Aalto MBA Experiences
“I put in a lot of effort while gaining good experience. When I think about it now, the two years at Aalto EE feel like a few months.”
Senior Financial Manager, Nordic Environment Finance Corporation
Icelander Thor Thorsteinsson has been working in Finland at Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO) for the past eight years. As Senior Financial Manager he is in charge of all financial analyses in NEFCO projects as well as building up a portfolio of banks with which NEFCO provides results-based green financing, mainly in Eastern Europe.
An MBA degree had always been a goal for Thorsteinsson, who received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Reykjavik University back in 2003. He had in fact already started an MBA program in Iceland in 2008, but had to drop out upon joining NEFCO and moving to Finland.
“I had not studied theoretically for 12 years and it was time to put the brain back to work. I wanted to expand my knowledge, especially within leadership and strategic thinking; I felt an MBA was the best way to achieve this,” Thorsteinsson says.
“I looked into the different possibilities for an MBA in Finland and for me, Aalto EE was the obvious choice: its reputation, faculty, location – everything fit perfectly,” Thorsteinsson lists.
Thorsteinsson describes his study experience as very fulfilling.
“A lot of people have asked me about the MBA experience. My response is that the MBA was definitely a good investment. I gained a great deal of new knowledge, also in my own area of expertise, finance.”
“I enjoyed learning not only through theories, but with real life cases as well. It was most rewarding to learn and use different approaches and methods in solving complicated problems that are different from the ones I come across in my current workplace,” Thorsteinsson ponders.
For Thorsteinsson, one of the best learning experiences was the personal development process.
“I must admit that initially I did not believe in it, but I soon realized that it was very effective. You learn more about yourself, your weaknesses, your behavior and attitude and the way you approach many different issues. Personal development is something only you can implement and control by yourself, there are no quick solutions. You have to be focused and do the work. This process was one of the most rewarding parts of the studies – and it will continue indefinitely,” Thorsteinsson points out.
He says that while the MBA is demanding, in hindsight the MBA years at Aalto EE went past very fast.
“I put in a lot of effort while gaining good experience. When I think about it now, the two years at Aalto EE feel like a few months. The program is over before you know it. Now that we finished I find myself wondering what am I going to do with all this extra time on my hands,” Thorsteinsson laughs.
“During the MBA, I also developed my network very positively and it will only continue to grow. My fellow classmates were the highlight of the studies. I enjoyed the group sessions and teamwork throughout. I made many good friends which will continue to be part of my future. The group made me realize that the MBA is not a race. It’s a long-running team run.”
Thorsteinsson says he definitely recommends the MBA: “I found it challenging, yet very manageable even for a family person like me with three kids at home. Of course the great support from my family helped me throughout,” Thorsteinsson emphasizes. “I am confident the MBA will be beneficial for my career. The increased benefits do not come immediately on your graduation day; they come in time when you demonstrate the competence gained with the MBA.”
“If you want to move forward, you need to obtain a broader perspective, and gain people and leadership skills. The MBA gives you this and much more.”
General Counsel and Senior VP of Human Resources, Glaston Corporation
Taina Tirkkonen is Glaston Corporation’s General Counsel and Senior VP of Human Resources, and a member of Glaston’s Executive Management Group. She has two master’s degrees: one in law and the other in administrative sciences. Recently, she also completed studies for her Aalto MBA.
Her employer Glaston is a small giant. It has operations in every corner of the world, but employs only 420 people globally with about 160 working in Finland. A manufacturer of high-quality glass heat treatment machines and services for architectural, solar, appliance and automotive applications, its machines have been used for example to process the glass for the Shanghai World Financial Center.
“I love learning new things, curiosity is in my blood. After joining Glaston’s Executive Management Group, I wanted to gain more comprehensive business insight. I travel quite extensively in my job so I preferred an MBA that I could complete without extra travel. Aalto EE offers great versatility to students and the program was recommended to me by several Aalto MBA alumni. After comparing a few well-known alternatives, I opted for Aalto EE. I am glad I did, it was a great experience,” says Tirkkonen.
Tirkkonen praises the personal development process and mentions out-of-the-box thinking as one of the best things she got from her studies.
“I did not start the MBA thinking that it would teach me to be more innovative. It was a surprise to see how much I gained in this aspect. I now have a new, more creative way of thinking. Another highly beneficial lesson I learned was the importance of communication and emotional intelligence as critical business skills,” Tirkkonen points out.
“My background is in law, so for me the most challenging modules were definitely the ones dealing with finance. These same modules also taught me the most. Before the MBA I understood the numbers in executive meetings, but now I comprehend the business decisions behind them,” Tirkkonen explains. She underlines that the MBA also sharpened her skills as a manager.
“Glaston renewed its strategy last year and I have actively participated in strategy implementation. The MBA gave me valuable skills in for example change management and motivating people,” Tirkkonen says.
Although her Aalto MBA class only just finished their studies, Tirkkonen says she already misses studying.
“It often felt stressful leaving work after a hectic day to spend all evening at Aalto EE, but the MBA studies are such a different world that all the stress vanished once I got there. I always found it energizing and even relaxing – which is a funny thing to say as it was quite intensive,” Tirkkonen reminisces.
“The most challenging aspect of the MBA is undoubtedly time-management,” Tirkkonen reflects. “It is important to know what you are getting into. I recommend making sure your family supports you in the endeavor.”
Tirkkonen keeps regular contact with many of her fellow students. She emphasizes that the people who shared the journey with her were the highlight of her experience.
“We had a marvelous people there, everyone helped each other. Quite often we worked in small groups, usually under pressure to create something in a tight schedule. We came from different backgrounds and had diverse ways of approaching problems. The group works were terrific learning experiences, perhaps the most rewarding part of the studies.”
Tirkkonen says she is happy to recommend the Aalto MBA, particularly to people working in expert positions who want to broaden their horizons in business.
“I think the best reason to go for it is summed up in a notion we often discussed during our studies: your current competence has got you to where you are now. If you want to move forward, you need to obtain a broader perspective, and gain people and leadership skills. The MBA gives you this and much more.”
The MBA is a big investment of your time, so you better spend it wisely
Executive Director, Music Finland
Music Finland promotes the success and awareness of Finnish music. The organisation was born in 2012 with the merger of Music Export Finland and the Finnish Music Information Centre Fimic. Music Finland’s Executive Director Tuomo Tähtinen completed his MBA studies at Aalto EE in December 2015.
“I started work in my current position hand in hand with our merger in 2012. Further business studies had been on my mind for some time, but bringing together two very different cultures and creating a completely new organisation did not leave room for an MBA just then. Once we had the new organisation in well working condition I started my MBA at Aalto EE – and I gained a great deal of knowledge that validated many decisions made during the merger,” Tähtinen laughs.
Tähtinen decided to pursue an MBA above all to broaden his business understanding.
“I have worked in the music industry for my entire career, and I have a Bachelor’s degree in a very specific area of business: music management. Thus my area of expertise is quite narrow. I hoped to gain a more comprehensive understanding of different industries and strengthen my business knowledge,” Tähtinen says. He underlines that the MBA gave him a great deal of confidence.
“I love learning. For me, inspiration comes from staying open to new ideas and being able to learn something new every day in my life, be it at work, through studies, or in my free time. The MBA is a very useful simulation of real life. It gave me wide-spread understanding of new industries, and the opportunity to work together with such different kinds of inspiring people in the various group works. I was happy to find that I could contribute to discussions regarding very different fields of business, although my own experience stems from one industry.”
Tähtinen says he cannot easily pick out a favourite or most useful subject from the MBA, because he feels that everything he learned was beneficial for a leader.
“Macroeconomics and economics in general are extremely interesting topics, which I enjoyed studying. Marketing and branding are of course subjects I am much more familiar with, but new viewpoints are always valuable,” he ponders. “I was also inspired by learning about different management practices for the fast-changing business environment,” Tähtinen adds and mentions an intensive week-long finance seminar in Boston as a particularly memorable experience.
“I chose the course in Boston as an elective module. I was so far out of my comfort zone! It was intense and highly rewarding. I recommend that all MBA students look into the different options Aalto EE provides for studies abroad. If you cannot take a longer period off work like a summer or semester, Aalto has many much shorter, yet excellent alternatives.”
Alongside group work, case-studies were one of Tähtinen’s favourite learning methods during the MBA.
“I had not had much experience with case studies prior to the MBA, and I found them both enjoyable and highly useful: they put the theories into perspective, and although examples often came from organizations not directly comparable to ours, I could always take something with me from each case – ideas that could be put to use in our organization, perhaps for example with slightly less mechanic processes,” Tähtinen contemplates.
“If I were to describe our organization at Music Finland in one word, I would call us brave. We work in an industry where you must be in tune with the times. We have to dare to see and hear signals from the world and take them into action. We are fairly small – 20 people – and thus able to test things easily. During the MBA, almost every module gave me ideas and tools that I could consider implementing at Music Finland – and I have already introduced quite a few. Truth be told, I have had to slow down and put many ideas on hold, because you should never change things just for the sake of change,” Tähtinen admits.
“I definitely recommend the MBA,” Tähtinen says. “It is challenging, certainly, but doable. I gained a great deal of knowledge, made good friends, networked – all in all, the experience is great. The MBA starts a new chapter in your life, at least intellectually.”
“I do have one hint for future students: be present. No matter how demanding your day-job is, when you are physically taking part in the MBA studies, make sure your mind is also 100% on the lessons. Being present and making smart decisions in the situations you are in – this struck me as a key learning experience I took away from the MBA’s self-development process and it also applies to the MBA itself. The MBA is a big investment of your time, so you better spend it wisely.”
“The Personal Development Process was the greatest benefit.”
Legal Counsel, The K-Retailers' Association
Tapio Syrén works as a Legal Counsel for the K-Retailers' Association, the co-operative organisation of Finland’s 1,200 K-Retailers. Its key function is to develop and strengthen K-retailer entrepreneurial ability. Syrén is a recent graduate of the Aalto MBA program.
“I help our retailers in legal issues, conduct quite a bit of training – I teach for example employment law for future K-retailers – and I write a column for our Retailer magazine about legal issues that help our K-retailers thrive in their business. I wanted to understand the K-Retailers’ work from a broader business context. When I mentioned my interest in pursuing a business degree, my supervisor suggested I get an MBA. I am happy I did – and that I chose Aalto EE.”
Syrén describes his studies as very interesting and highly demanding.
“The entire program was very well put together. For me, the change management module was both the hardest and the most rewarding. The topic is especially useful for me in my work and Pekka Mattila was an outstanding professor. Another highly beneficial module dealt with influencing and negotiation skills – I learned a great deal about finding solutions where everyone wins. Service management was also a valuable module for me, as I work directly with service professionals.”
Syrén confirms that the MBA met his expectations, although he admits that the studies were more taxing than he had anticipated.
“My wife and I had two children during the program, and we moved houses, all on top of my MBA and demanding job. Even though I was at times exhausted upon arriving to the evening lectures, I always found my second wind. The lectures were interesting, the professors excellent, and I enjoyed studying together with likeminded individuals. We had a great MBA group. In addition, the Aalto EE staff was superb. During the MBA you get to know the staff very well and they support you all through the two-year program.”
Syrén admits he has one regret: if he were to start the program today, he would make the Personal Development Process his first priority from day one.
“In one-on-one sessions with the professor I could reflect on my learning and how I was developing. I received concrete explanations on what causes stress, and how to handle everything to create an effective everyday life. This was not about multitasking, it was about learning to know myself, how to develop and manage my work, my attitude, and focus on priorities. I soon understood that the Personal Development Process was the greatest benefit of the program. In my mind, the MBA is above all a leadership training program – and to be a good leader, you must know yourself. I urge future students to give the Personal Development Process their full attention from the very start.”
Another hint Syrén gives future students is looking into the possibility of studying abroad.
“During the second summer of my MBA I had the opportunity to spend 2.5 months studying full-time at Rochester University in upstate New York. As I was lucky to be able to go with my family, our stay in the U.S. also gave me much needed quality time with my wife and children. It was a great experience, combining a new culture, meeting new people, and studies in an international setting. I recommend studies abroad to all MBA students who have the chance.”
Syrén says he is pleased to endorse the Aalto MBA, and affirms he gained a great deal from his studies professionally: “I have been in my current position for 4 years. Before the MBA I would always give the K-retailers a lawyer’s answer: a traditional legal risk analysis of the matter at hand. Now, I am able to approach their questions from a leadership perspective as well. I have tools that help our K-retailers prevent matters from escalating into litigation situations. The MBA made me better at my job – and it gave me valuable knowledge and insights I will certainly be able to leverage throughout my career.”