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Joonas Kuronen: Becoming a CEO during a pandemic

When the recruiter asked Joonas Kuronen's interest in becoming CEO of Foodora, he didn't need to think twice. He is pleased with his successful leap into a fast-growing company in the midst of a pandemic.
Joonas Kuronen

What do you do for a living and why? 

I am Foodora Finland's CEO, responsible for the company's day-to-day management. I get to work in a rapidly changing and extremely interesting industry and am responsible for the results of an organization of more than a hundred people.

I was probably one of Foodora's first customers when it landed in Finland in 2015. I was immediately impressed by the service's speed and user-friendliness. So five years later, it's great to be involved in developing a service that makes people's daily lives easier and offers additional sales to thousands of restaurants.

How did you become the CEO of Foodora Finland? How does your previous career path look like?

I did my master's thesis for a large listed company, and soon after graduation, I became a management consultant. As a consultant, I was most enthusiastic about the variety of tasks: one moment, you are in charge of a robotics acquisition project, the next, you are planning a nation-level tourism strategy. However, as an advisor, and especially as a strategy consultant, one is often a little detached from work's pragmatic reality. The advisor takes care of analyzing and endless power point presentations, and the actual implementation is left to others. 

Last year, I decided I didn't want to pursue my consulting career until I became a partner, so I started exploring other options. When the recruiter asked about my interest in becoming the CEO of Foodora, I didn't need to think twice. The company is in a phase of rapid growth, and the role of the CEO in the company is very operational. Varying and hectic consulting projects have prepared me well for my current work environment, where change is continuous and rapid.

What have been the highlights of your career?

As a consultant, finishing a challenging project was always a satisfying feeling. Perhaps the greatest sense of success occurred while working in the Middle East, where the pressure for project success is more rigid than in the Nordic countries. This project aimed to create a growth strategy for the new business sector that would meet all stakeholders' needs. The project steering group included several top government officials, ministers, CEOs, and members of the royal family - and each had a strong vision and agenda of their own. After various stages, the country's crown prince gave his approval to the completion of the project, and at the same time, confirmed a substantial investment in this new sector. It was great to have an almost ceremonial conclusion for a difficult project.

My Foodora career is still in its infancy, but I'm happy with how smoothly I've managed to join a fast-growing company among pandemic. It has been great to see how we have been able to provide services to an even larger number of consumers, as well as partner restaurants, in these difficult times.

What do you think are the essential qualities of a leader? 

Perhaps my most respected supervisors once said that a leader only has two tasks: to set clear goals for the team and to make sure the team reaches those goals. I think this is a pretty good guideline.

Above all, analytical skills and interaction skills come to mind and a certain pragmatism about how things can be done. The leader must be able to make decisions and set the company's direction, and the team's goals, in the light of often quite incomplete knowledge. They must also be able to communicate these decisions to the team as clearly as possible.

How did studying at Aalto prepare you for working life?

I studied strategic management at the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management and applied mathematics as a minor. During my studies, I wondered a lot about whether this combination is concrete enough for working life. However, my studies taught me an infinite number of analytical skills and the ability to work with data, as well as to solve complex problems. Academic freedom increased my self-discipline, and the pursuit of high grades taught me to always try my best. I started my career as an analyst, and all of this was helpful.

What advice would you give to yourself if you would be a student now? Would you study something completely different?

After high school, it was by no means self-evident to me what I would like to study. Mathematics and chemistry were exciting and, in a way, easy subjects for me, so the Helsinki University of Technology at the time was a natural option. I started studying bioinformation technology, but I soon realized that my interests were elsewhere. I switched to a degree program in industrial engineering and management, which has undoubtedly been one of the most critical decisions for me. It really is great that the Finnish higher education system enables such a change of direction. In hindsight, I would certainly study the same field. I would only invest more in language learning, from primary school to university.

What do you expect from the future?

2020 is coming to an end, and no one could have guessed a year ago how this year would go. I would be pretty careful with the predictions. However, I believe that more adaptability to change is needed in the future - at the level of individuals, companies and the public sector. As far as our industry is concerned, strong growth is certainly still promised. Home delivery is sure to become even more commonplace and is seen more clearly as an everyday service than self-indulgence. In the future, we will see more restaurants specializing in transport, and in general, the whole transport side will undoubtedly be taken into account more strongly when planning new restaurants.

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