“Hire your first foreigner”


A crucial role of Finnish business internationalization was discussed during International round table held on the final day of Kasvu Open. Four international managers from various fields and backgrounds were invited as panelists to join the discussion.

As Keith Silverang, the CEO of Technopolis Plc and the moderator of the discussion, said: “All of the panelists are talented people who have been able to break into cultures, not their own. Two of them have adapted, presumably, to lives outside of Finland, and have been able to successfully build up a way of surviving and flourishing outside their home environment. Two have been able to do the same thing in Finland.”

Networking is a big issue

Mahender Nandikonda, the Chief Sales Officer of Qvantel, addressed the issue of Finnish brand recognition stating the following:  “The problem is introversion. You think that you make a great product or service and you think it is going to sell by itself. The world is connected and not necessarily the best products win. Networking is a big issue.”

“I don’t see there is any cultural problem… I also believe that Finns have a very open, straightforward, honest culture. They are known for that and this can be an extremely useful asset when you go and do business. I think one of the things might be is that you do wonderful things but people don’t know about them, including myself…You go and do your work, you do it extremely well, but you keep it a little bit as a secret”, shared Carmen Ene, the CEO of 3 Step IT, her point regarding the issue.

As one of the possible solution of the issue the Executive Vice President of Finpro Jukka Salo advised: “Go to the market as early as possible, learn from the market, meet the possible customers, meet the possible partners – that is the best possible feedback you can get.” 

Antti Sonninen, the CEO of Slush Asia, commented on changes in Finnish business landscape and myth regarding Finnish culture as follows: “In three years of living abroad I see a small change happening in Finland. For example in 2008 everyone expected young and talented people to work in Nokia. But what I am seeing now is that more people are getting interested in starting own company. And also in Japan I am seeing more and more Finnish companies come there. Regarding the fact Finns being not able to network or being reserved, one thing many Japanese people have actually told me was that they prefer doing business with Finns for example rather than Americans. If you get a handshake of a Finnish person it means many times more than a handshake of some other nationalities, for example.”

Don’t spend too much time in the lab

At the end of discussion, each panelist gave one piece of advice to growth-oriented Finnish entrepreneurs.

Nandikonda advised not to spend too much time in the lab. He put an emphasis on the importance of taking the product early to the market and testing it. “Build a bulletproof business model, because the world is not as honest as it is here.”

International Round Table panel in Kasvu Open Karnevaali.

“Just be who you are and show off more,” said Ene addressing the issue of Finnish brand recognition. Earlier in the discussion 3 Step IT CEO underlined excellent quality of Finnish product.

Sonninen’s piece of advice to the audience was “hire your first foreigner”. Notably, Slush Asia CEO preaches the same statement to his Japanese colleagues, as he believes himself it is the international element in any management team that contributes to company’s globalization and successful penetration to foreign markets.

Salo mentioned the need to be patient, as internationalization happens to be “a long journey for which one needs to work hard, sometimes for years.”

Why not hire a foreigner to your company?

In my opinion, the roots of problematic situation for international job-seekers lie deeper than simple resilience of Finnish employers to hire a foreigner. With a current population number of approximately 5.5 million people, Finland simply does not have a big job market to offer. Given the size of Finnish job market, along with high qualification of local potential employees and the task of getting a job for a foreigner becomes highly challenging. At this point, one might argue my statement about population size as a factor affecting the job situation by giving an example of Singapore where population constitutes around 5,6 million people. According to Lim Yan Wen, in 2015 foreigners fill six out of ten jobs in Singapore which to me seems as a quite high rate.

Why no to try hiring a foreigner to your company?

I believe one of the reasons why finding a job for a foreigner might be easier in Singapore rather than in Finland is the language. There are four official languages in Singapore: Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English. Children are taught in English at school but also learn their mother tongue. English is the most common language used and is the language which unites the different ethnic groups. Finland has 2 official languages: Finnish and Swedish. While most Finns do speak English, predominance of the two official languages is apparent in most working environments in Finland.

Prejudice and building stereotypes might have been adopted at both ends – by Finnish employers as well as by foreign job seekers. However as it was stated by the moderator, statistics show that: “Once hired most international talent has positive experience as employees of Finnish companies. Both the employer and employee are satisfied.” Hiring a foreigner is not only about broadening international expertise of a Finnish company and reaching for new markets, but also about broadening minds of those who work or will work in this company and reaching for common understanding that talent and potential are not defined solely by one’s national culture.  

Written by Roxana Sadvokassova


Population registration center
Getting A Job in Singapore by Lim Yan Wen
Department of Statistics of Singapore
Singapore Expats