Finnish companies have learned to combine controlled risk-taking with innovativeness, says an American business management consultant with broad global experience. By Jorma Leppänen Photograph by Aki Roukala TAKING RISKS, AMERICAN-STYLE en Pasternak chose Finland as his home in the early 1980s. As a former executive with Citibank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and later as a business management coach, he has acquired a good picture of the business environments in many countries on many continents. "When I moved to Finland, local companies were conservative risk-takers," says Pasternak. "In the small business community, everyone knew each other; any misguided decisions were quickly publicised and were remembered for a long time. The era of an open economy and accelerating globalisation has changed everything. Companies see that success requires taking risks." The Finns have learned to take innovation-driven risks in particular. "The Finns have long been the leaders in research and product development for the forest industry, but now the country has a number of innovative sectors, the most recognised being the telecommunications cluster. Mobile phone giant Nokia is an excellent example of how a corporate culture encouraging risk-taking constantly produces new innovations." According to Pasternak, Nokia is an exceptional company because it has the ability to commercialise its innovations efficiently. "Nokia has changed the notion that the Finns don't know how to `productise' and sell their ideas. The thinking in Finland used to be that a good product would sell itself. Today an increasing number of companies are willing to work humbly to develop sales and marketing." K Ken Pasternak Equals in the global village Globalisation has helped the Finns improve their communication skills. "Advanced communications and the globalisation of business have made the Finns equal members in the global village," says Pasternak. "They have good language skills and they know how to present not only their products, but also themselves. The myth of the tongue-tied 22 FOCUS 2008 Finn has been shattered during the past twenty years. "When I moved to Helsinki, I sometimes had a hard time finding people who could speak English. Today, however, everyone who has grown up with the Internet and mtv is very proficient in English, and, in fact, it has become another national language." The internationalisation of Finland is also visible in the day-to-day life of ordinary people. "The Finns travel a lot, both for business and for pleasure. Their cultural awareness has flourished. Helsinki is an international city, with many languages heard on the streets. I think that the multitude of sidewalk cafes is a direct reflection of the more liberal attitudes." "A handshake is still enough to seal a deal." Finland couldn't have happened at a better time: "As baby boomers retire, Finland will need foreign labour for professional capacities and for nursing care, for example. In terms of the country's competitiveness, it is very important to have an active and open immigration policy." While many things in the Finnish culture have changed, there are some things that remain the same. "A handshake is still enough to seal a deal in Finland. What's more, it's a nation with very little corruption. As an American, I have always admired the can-do attitude of the Finns. Once a decision is made, people waste no time in rolling up their sleeves and getting down to work." at the right time Considering the demographics of the population, notes Pasternak, the trend towards the more open atmosphere in
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