Who was Allan Hjelt?

A Young Entrepreneur and Business Leader
Born into a prominent Abo family, Allan Hjelt (1885-1945) grew up in the town where his father, Edrik Hjelt was the Chief Executive and owner of Abo Kladesfabrik, Abo cloth manufacturer, which was the largest industry in Abo.

Allan Hjelt graduated as a textile engineer, studying in Finland, Germany, The Netherlands and Sweden. In 1916, he took over as Chief Executive of Abo Kladesfabrik. That same year, he also started doing business in Russia and founded the Helsinki-based real estate company Ab Centralgatan OY together with the famous designer and architect Eliel Saarinen. Saarinen designed the Helsinki railway station and in order to create an impressive access he and Allan Hjelt bought the six neighbouring blocks in Helsinki and made way for ”Centralgatan”, leading to the station.

The same year, 1916, Allan Hjelt also registered the stock exchange broker company Ab Allan Hjelt & Co. Oy.

In 1918, Allan Hjelt made what was to become the most significant business deal of his life. Together with three Norwegian business partners, he acquired a majority stake in the Norwegian owned, but Finnish based, forest company, Ab W Gutzeit & Co. Later the same year, Allan Hjelt and his partners sold the stake to the Finnish government. This was the largest business deal made in Finland during the period 1914-1924.

In the mid 1920’s Allan Hjelt’s exchange broker company collapsed due to the variations in value of the Finnish currency after the war. Allan lost most of his fortune.

Around the same time, Allan Hjelt started doing business with Italy, where he predominantly sold wood products to the Italian market. In 1924 he was nominated as Italy’s Counsul General in Finland (his villa at Fabriksgatan 32 in Helsinki serves today as the Italian Ambassador’s Residence).

Towards the end of his life, Allan Hjelt served as Finland’s trade negotiator, attached to the embassy in Bern in Switzerland, negotiating trade deals in the midst of World War II between Finland and various other nations.

A dedicated art lover
Allan Hjelt was part of a group of 35 people that founded the Foundation for Abo Akademi in 1917. Through his friendship with Eliel Saarinen, Allan Hjelt was able to establish close contacts with many of the Finnish contemporary artists. These works, and other ones by famous international artists hung on the walls of his home at Fabriksgatan 32 in Helsinki. (To the right: “Winter view” by Axel Gallen-Kallela.)

After inheriting his father’s Finnish art collection, and in memory of his father, Bo Hjelt decided to donate the majority of the works (through his Foundation, the Allan & Bo Hjelt Art Foundation) to Åbo Akademi University but also made a donation to the Serlachius Museum in Mänttä and gave an important sculpture to Ateneum, the National Gallery of Finland, in 2008.

Family
Allan Hjelt married Margit Spoof, daughter of a prominent Finnish businessman in 1908. The couple had two daughters, Gunvor (1909) and Inger ”Kirre” (1913). In 1933, Allan married a second time Swedish-born Valborg Unander-Scharin (born Svensson). Valborg came from Skyllberg in Narke, Sweden, at the time one of the country’s largest privately held estates. The couple had one son, Bo, born in 1935.

 

Please read more about Allan Hjelt in the book “Förvärv och Fördärv”, written by Professor Schybergson, senior lecturer in economic and social history at Helsinki University and Abo Akademi. It portrays Allan Hjelt and other leading businessmen that dominated Finland’s early 20th century industrial history. 

The book was published in 2007 by Schildts Forlag in Helsinki.