Nearly a century at Steveco

During the careers of Karola Leponen and Anne Ala-Outinen, the working environment at Steveco has changed a great deal. Rotating between different jobs has always kept their work interesting and meaningful.

Steveco is known for having employees with long careers with the company. Long-time staffers have over the decades circulated through various jobs and locations, gaining knowledge and experience. Even the company’s name has seen several iterations until what sprang from many roots became Steveco some 30 years ago. The name is set, but digitalisation has revolutionised the working methods.

Despite, and probably also thanks to change, Anne Ala-Outinen and Karola Leponen have stayed with the company for their entire working lives. The careers of both ladies are so long as to be unique in today’s highly mobile society and job market.

Messengers at the tender age of 15

Ala-Outinen and Leponen both started with the company when they were each just 15 in the 1970s. Ala-Outinen started as messenger at Kaukas-Hackman in the port of Hamina, while Leponen started out in the same job at Cadenius & Grahn in Kotka.

Ala-Outinen looks back on her messenger days.

“Within the port, I moved papers between the customs office, the railway company and other places. When I had some business in town, I took the bus. Once a month, I brought the workers’ wages from the bank. The chief cashier put instructions in a briefcase on how much and what denominations were needed. In those days, people were paid in cash distributed in envelopes.”

“Many times, I sat on a park bench somewhere with the money in the briefcase beside me as I waited for the next bus. I don’t even know how much money I had with me - fortunately,” Ala-Outinen reminisces.

“At least you had a briefcase. At our company, the money was put in plastic carrier bags when I fetched it from the Bank of Finland,” Karola Leponen chuckles.

Karola Leponen started as a messenger at Cadenius & Grahn, 1 October 1971. Her jobs include shipbrokering, forwarding, documentation and the depot department. Karola's hobbies are grandchildren and walking.

Many and varied jobs

Karola Leponen’s first office job was in ship brokerage. She returned to that area over the years after working in other departments, such as forwarding.

For the past ten years or so, Leponen has worked in the depot department in the operating centre at the port.

The depot department primarily handles empty containers based on handover and advance information from container companies.

“My work has been versatile and challenging. My tasks have changed, as have colleagues and customers.”

Ala-Outinen now works at cargo release in the Merituuli building at the Port of Mussalo. Her earlier career advanced from messenger girl to copier and telefax operator to export booker.

Anne Ala-Outinen started as a messenger at Kaukas-Hackman, 14 January 1974. Her jobs include copier, telefax operator and export booker, now in cargo release at the Merituuli building of the port of Mussalo. Anne's hobbies are grandchildren, walking, reading and handicrafts.

In cargo release, she thinks of herself as a representative of the shipping company when import cargoes are released to customers on the instructions of the shipping companies.

“Here in Mussalo, the cargoes are containers, and at Hietanen, also piece goods.”

Customers who became friends

When Leponen and Ala-Outinen started out, the office equipment consisted of pencil and gridded paper, perhaps a manual typewriter. Telex appeared in the 1970s.

“The ship’s manifest was typed on one of those typewriters with a wide carriage.”

“First, the notes were drawn up, then the bills of lading, and from those, the manifest, which is a summary of the shipment.”

The first computer arrived in the company towards the end of the 1970s.

“It was a computer, although we thought of it as an input system, because nothing went in automatically. The machine only handled information we typed in.”

With some wistfulness in their voices, Leponen and Ala-Outinen remember the times when the telephone was an important work tool before the advent of email. They called the customers, and the customers would call them.

“These days, there are some days when the phone doesn’t ring even once,” Leponen says.

“It’s a pity, actually, because there is little to no social contact with the customers,” Ala-Outinen adds.

“It was pretty exciting to make calls all around Finland and listen to all those different dialects.” She remembers that she would automatically start speaking the same dialect as the customers. “

“First, we would go to school”

Neither of the ladies planned their working lives in the way they unfolded. They both intended to work for just awhile and then begin their studies. But as fate would have it, both ladies have been with Steveco their entire careers, even though they hadn’t planned it.

“Then again, I was paid 300 marks a month, which was lots of money at that time, and I liked the job. I thought I would stay on for another year and think about it again. Well, that was 45 years ago now,” Anne Ala-Outinen says.

For Karola Leponen, it was the same: school got left behind when the interesting job was so attractive.

“It will soon be 48 years. Rather embarrassing,” Karola Leponen chuckles.

Leponen will retire perhaps this year or next year. Ala-Outinen still has a little over three years left.

If they had to choose a career now, both say they could very well follow the same business career path.

“But, we would go to school first,” they insist.

“When we started, logistics education was non-existent.”


Text: Eija Anttila Photos: Johannes Wiehn

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Mia Brunila