Profile: Risto Murto, Chief Executive of Finland's Varma

After eight years as Chief Investment Officer, Risto Murto moved up to the top job at Finland's largest insurance company three years ago.
Risto Murto, Chief Executive of Varma | Photo: PR
Risto Murto, Chief Executive of Varma | Photo: PR

Described by a professional acquaintance as a good leader, 53-year-old Risto Murto certainly had plenty of experience at the top even before taking the helm three years ago at the largest of Finland’s weighty pension insurance companies — Varma.

He had already been in charge of the firm’s investments for eight years, first as chief investment officer and then as executive vice-president, investments.

And before that, he had been chief executive of Opstock — now part of the OP Financial Group — since the turn of the millennium.

But although Murto is a leader in the financial sector, he is described as a man who sees the bigger picture in finance, rather than getting caught up in the details.

“He has a great ability to take a broad perspective on things, taking a look at the whole of society,” the acquaintance observes.

Moved away from science and technology

It is telling that at university, Murto made a decision to move away from a purely scientific and technological path towards one based on human behaviour, changing from electrical engineering at the University of Oulu in northern Finland to economics.

This was at a time of soaring demand for electrical engineers in the town, when local employer Nokia was at its height in mobile phone development and production.

But Murto recognised where his professional path lay. “I was more interested in people and society than machines,” he says.

These days, Murto says he is glad to be giving back to his alma mater by serving as chairman of the board at the University of Oulu.

Besides this one, he now has a string of pro bono roles, being a member of the Financial Committee of the Finnish Cultural Foundation, supervisory board member of the Finnish National Opera and Ballet, chairman of the board of Finnish Pension Alliance TELA as well as corporate board memberships and Sampo, and Wärtsilä Corporation.

Started out at the Bank of Finland

After university, Murto’s first job was at the Resarch Institute of the Finnish Economy (ETLA)  followed by a stint at the Bank of Finland, before moving into the investment industry.

He did a PhD in Economics, finishing his dissertation while working in the hectic environment of a dealing room.

“That isn’t something I recommend,” he remarks wryly, but adds he is grateful that at least he was not starting his PhD at such a point.

So what does Murto believe it takes to be good leader?

“It always depends on the individual,” he says. “There isn't just one way to do it.

“It takes a combination of transparency, the right kind of ambition, and a willingness to listen to people as well.”

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