes his father’s partner.
• Transports outside Finland begin in 1973.
• In 1981, the company’s first workshop is built and brothers Lars, Nils and Rolf Ahola begin working at the company.
Ahola develops and grows
• In the late 1980s, the company decides to focus on its own direct transports for customers, cutting out intermediate storage and reloading. The online concept is born.
• In 1991, Ahola Transport’s Swedish compa¬ny is established in Umeå.
• The company experiences strong growth between 1992 and 1996. In 1996, a decision is made to develop a data system for planning and optimising transports. The online concept is developed further.
Ahola Transport today
• In 2004, operations start up in the Baltics.
• The company is still family-owned but now also listed publicly.
• Annual turnover of around to EUR 100 million.
• Employs approximately 700 people.
• Main area of operations: the Nordics, Baltics and CEE countries (Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia).