7.2. 2012 Kuukauden kasvo

Poetry and regional development

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N. Tapani Saarinen has worked in Turku Science Park Oy and the organisations preceding it since 1989 and is best known as Sassu. The nickname dates back to his school years in Pori. The dog of the family was called Sassu. After some twists and turns, the name stuck to the younger of the sons, Tapani, and has survived up to today.

Sassu was born in Lieto, but moved at the age of one to Lahti for a few years due to his father's work. From there the family moved to Pori, again due to the father's work.

"School affects one's thinking a great deal, and it did so for me, too. My natural history teacher got me interested in all natural sciences, and I was planning to become a marine biologist or limnologist."

Manager of the biggest hotel in the Nordic countries

The headmaster of Porin lyseo upper secondary school described Sassu's matriculation examination as "excellent papers for such a lazy student". Instead of biology, Sassu ended up to study organic chemistry in the University of Turku in 1969. He did not quite graduate within the ideal time: six years in the Student Union Council, the Board of the association of chemistry students in the university of Turku, student memberships in the Council of the Turku Student Village Foundation and the faculty, playing basketball in Turku YMCA and the university team were some factors that affected the progress of his studies.

"When I was the coach and captain of the basketball team of the university we won two 'academic' Finnish championship titles in the basketball tournaments of the Finnish Student Sports Federation", Sassu reminisces.

Further delay was caused by work for two summers in the student village, in summer hotel Ikituuri. He started as chief receptionist, but quickly advanced to hotel manager.

"I had the opportunity to work as the manager of the biggest hotel in the Nordic countries. The biggest groups of Swedish tourists coming after inexpensive meat comprised of 1400 people, and the Ikituuri parking lot was filled with dozens of buses."

Sassu finally completed his Master of Science degree and got the certificate in July 1978.

"I had agreed with Kari Veijonen and Jussi Kaisti that I would start as a copywriter for a Turku-based advertising agency Adax as of the beginning of 1978. At the same time we agreed that I will finish my Master's thesis. I put in the last full stop to the list of references with a typewriter borrowed from Adax on New Year's Eve in 1977."

The ad agency career had a promising start, and was awarded with a Hopeajyvä prize, but ended already in October 1978, when Sassu changed to a job at Leiras that was better suited to his education. As the product manager he was responsible for sales of some licensed products of pharmaceutical company Schering. Later on, as a marketing manager, his area of responsibility included sales to hospitals and over-the-counter drugs in Finland.

In early 1985, Sassu met Arto Tuominen, then the Editor-in-Chief of Kauppalehti. As a result of the meeting he ended up as the circulation director of Uusi Suomi newspaper. The goal to increase the circulation from 80,000 to 100,000 was met, but the short span of planning made the work hard, and Sassu left the job about a year later. He found his way back to his old hometown and started work as the managing director of Turun Lääkärikeskus ja Laboratoriot Oy, later renamed Meditori.

"During my time as the managing director the company built its current premises and commenced full-scale surgical operations. I also worked as the managing director of Turun Magneettikuvaus Oy, which seemed natural, as the subject of my Master's thesis was nuclear magnetic resonance, or NMR."

To the science park

Sassu found his way to his current working environment in a science park in Turku in spring 1989. That's when he started work as the marketing director of Oy DataCity Center Ab.

"In my first project I was looking for opportunities for people who lost their jobs as a result of the merger of Laivateollisuus and Wärtsilä to be employed as entrepreneurs in the premises of the shipyard. Olli Mankonen was heading the activities, and the result was the Metal City project financed by the Ministry of Labour which took another turn just a month later it had begun as Wärtsilä went bankrupt."

For a short while, Sassu also worked as the acting managing director of Turun Teknologiakeskus until Kyösti Jääskeläinen was selected to replace Jussi Kaisti who had left to manage Turkuhalli multi-purpose arena. Sassu focused on the duties of the director responsible for research services. In that position he participated in co-ordinating the first regional programme of Tekes which set out to create a research centre for materials and surface technology in Southwest Finland. Years later the programme resulted in Top-Analytica Oy, and Mr Saarinen can deservedly be considered the proud father of the idea.

"The company still owned with equal shares by the University of Turku, Åbo Akademi, four companies, and Turku Science Park Oy has made profit every year. Based in the Old Mill building, the company provides research and analysis services for both companies and research institutes in the field of, for example, process, chemical and metal industries."

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The Regional Development Act entered into force in 1993. In the practical implementation of the Act the Ministry of the Interior utilised the network of the Finnish Science Park Association (TEKEL). The responsibility for regional development given to Regional Councils by virtue of the Act led to the Centre of Expertise (OSKE) programme proposed by TEKEL. Sassu has had a central role in the OSKE work: he has headed the Centre of Expertise of Southwest Finland since the beginning, in recent years as the development director of Turku Science Park Oy.

"OSKE is a national and international success story. The Finnish model was used in Norway and South Africa in setting up a similar programme. In addition to the above countries, I have personally provided consultation on regional development e.g. in Portugal, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Iceland, Spain, Estonia and Russia. I have participated in hundreds of different centre of expertise projects."

"I have had the chance to participate in determining the direction for the OSKE programme, creating it and the permanent structure resulting from it. Another big thing in my career have been the units providing services to local enterprises, which in addition to Top Analytica include e.g. Turku Clinical Biomaterials Centre, Clinical Research Services Turku CRST, and the Innomarket unit of the Turku School of Economics which specialises in surveys in life science and pharmaceutical industries."

Theatre, poems and work for the province

Father of three children, Niilo Tapani Saarinen continued his political activities after his studies. He says that he never considered a career as a politician, but being interested in different cultures and poetry he found a stage for politics in theatre. He sat in the Theatre Board of the City of Turku for 15 years, nearly half of which as the chairman. He was also in the Board of the Association of Finnish Theatres for four years.

"I have always been interested in culture. While living in Pori I was involved in a local film club and was building the concert stage for the first Pori Jazz festival with Jyrki Kangas in 1966."

The Apteekki ja vapaa-aika magazine that comes out four times a year published Sassu's poems and drawings in the 1980s.

"When I started as the managing director of Oy DataCity Center Ab I had to leave regular contributions. But I still write poems every day. I'm particularly keen on three-line haikus."

Sassu has also participated in the work of the Regional Management Committee of Southwest Finland. He feels that the work has been very meaningful.

"There I have had the chance to affect issues that move the region forward. Tolerance, responsibility, innovativeness and fostering the tradition of a European science university have been my key points in that work."

"I am ready to consult the promotion of our successful fields of expertise in the future, too. I'm interested in some kind of a consultant's role despite retirement."

And if he has trouble finding things to do on pension, Sassu can always head to Hirvensalo.

"The wooden summer-house and sauna will keep me busy."


Niilo Tapani Saarinen

- Born on 14 September 1949
- Master of Science, major subject organic chemistry, University of Turku 1978
- Development Director of Turku Science Park Oy since 2002
- Has previously worked e.g. as managing director of Turun Teknologiakeskus Oy and Lääkäritalo Meditorin, circulation director of Uusi Suomi, and marketing manager and product manager at Leiras
- Special expertise in innovation systems, science park concepts and regional development activities
- Lives in Turku and has a summer-house on Hirvensalo island
- Married with three adult children

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Dozens of poems and drawings by Sassu were published in the Apteekki ja vapaa-aika magazine in the 1980s and 1990s.