Working in Finland

Working in Finland

Be warned, the Finns take business very, very seriously! They have been traveling and trading for centuries. Even Henry VIII (the English king with six wives in the early 1500s) was buying tar from the Finns to make his new fleet, and Finland still has a profitable and successful shipbuilding industry.

Anyone naïve enough to think that they have struck a win-win deal with a Finn will sooner or later realize that the Finn has really got the better end of the deal. This happens not because a Finn is trying to get the better of you, but because they are very shrewd. They have had to live by their wits for generations. Finns can be formidable and they achieve whatever it is they set out to do. Because they are modest, they make you out to be cleverer than they are, bestowing on you attributes that they lack—but be warned! You are about to lose the spotlight. Finns are perfectionists and managers are highly-qualified technicians or engineers. They have state-of-the-art working environments and training centers with the most up-to-date technology. They have sports facilities, saunas, creative thinking spaces, subsidized canteens and anything else to enhance productivity.

This fact really should not be ignored when considering the forces that shape the future of global economics. In 1998, I wrote, ‘the Finns have all the attributes to become phenomenally successful in a global, commercial future». And now they are placed top or within the top ten countries of the world in so many leagues. Their limited resources, both natural and financial, and their distance from large consumer markets meant that Finland has had to find a different way to compete in the commercial world. When Europe and the USA were competing in a mass production market of consumer goods, Finland recognized it could not hope to compete and concentrated on high-value, upmarket selling. They sell quality, not quantity. They sell applied knowledge, and it’s good, very good. So what are these attributes that make them phenomenally successful?

  • Meticulous attention to the quality of their goods
  • Obsessive about cleanliness, hygiene, and purity
  • An obsession with high technology and anything modern
  • Respect for nature and its forces at a spiritual level
  • Hard-working and full of stamina
  • Conscientious and reliable
  • Straightforward, steady and using common sense
  • Skilled workmanship „ Respectful of good education and its appliance
  • Safety for all
  • Deep-rooted entrepreneurial and trading skills
  • In-built honesty and ethical behavior
  • Hatred of debt
  • Innovation and «out-of-the-box» thinking
  • Impressive language skills „ Quick decision makers
  • Flexibility in meeting customer demands
  • Respect for all whatever their position in life
  • Tolerant of others
  • Create, adapt and improve—everything!
  • Pioneering spirit of trying to build up their country, such as existed in the USA in the 1800s

Above all, Finland has a high-technology environment. She is commonly reputed to be the world’s leading information society with an advanced communications infrastructure and with the highest penetration of mobile phones and Internet connections in the world. The Finns are also considered ‘tech-savvy» and respond well to technological innovations, welcoming the benefits that they can bring to their working and domestic lives. It has been the rapid adoption of these new technologies by many industries and especially financial institutions that have made them world leaders in several sectors. It seems hardly surprising then, that Finns always adapt to «e-services» so quickly, such as online buying, medical and bank services.

My motto for Finish business: ‘solutions come from closing your ears to everyone who says it cannot be done.» This demonstrates their sisu (persistence in the face of adversity).

However, there are a few traits that let them down and which stops them from realizing world domination. First of all, they are very poor at marketing themselves. They won’t push themselves forward. They need to get over their shyness, their reserve and the attitude that anyone being «pushy» is bragging. They have to come to terms with the fact that they can remain «Honest Joe», not lose their integrity and still communicate better to the outside world. Remember, that Finns are suspicious of those who boast and are talkative—perceived as distrustful.

Secondly, they are uncomfortable with the idea of partnerships. There still seems to be an inbuilt suspicion of sharing. Things are changing, but I believe it will take another ten years before global partner shipping becomes the norm, rather than the exception. Thirdly, the Finns are only just beginning to understand the concept that all customers may have different needs. The Finns value the quality of products before all else and think that you will either want to buy them, or you won’t. Because of the customs and traditions in Finland, the Finns are not used to being sold to. (Remember this is invading privacy.) This has a detrimental effect when they try to sell to or compete with other more «pushy» nations of the world.

Fourthly, they are poor at small talk and striking up relationships. As one manager said to me, «I»m there to do business. Not to find out how his wife is!” As 90 percent of the world’s population buy on emotion and justify with fact, the Finns have a lot to learn in this respect.

As Russell Snyder writes, «Although Finns are not the world’s greatest experts in small talk, they are attentive and good listeners. You will find them eager to entertain you with sightseeing, a visit to the sauna, a meal in a good restaurant, an evening of drinking and dancing at a nightclub.» They have a good sense of humor, especially at their own expense, and they love telling jokes and exchanging business cards. They are very disappointed that the world as a whole knows very little about them, especially when they are so well educated in geography, economy and current affairs! They will be much impressed if you can name a few of their famous athletes or racing drivers or any other facts you know about their country. Ask as many questions as you like about Finland because the Finns enjoy talking about their country. This is the only time you will see a Finn passionate—in public, at least!