Alumnus Pauli Liikala: In mentoring, it is important to listen to the student and ask questions

‘I am grateful to the School of Business, its teachers and my fellow students – studying there gave me excellent skills and knowledge for my career and for my retirement years.’ says Pauli Liikala, our alumnus, who made a long career in information systems, management and their development, and who has also acted as a mentor to numerous students over the years.
Pauli Liikala, Kauppakorkeakoulun alumni
Pauli Liikala, School of Business alumnus.

Tell us about yourself? What did you study at the School of Business and when?

My name is Pauli Liikala. I first studied at Helsinki School of Economics between 1976 and 1980 and completed the bachelor’s degree in Economics and Business Administration from that time, alongside with my work. I then continued to my master’s studies in Economics and graduated in the spring of 1984. My major was information systems and my minor was accounting. Prior to that, I had completed a programmer course at the Computer Institute in 1971. I was working for five years before starting my studies at Helsinki School of Economics.

Tell us about your student days, what was it like to study? What are the most fun or memorable memories?

Because I already had five years of work experience before starting my studies, it was easy for me to adopt the things I was studying by applying them to the operations of my then employer, Valio. I examined the things I was studying at the level of either Valio or the Valio Computing Center where my workplace was located. Studying alongside with work was sometimes difficult because I had to start reading exam books after a full day of working. Right at the beginning of my studies, I decided to keep a record of the pages I read and the time I spent on them. During the first evening, I was reading the exam book for only 10 minutes, but I also marked that down in my notebook. The next evening, I decided to read more and this way I got a better taste of reading evening after evening. I gradually learned how much time I would have to spend on different exams and at what point to start reading before the exam. Because I studied alongside my job, I decided that I should always read so much that I can pass the exam on my first try. This was the case for all exams.

For the cum laude exam in accounting, I had to read many hours every night for a couple of weeks and long days even on weekends. I learned to go for a run before or between the long reading moments. In the exams, I always started with more difficult assignments, leaving the easiest ones to finish. During my last assignment in the cum laude exam in accounting, I remember that I was already so tired at that point that even though I knew how to do the assignment, my brain was just no longer working. After the exam, I traveled by tram to the Railway Station and already realized at the Zoological Museum how the last assignment should have been calculated.

At that time, the students could see the questions from the previous exams. I used to take a photocopy of the table of contents of each exam book and marked with a pencil, from which book chapters the previous exam questions had been taken. This is how I learned to read only the most important chapters from the exam books. Some teachers asked quite peculiar questions, which was good to know in advance. For example, one teacher put an exam question asking what the structure of the exam book was. To that question, the answer was sufficient if you listed the table of contents of the exam book. Another teacher could put one of the drawings from the exam book as an exam question asking to explain the meaning of the drawing. At the end of my studies, I ensured the adequacy of my study credits by taking easy exams in some of my minor subjects. One of the exams had a thick book to read and when I didn’t bother to read the whole book, I browsed its table of contents to see if there was anything interesting there. In the book, I found a description of value analysis, which I read out of sheer interest. Of course, I was delighted when the only exam question was about value analysis.

Tell us about your career? What are the most memorable experiences from your career?

Throughout my studies, I worked at the Valio Computing Center, which was mutually beneficial. As I studied, I was able to embrace things in terms of my current work environment, and the things I studied were very useful in my work. While reading the exam books, I came up with a lot of ideas related to my work. I wrote them down in my notebook so they wouldn’t interfere with my reading. The ideas were helpful in completing both the exam and my work assignments. My work supervisor had wondered to our joint secretary why Pauli brings up so many areas for development. The secretary had replied that ‘Don’t you understand that Pauli loves problems.’ I did my master’s thesis from the field of information systems, and the thesis topic was developing cooperation between the Valio Computing Center and its customers. I finished my master’s thesis in the spring of 1984, and when I presented the development program I had planned in my thesis to the computing center management team, I was asked how long it would take to implement the development program. I replied it would take five years and so it was.

The key takeaway from the implementation of the development program was that it is an internal service operation that can be managed as a service company. I continued my work as a member responsible for development in the computing centre's management team until 1987. Since I had read accounting to the cum laude level, I wanted to try to apply this knowledge at Valio's Finance and Administration Department. I was first Valio's internal ADP (automatic data processing) auditor for a year. When Valio's budget manager took up a new position, the head of the finance and administration department asked me if I wanted to take up that position. I didn’t want to respond right away, but asked permission to think about it overnight. When I told him the next morning that I would take up the post, the CFO said he had thought so. I held that position for three years.

Valio Computing Center was incorporated at the beginning of 1991 and I had been appointed Valio's Chief Information Officer in November 1990. Having completed my master's thesis on developing cooperation between the Computing Center and its customers, I was able to apply this knowledge from a customer perspective in my new role. I also wanted to study in my new position e.g. copyright and service agreements. Thanks to them, we were able to negotiate for Valio the copyrights of its sales system and service agreements in accordance with the bonus sanction model.

In the summer of 1994, I moved from Valio to the then ICL Data. It had its roots in Nokia Data, which Nokia sold to an English company called ICL. Later, the Japanese Fujitsu bought ICL, and today the company is known as Fujitsu Finland. I started there as a management consultant and made an information management strategy for many client companies in collaboration with their representatives. Because I had familiarized myself with IT costs on a practical level at Valio, I was was able to develop a method for calculating hidden IT costs at Fujitsu, and this method was used as one of the selling points for Fujitsu's basic IT service concept called ‘Patja’. The method was able to show how the hidden costs of basic information technology are reduced by outsourcing the related tasks to Fujitsu.

After all this, I wanted to look on the other side of the coin, which is how business benefits from utilizing information systems. In the late 1990s, I was familiar with the Balanced Scorecard developed by Kaplan and Norton. I helped Fujitsu customers identify how new information systems will benefit their business so that it is reflected in the internal and customer metrics of the process being developed, and how it is reflected in the company’s results.

A few years later – when I led a small consulting team unit in the food industry and grocery trade – I became acquainted with a book by the same writers called Strategy Map. I used to first read such books and take film copies of its contents, which we went through with my team. I first took 20 copies, from which we selected ten films for the description of the method, from which the sales manager of our unit asked me to further condense them into a few slides. We first made four slides that described a company’s strategy from the perspectives of the owner, customers, processes, as well as staff and expertise. At the request of our sales manager, we further condensed all of this into one slide, which became the slide base that I used the most in Fujitsu’s consulting projects. That one slide enabled us to describe our customers' current and target strategies, and to form a utility map of the information systems to be developed. Some of Fujitsu’s most qualified sales executives also used the slide base in their own work.

In consulting projects, I sometimes had to use some smart tricks to make a positive impression on clients right from the start. One time I was involved in making a report for the Defense Forces on a strategy for centralizing and decentralizing their data processing. I asked the two lieutenant colonels present at the opening meeting if I could ask them a military quiz question. Of course, I got permission and asked why the Reserve Officer School flag has the letters and year ‘VK 1918’ on it. After a little consideration, one of them suggested whether those letters and year could mean Vöyri's reserve officer course. I replied that it was only the second reserve officer course; the first reserve officer course was at Vimpeli Military School and it was held first. I knew this because the Finnish-speaking company of the Vimpeli Military School was placed in my grandparents' home village of Pokela, in Vimpeli. My grandmother had been there as a kitchen ‘Lotta’ and her father had been involved in organizing the Military School in Vimpeli. After giving my answer, the lieutenant colonel stated that I have an excellent chance of succeeding in the development project.

In mentoring, it is important to listen to the student and ask questions instead of just trying to give answers.

Pauli Liikala, School of Business alumnus and mentor.

You have acted as a mentor in the mentoring program of the School of Business and Aalto University for many years. What kind of experience has it been as a mentor? What kind of advice would you give to future mentors?

I started mentoring as soon as the School of Business launched a mentoring program. In my job, I was used to advising my younger co-workers and answering their questions. I thought mentoring was a useful way to pass on my experiences and the insights I gained from them to students. Mentoring was also a suitable counterbalance to everyday hard work, and as part of it, I met six different undergraduate business students. I helped them in typical situations that occur at the end of studies, which were e.g. completing a thesis, applying for a job, and writing a CV. Later, I was also a mentor in the mentoring program for doctoral students a couple of times.

Mentoring meetings were also very refreshing, as I met young students with different backgrounds and study plans. I also discussed with them broader issues related to life and work. By getting acquainted with their study theses, I also kind of got an update on my own skills. I continued mentoring in my own workplace as well as in a mentoring program between my workplace and its partners. I have also been a mentor in the programs of The Finnish Business School Graduates and and The Finnish Information Processing Association, and in my retirement years I have continued my mentoring hobby as part of corporate sponsor activities.

I would advise future mentors to show interest in the life and study situation of the student being mentored, as well as his/her work-related goals. In mentoring meetings, it is also worth to discuss current issues, as it helps to understand the student's own life, values, ​​and other things on the basis of which they make choices in their studies and later in working life. In mentoring, it is important to listen to the student and ask questions instead of just trying to give answers.

What kind of advice would you give to current students of the School of Business regarding their studies and career?

Studying can be considered as a multi-year project with defined goals, available time, and mental and financial resources. Large projects, such as studying, should be divided into smaller units and follow how well the different phases of the project are progressing. In addition to studying, you should spend time in social life and networking with different people.

In working life, it is worth developing different skills to be able to accept different job offers, either offered by your own employer or by others. Your own career is often formed as a result of different choices, and in these situations, it is worth thinking about your own life values ​​and what kind of work assignments best correspond to your own values. At some point in life, material values ​​may lose their meaning and spiritual values ​​become more important. Then one can wonder whether one exists the world to fulfill one’s own selfish needs or to serve other members of our society.

Your greetings to the 110-year-old School of Business?

I am grateful to the School of Business, its teachers, and my fellow students – studying there gave me excellent skills and knowledge for my career and for my retirement years. I remember reading in the School of Business textbooks about the systematic way of dividing the task ahead into planning, implementation, monitoring and continuous learning. As an example of continuous learning, I would like to quote a piece of wisdom I read in the beginning of June:

‘Never grow so big,

you could not ask questions

and never know so much

you couldn’t learn something new.’

-Og Mandino

Warm thanks to you Pauli for sharing your story!

Kauppakorkeakoulun rakennus ulkoa kuvattuna

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School of Business alumni stories

Here you can find School of Business alumni stories. Our alumni share their professional journeys and give advice and tips regarding working life. The stories have been sorted based on the alumni's majors. The newest publications are placed first in the major groups.

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In Aalto University Mentoring Programme, students design their career with the support of working life mentors.

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