Alumna Erika Ahlberg: If you never make mistakes, you haven't been brave enough

Erika Ahlberg wanted to combine her previous studies in retail and design in her master's degree, and the International Design Business Management program was a great fit for this. In her career in fashion, sales, marketing, and brands, she has courageously taken on challenges - for example, jumping into the management of an organization of 100 people without any previous managerial experience.
Erika Ahlberg
Erika Ahlberg.

Who are you? What did you study at Aalto University School of Business and elsewhere?

My name is Erika Ahlberg, and I studied in the International Design Business Management master’s program at Aalto University School of Business from 2012 to 2016. Before that, I had graduated from Helia (now Haaga-Helia) as a Bachelor in Business Administration in 2002. I have also graduated as a clothing designer from the then Evtek (now Metropolia) in 2004. 

How did you become interested in studying in the International Design Business Management master's program at Aalto University's School of Business?

For a long time, I worked in retail in various positions in marketing, sales and buying. I have a constant desire to learn and study more, and for a long time I was looking for a degree that would combine my previous studies in business and design in a master's degree.

In the fall 2011, I was attending a party and met a friend who studied at Aalto, and she told me that the IDBM program was offered as a major for the first time, and I immediately decided to apply the following fall.

What was your study experience like?

My study experience was very positive. When I started my IDBM studies, I was already in my thirties. In addition to already possessing a long career in retail, I also happened to get my then dream job as a buyer of Stockmann's women's fashion when I started at Aalto. I knew that combining work and studies would be very challenging, but with high motivation and determination, I completed my studies alongside a challenging full-time job.

Therefore, I did not have much time to attend student parties, but I still feel that I got the best out of the student community too, because we had an amazing group of IDBM students, with whom we experienced a lot through various projects and trips.

Erika Ahlberg
Erika Ahlberg.

What has been especially important or useful during your studies regarding your career?

For instance, the International Design Business Management studies increased my open-mindedness. I also gained an understanding that in a discussion or project, each person brings their own background and an imaginary backpack full of their personal experiences that have shaped their worldview, behavior, and ways of working.

I also learned to understand the importance of explaining the obvious in a team; to make sure that everyone in a team understands the matter in the same way. I learned to question the usual even better and I learned about working with very different people, i.e., people from different cultural backgrounds and with different study paths.

In practice, all our studies consisted of case projects, in which the working group changed when the course and project changed. This gave me a lot of great experience for future assignments as a supervisor, manager, colleague, and person.

Be curious and open, listen and learn new things throughout your career and keep faith in what you do.

Erika Ahlberg, School of Business alumna and Brand Director at Manna & Co.
Erika Ahlberg
Erika Ahlberg.

What has your career path been like and what have been the highlights of your career for you?

I worked at Stockmann for a long time and got to do several interesting jobs there, from sales to marketing, from own production to buying in external brands. The highlights of my career so far have been for example working as an international buyer for Stockmann's women's fashion. During that time, in addition to eight department stores operating in Finland, Stockmann had eight department stores in Russia as well as department stores in Estonia and Latvia, and an online store, so all of them kept me busy. 

I am also particularly proud of founding the Volt men's clothing chain in Finland, owned by the Norwegian company Varner, and of managing its personnel and business in recent years. When we entered the Finnish market in 2016, we opened a total of nine stores on the same day.

In addition, besides my day job, I have always been not only curious but also eager to do all kinds of side projects. For example, I have worked as a fashion marketing lecturer at Helsinki Design School for several years.

You work as a Brand Director at Manna & Co, e.g. with the iconic Finlayson brand. How did you end up in your current job and what does it entail? What is the best thing about your job?

I ended up in my current job when Totti Nyberg, who I know from Makia and now Manna & Co, asked me to come to their office for a coffee when I was finishing my parental leave. In a nutshell, my job is about strategic planning of Finlayson's marketing efforts and implementing them. At Manna, we have a great work community of experts from various fields. I get to work with a wide group of people and combine all this expertise for the best of the brand.

Erika Ahlberg
Erika Ahlberg.

What kind of challenges have you faced in your career? How have you solved them? What tips would you give students?

I have faced many challenges in my career and learned something from all of them. In retail, many things depend on the market in which we operate, and the Finnish market in fashion retail has not been the easiest. On the other hand, jumping into the management of an organization with almost 100 employees without any previous managerial experience was a challenge - but a very pleasant one. At that time, I learned the most by listening to colleagues, HR experts and above all my subordinates.

With an open attitude, a desire to learn new things, by questioning the usual and believing in my own competence, I have been able to move on from difficult moments. I believe in the power of open communication, empathy, and humanity in business as well. I also think that if you never make mistakes, you haven't been brave enough. But of course, try not to make the same mistakes 😊

I would like to give a few tips to current students: be curious and open, listen and learn new things throughout your career and keep faith in what you do.

How do you think the fashion and textile industries will develop in the future?

A large part of consumers has already woken up to the fact that their own choices matter, but I believe that the size of this group will grow in the future. The fashion and textile industries are undergoing a big change and I am very proud that we in Finland already have many innovations for more sustainable operations in these fields.

On the design side, Finland also has a lot of know-how and many young designers with international experience and skills. I believe that we are becoming more internationally interesting in terms of fashion.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I have two children under school age, so there is not much extra free time at the moment. However, I invest in my own well-being by working out with a personal trainer and going for a walk with an audio book. Culture and handicrafts bring me counterbalance to everyday life, and I hope to find more time for them in the future!

Find out more about Erika's career path on LinkedIn!

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