Victor Ek was one of the most successful businessmen of his time and a highly respected person in various socio-political positions.
The company remains under family ownership, with its major shareholders being descendants of Victor Ek.
COMMERCIAL COUNSELLOR VICTOR EK
Victor Ek, a young man from Helsinki, graduated from the commercial college of Lübeck in 1880 and, after working in various companies in Finland and abroad, decided to set up a forwarding and agency company in Helsinki in 1885.
The company’s main business areas included liner shipping, forwarding and moving services. A few years later, a branch office was established in Hanko, where business is still very active, and, 25 years later, offices were also opened in Turku and Vaasa.
From the very beginning, forwarding operations were part of the new company and, in 1912, the department had 38 employees and two lorries. Coal imports from Germany to Finland started at the same time, with fuel trade being active until late 1980s. Emigration from Finland to North America exploded and Victor Ek’s services were expanded to passenger traffic.
At the beginning of the century there was a great demand for moving services and the company moved the Natural History Museum in 1923. When Akseli Gallen-Kallela and his family made painting trips to East Africa in 1908–1910, Victor Ek transported the artist’s property back to Finland.
Victor Ek’s head office was located for decades in Eteläranta (currently G.W. Sundmans restaurant), until the company relocated to Pohjoisranta in Katajanokka in 1985. Currently, the head office is located in Malmi.
FROM WARS TO RECONSTRUCTION
The company flourished in the 1920s and 1930s (excluding the recession). During the war years, foreign trade was at a standstill but the company was able to patch up private imports and exports through military assignments. Transportation was also fairly lively, even though the majority of lorries had been seized by the military. Reconstruction signified rapid growth for Victor Ek.
Magnus Cedercreutz, commercial counsellor and Victor Ek’s grandson, became the head of the company. His task was to develop the company during the hard years of reconstruction so that it would fill its place as one of the largest forwarding and transportation companies in Finland. Victor Procopé, municipal counsellor and also a grandson of Victor Ek, started as the Chairman of the company’s Board of Directors.
The company established an airfreight department and obtained the IATA licence among the first companies in Finland in 1948. Travel agency V.Ek Oy was founded in 1962 and, a few years later, its name was changed to Oy Matkatoimisto Travek Resebyrå Ab. The agency ran among other things Hertz car rental operations, and had 62 rental cars at the end of the decade.
DEVELOPMENT THROUGH REORGANISATION
The late 1980s were difficult times. Harry v. Haartman (M.Sc. Eng., M.Sc. Econ.) was appointed as Managing Director and the company faced exhaustive reorganisation. As a result of these measures the company survived the recession of the 1990s better than many of its competitors and made small profits throughout the economic slump. The moving department’s new office and warehouse building was built in Malmi in summer 1989. The next changes in the management were made in 1996 when Lauri Castrén was elected as the Chairman of the Board of Directors and Göran Cedercreutz (M.Sc. Eng.) was appointed as Managing Director.
As a result of increased competition caused by Finland’s EU membership, some of the company’s functions were sold. Only profitable operations remained: liner shipping, moving operations, the Hanko branch office and travel agency Travek which was later sold to Matka Kaleva. The future of the Hanko office was looking bright when car exports to Russia increased enormously, which guaranteed profitable operations for years to come. Good shipping company representations of the liner shipping department enabled operational growth and profitability, leading to new partnerships and the opening of a new branch office in Tampere in 2000.
At the beginning of the 2000s, Victor Ek signed an agreement on all overseas moves of the largest international company in Finland, while Dutch-based UTS (UniGroup Relocation Network) took care of moves inside Europe. In 2002, Victor Ek became a part owner of UTS and strengthened its position as the country’s leading moving company by acquiring other Finnish moving businesses.
The Kotka office was opened in 2005 to offer forwarding services at Kotka and Hamina ports. However, the Turku office had to be closed the same year. Moreover, the company’s management was reshaped when Mikael Wahlström (M.Sc. Econ.) was elected as the Chairman of the Board of Directors and Eero Holma (M.Sc. Econ.) was appointed as Managing Director.
In late 2007 and early 2008, all forwarding operations were merged into a single unit, Victor Ek Logistics. The moving department started to put effort in sales, while the establishment of an umbrella organisation for Finnish moving companies and the definition of common delivery terms were decided upon.
NEW CHALLENGES – NEW OPPORTUNITIES
In summer 2008, the impending crisis of the global economy strengthened and was also reflected in Finland. In shipping, freight levels declined and the price awareness of moving customers increased. Business started to slow down in other units, as well.
In 2009, Marcus Karsten (M.Sc. Econ.) started as the Chairman of the new Board of Directors and Jussi Koivusalo started as Managing Director. During the same year, the construction of a gate building in the Western Harbour at the Port of Hanko was negotiated, for which purpose the Kiinteistö Oy Hangon Sataman Portti building association was established. Its shareholders included Victor Ek and the town of Hanko. The building was completed in 2010, after which Victor Ek decided to focus all of its logistics services to the Hanko and Kotka offices.
In April the same year, the company celebrated its 125th anniversary with its personnel and customers. During the anniversary, the company was also on display in a TV documentary of Finnish family-owned companies. A book of the company’s history was also published.
As part of the company’s savings programme, the head office and shipping department were relocated to Malmi in December 2012 to share the premises with the moving department. The top management faced changes the next summer when Michael Cedercreutz (M.Sc. Econ. and a member of the Board of Directors) was appointed as Managing Director, representing the fifth generation in the company.
Despite the challenging financial situation, the company is looking forward to the future and, upon the decision made by the Board of Directors, a complete rebranding project was executed. Preparations were started in autumn 2013 and the new brand was launched in May 2014.
The years 2014-2015 were marked by the restructuring of our logistics-department. The continuing downturn of the Finnish economy led to the closing of our office in Kotka and the sale of Fennoscandia Chartering. The positive growth in Hanko harbour and our strong belief that this will continue in the future made the decision to centralize all logistics functions to the Hanko office easy. This was completed during 2015 and followed by the decision to build a cargo handling terminal in Hanko harbour. The terminal, which will be operational in June 2016, opens up new possibilities to serve our clients and grow our business in Hanko.
On the moving side, the restructuring of UniGroup Relocation Network during 2015 gave us a big boost. The rebranded network,Harmony Relocation Network, gives us a strong position regarding international moves and will benefit our clients globally.
At the end of 2015 the moving business was transferred to a separate company, Victor Ek Moving Ltd. The company is headed by Executive Chairman Michael Cedercreutz and Managing Director Kai Lager. The mother company, Victor Ek Oy, will focus on logistics under Managing Director Tomas Sjödahl.