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Broad-based approach to competence

Executive in Residence Taavi Heikkilä asks whether universities should also approach the broad-based approach even more boldly and from a new perspective
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Photo: Aalto University

Soon, I have been able to examine Aalto University's operations in the role of an Executive in Residence (EiR) for a year. I feel that the level of competence is dramatically high for professors, management, the entire staff and students alike. This has genuinely impressed me, even though I could expect nothing less from the top university in Finland.

I recently met with a business management consultant from an international management consulting firm. They talked about their recent recruitment, the work history of whom differed slightly from a traditional consultant. At just over 40 years of age, he had been an opera singer in Australia, Pope's assistant in Vatican and in a law firm winning an “impossible” case for which he later received the Lawyer of the Year in the United States award. After all this, he fell in love with a Finnish woman – what else can you expect – and was recruited to the domestic company of Finland at this international management consulting firm. I hear he is always given the most complicated and challenging cases, with incredible results.

In the light of my own long experience in business life, I consider acquiring a broad and diverse background an absolute prerequisite for growing into management positions. Today, it is no longer enough for a large international company’s CFO to study in the field of computing economics, do accounting as summer jobs, work as a head accountant in a small company and continue to work as a financial manager in the same company that raised them. Nowadays, a CFO of a large international company must have traditional experience in accounting, financing and real estate, as well as hold responsible positions in business and have extensive international experience. Their educational background can be computing economics or alternatively studies in technology, international marketing, information system science or financial history. The range of background requirements and possibilities for the position of a CEO are even wider than this.

When Aalto University was created, one idea was to concoct an Aalto degree that would have included an even amount of studies in economics, technology and arts. However, this remains to be done. It is possible for students to cross-select studies from different higher education institutions, but this is also relatively limited for the time being. At the School of Business, my attention has been drawn to the fact that even within the school, we remain fairly rigidly within our own department's programme, without daring to jump to different departments, not to mention the different schools of Aalto University.

I have been involved in guiding students' case assignments for companies. The cases are good examples of the need for a broad-based approach, as companies do not recognise higher education institutions or institutional boundaries. Of course, siloing is still taking place in large companies, but there is a strong trend towards a flexible, agile and task-centred organisation. In the scope of one business case, you may get to calculate profitability and necessary investments, assess technical implementation, reflect on the impact on the brand and design a new user interface. The competence of one department is not enough for this – not at all.

If the background of the consultant I described at the beginning was somewhat different from the usual, it described today's management’s need for a broad‑based approach. Should universities be even bolder in their broad-based approach and adopt new perspectives?

Taavi Heikkilä
The author is a former Chief Executive Officer of SOK, Vuorineuvos and Honorary Doctor of the Aalto University School of Business (dr.h.c)

Taavi Heikkilä

Executive in Residence

School of Business

At the School of Business we strive for better business and better society. We excel in education and research with a multidisciplinary approach and in collaboration with our partners.

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