Professor Pirjo Laaksonen retires after long and distinguished career at the university
The fresh secondary school graduate from an entrepreneurial family had a dream: to be a Bachelor of Science in Economics and Business Administration specialised in marketing and to work in clothing and fashion-related marketing. The Finnish clothing industry was flourishing. Kokkola, Pirjo’s hometown at the time, was a hub of the Finnish clothing industry and home to the top brands.
However, one did not just walk into a school, not even back in the day. The competition for student places was fierce. Four different business schools had economics programmes, but the Vaasa School of Economics was a natural choice for Pirjo due to its close proximity to Kokkola. She would need to visit home sometimes.
– I am of the large post-war generation. There were a lot of us and very few student places. It was not at all a given that I would be admitted anywhere. I was lucky to get a student place.
Education is an investment in yourself
After gaining her bachelor’s degree in Economics and Business, Pirjo returned to her familiar job as a payroll clerk at Outokumpu’s factory in Kokkola. She had already worked there for four summers. In her own words, she “already knew the job pretty well.” She wanted something new and more challenging, which in the end came as if on cue.
One morning, when Pirjo had just opened the job pages of Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, the Vaasa School of Economics called to ask if she would like a job as an assistant lecturer in Marketing. Her job search ended before it had even really started.
Six people including Pirjo worked in department of Marketing. The work let her observe the everyday life of the higher education institution. She has particularly fond memories of the coffee room in the corner of the third floor of the building on Raastuvankatu. One can still visualise a jolly group of co-workers enjoying coffee in a room filled with afternoon sun, and almost hear Pirjo’s cheerful voice.
– The gift of the gab runs in my blood. I have never taken any classes in public speaking or performing, she reveals.
The academic environment felt like home. No wonder, then, that she found herself wanting to study more. While working as an assistant lecturer, Pirjo studied and completed a master’s degree. Back then, hardly anyone had a job during their studies.
– Improving mental capital is an investment in yourself. I wish students today would give it more time and space. Many students cram so many different activities into their day that it may compromise their deep learning. At the same time, the risk of burn-out increases.
Swept away by academics
The analytical thinking, argumentation, weighing things from several different perspectives and a peek at doing research captivated Pirjo. The idea of postgraduate studies began to germinate in her mind.
Pirjo completed her doctoral dissertation in 1992. She was a unique doctoral graduate in many respects. She was the first person to defend a dissertation in English and the first woman to defend her dissertation at the University of Vaasa. Her doctoral dissertation examined consumer commitment, that is, how important consumers consider a product and the relationship between them and products.
– My dissertation focused on conceptual analysis, which also shaped my thinking later on.
Pirjo’s dissertation enjoyed international attention. Routledge sent the new doctoral graduate a letter stating they would like to publish the dissertation as a book, and a Japanese professor called, expressing a wish to translate the book into Japanese.
– Believe it or not, there exists a Japanese translation of my dissertation, Pirjo says with a laugh.
The academic world is international. The community of European marketing researchers in particular became important to her, and their correspondence was frequent. In Finland, marketing researchers also knew each other well and met regularly.
However, Pirjo never felt any wanderlust or desire to see the world. She was invited to join a university in New Zealand as a visiting professor, but a young child and the draw of her home university kept her in Finland.
– I had opportunities to go and see the world, but I never worked as a visiting professor or lived abroad.
A long career at the university
Pirjo Laaksonen has built a long and distinguished career at the University of Vaasa. Similar careers are not completely unheard of in the academic world, but younger people may wonder at such commitment.
– The important thing is that you get fired up for the work you do. You need to be able to get excited about it year after year. I have been extremely privileged here in that respect. It has never been a chore for me to go to work or do my job, Pirjo says as she walks across the campus.
She sits down in the chair in her former office on the third floor of the Tervahovi building. In the course of her career, she has seen changes in working life that have brought turmoil, especially in recent years.
– As a dean, I spent long days at Zoom meetings, so it felt kind of pointless to come here. I would have been sitting alone in my office with the door closed.
Otherwise, shen has always been social: always willing to come up with new ideas and always working with her office door open.
The point and plot of research
– We have a really beautiful campus,” she says, casting a glance at the Puuvillatalo buildings.
There is no doubt about it: the university has been a dear place for Pirjo. She would also like it to be so for many others.
–To researchers, I would like to say: make choices with which you can identify. Choices that inspire and motivate you. And not the ones where people say you should do this or that. After all, you have to work so much and for so long. The most important thing is that you get fired up for the work you do. This makes work less of an uphill battle and the difficult moments easier to live with.
When it comes to research, Pirjo Laaksonen has a secret recipe.
– Research must have a point. All our alumni know what it means. The research must have a genuine challenge to solve. And a plot that makes it something like a detective story. There must be tension to keep it from being just a survey and report.
A legacy for the university
Pirjo never got that career in fashion marketing, but in its place she got many other things.
Over the decades, the university and its community have become very dear to her. With good reason – she got to see the different phases of the School of Economics and Business Administration as it evolved into a university.
– Throughout the years, I have found strength and support in the way in which we are us. The sense of community is strengthened through interaction and increases wellbeing at work.
Laaksonen has signed an emeritus contract with the university, and she will continue her work as an emeritus professor.