In the 1950s, a peculiar salesman was making rounds from door to door in the Ypäjä countryside in a stroller pushed by his sister. In addition to his mode of transport, what made this postcard salesman extraordinary was his age: the spirited seller hadn’t yet even started primary school. Distances between houses were too long for little legs but luckily his big sister agreed to take him on his sales trips.
Years later, those same legs have run tens of thousands of kilometres on all continents, and the postcard business has turned into a great history as an entrepreneur on the packaging industry. Reino Uusitalo, the founder of Pyroll Group Oy, celebrated his 75th birthday on August 15. The seasoned businessman still shows signs of the enthusiasm of the little postcard salesman.
Entrepreneurship and ideas
When he was little, earning his own money motivated Uusitalo. He earned his first pay by collecting recycled paper and used it to buy a Leijona watch. The industrious boy saved pocket money also by thinning sugar beets, taking care of bee hives and selling honey as well as by doing forest work. And naturally one part of his earnings came from selling Easter and Christmas cards that gave Uusitalo his first lessons on business as he pondered what kind of cards to order to make a profit: cheap cards were easy to sell and they offered better profit margins than the more expensive cards that people bought more rarely. Uusitalo ordered more cheap postcards, got better profits and saved his earnings in a sugar cube tin.
Even growing up on the countryside, Uusitalo never wanted to be a farmer. Young Uusitalo found tractors too shaky, and besides, he was very interested in new technology. After graduating from the Higher Technical Institute of Pori, Uusitalo spotted an interesting job advertisement in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper and ended up working at the Hovinsaari factory in Kotka.
The star of this story might well have been an entrepreneur at a different business: the sheeting business that eventually developed into Pyroll wasn’t his only business idea. The spark of entrepreneurship stayed in Uusitalo’s mind when he was working as an electricity and maintenance worker for Raf. Haarla Oy; his ideas revolved especially around teletechnology, his great passion. Eventually he decided that the sheeting business was the most feasible idea, and Uusitalo started his business.
Paper rolls in the loft of a cow barn
In Uusitalo’s stories, his wife, children and childhood family, especially his father, Paavo, and mother, Aune, play significant roles. He speaks affectionately of his loved ones. Uusitalo inherited his optimistic stance on life from his parents, and it has carried him through all of life’s challenges. In Paavo and Aune’s life, this optimism showed in their wartime correspondence; under exceptional circumstances, they only wrote to each other about good and positive things. Uusitalo describes his wife’s role as a supportive spouse that has made it possible for him to be, cope and succeed in business. Children helped him find meaning in his work. In addition to family, Uusitalo also thanks his staff.
“Success has come through co-operation with everyone. No one plays a small role in that,” he says.
The significance of having his own staff has been important to him from the get-go. Entrepreneurship was not a popular option in South Western Finland in the 70s when the area was full of heavy industry, and recruiting employees for the new business was even harder. He did manage to find four open-minded local employees in Pyhtää with whom Uusitalo started producing wrapping paper in a production facility built in an old cow barn. In the evenings, Uusitalo counted profits and planned for the next day. When he was a child, he had been counting profits from selling Christmas cards in hopes of making some pocket money – now these profits were vital. The worst case scenario was that the company would run out of money, business would have to close and the owner would be left with nothing.
“That guided our business and determined how long we worked each day. It truly was work from the morning till the evening news. Work was meaningful and I barely wanted to stop at the end of the day,” says Uusitalo.
Good time to be alive
Uusitalo turned 75 in a year when the exceptional circumstances caused by the coronavirus brought the world economy to a standstill. He views the current crisis with a calm attitude. As a business owner, he has already been through many crises affecting economy and business. During the oil crisis and the financial crisis, he managed to make good choices. The depression that affected Finland in the early 1990s required fast action from Uusitalo, and Pyroll came out of the challenging situation relatively well. In fact, Uusitalo managed to keep his business afloat in the crisis so well that he received a national entrepreneur’s award.
As a little boy, Uusitalo was motivated by the thought of filling up his coin jar. Now he says the most important profits in life are experiences and joy. For his and other’s joy, he has helped save many old buildings with cultural and historical interest that in the hands of their new owners have got a better future and enabled many people currently operating in their premises to start businesses and implement their ideas.
Having spent years setting different kinds of goals for himself, Uusitalo reflects on the future gently and without any major goals. For him, taking care of his own physical and mental well-being is the most important thing so that he gets to fully enjoy the freedom of being. Restless legs still take him to marathons but his mind is peaceful in this moment.