Alumnus Michael Hanf: Finland provides a great place to live and work

‘Helsinki caught my attention as it was different from the typical locations my fellow students selected.’ says Michael Hanf who came to do exchange studies at the then Helsinki School of Economics in the end of 1990s. After that he has been working in Finland and Germany and currently is the co-founder of Taival Advisory, a strategy advisory company, helping clients to consider sustainability and circularity in their strategic decision making.
Michael Hanf in his work.
Michael Hanf in the Cireco Summit 2021 event.

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

My name is Michael Hanf, and I am originally from Aachen, Germany. I studied Business Administration, International Management, Business Computing and Marketing at the University of Paderborn and had the opportunity to spend one year at the Helsinki School of Economics (today Aalto University School of Business) in 1998-1999. 

Why did you want to study business?

When the time came to choose an area of study, I felt business studies would provide me with the widest range of opportunities after my studies. I had been reading a book by Lee A. Iacocca, the famous American Automobile executive and I found the world of business fascinating. So, I guess you could say that the diversity of areas where I could find work sounded very compelling.

Michael Hanf
Michael Hanf.

How did you become interested in doing exchange studies in Helsinki? Could you share something memorable from your exchange?

I always wanted to spend a year abroad during my studies to broaden my horizon. When I was looking for options, there were several, but Helsinki caught my attention as it was different from the typical locations my fellow students selected. 

As I arrived in Helsinki, I met several other exchange students in the MBA lounge of the main building in Etu-Töölö and we started our joint journey. One of the most memorable moments was a trip to St. Petersburg as part of the course “Doing business in St. Petersburg” during which we visited local companies and met local officials. It was eye-opening to see how different the way of doing business was, specifically for my fellow students from the US.

Could you tell us about your career and current work?

Right after University I applied for a job at a company called Andersen Consulting (nowadays known as Accenture) and took a job as an Analyst working in software development. I quickly realized that software development was not my forte and switched over to management and strategy consulting. 

Today, I am one of the co-founders of Taival Advisory, a young strategy advisory working on the intersection of technology, circularity and sustainability, and ecosystems. Throughout my career in Germany and Finland, I have had the opportunity to take on various roles and to work with clients across different industries on a multitude of highly interesting topics.

Your thoughts about current affairs in the business world? What is being done at your workplace right now?

Today’s world is more challenging than ever. The speed of change and the level of uncertainty is making it more and more difficult for companies to navigate. One of the main areas I have been focusing on is the need for companies to consider sustainability, specifically environmental sustainability and circularity in their strategic decision making and building and steering their organizations. 

With regards to these aspects, there has been a significant change in how companies and the broader society look at these topics. While some years ago, mainly researchers, students and start-ups were interested in the theme, today we see executives, shareholders and other stakeholders take a keen interest in the way companies address the climate crises, biodiversity loss and other key topics of our time.

At Taival we help our clients and work with organizations such as WWF Germany in developing the tools and capabilities that enable companies to take action and unlock the opportunities the change brings.

The speed of change and the level of uncertainty is making it more and more difficult for companies to navigate.

Alumnus Michael Hanf

What have been the highlights of your career to you? What about challenges?

There were so many. But one of the driving elements throughout my career has been the possibility to work with bright and motivated people in realizing potential of change. While the focus and target of the work has changed throughout the years, this has always been at the core and I have been fortunate to work with fantastic people at Accenture, Taival or many of the clients. 

What I also value a lot is the opportunity to learn and develop. The consulting profession provides a unique possibility to do that, and I have been able to develop my skillset continuously. 

Finally, I consider myself very fortunate to have the possibility of combining my German heritage with the Finnish environment I am living in. Finland provides a great place to live and work.

What is your advice for current business students? What should one study and what kind of skills should one develop for the future?

If I have learned one thing in my career, it is to keep an open mind and to be open for change and the next challenge. In today’s world it is important to develop skills that enable you to do that. While the content of your studies is important, it’s maybe even more about the process of learning, developing new skills, asking critical questions, and exploring new paths. 

The best lesson learned during your studies that has been helpful in working life?

That’s a very good question and as my studies are many years back, I am not sure I remember a concrete lesson learned. But I think it is very important to not just learn facts and figures but to find a way to try them in practice. This might be in a student organization, an internship or as part of a personal project. Things start to make much more sense once you can contextualize them. 

Besides, if I had known how closely I will be working with lawyers in different phases of my career, I might have paid more attention to the business law courses I took during my studies.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Having two kids, a dog and an own business does not leave much time for any hobbies or other activities. At the same time, you could argue that these are my hobbies. Anyway, I enjoy the Finnish nature and when time allows, I like to go to the forest to pick mushrooms and berries. One of the great things in Finland is the fact that the next forest (or the sea) is never far away.

If you have further questions, you can contact Michael on LinkedIn!   

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