Exchange studies changed to producing a Case Corona report

Thanks to their own activity and the professor's trust in his students' competence, third-year finance students became authors of a report with societal significance.
Kuvassa näkyvät rahoituksen opiskelijat Omar Khary ja Valtteri Heikkala. Kuva on saatu opiskelijoilta.

At the end of March, Professor of Finance Vesa Puttonen and students Valtteri Heikkala and Omar Khary published an analysis of the effects of the corona virus pandemic on the cash position of the catering and accommodation sector in Finland, which also gained media attention. In the following, the third-year finance students tell themselves how they got involved in drafting this important report and what they learned from the process that advanced at lightning speed.

‘The coronavirus forced us to return from our exchange studies earlier than planned, and we thought that, in addition to the remote studies of the exchange university, it would also be nice to complete a master's degree course,’ Valtteri Heikkala explains.

‘We decided to send a message to our professor Vesa Puttonen and ask him if it would be possible to do some kind of a project with him. Vesa Puttonen replied immediately and said that he had considered making a “Case Corona” report. And that’s how it all began,’ Omar Khary continues.

The project planning and coordination went smoothly with the help of video conferences. The research methods were selected with special care, as the aim was to produce an analysis that would be reliable but that could also be implemented very rapidly.

Valtteri Heikkala and Omar Khary had been working together since the very first day of their studies, so they could flexibly put their individual skills to maximum use, making teamwork highly efficient.

Tight schedule and the supervisor's trust as motivators

The prior knowledge the students had on the catering and accommodation industry was mainly limited to following corporate acquisitions within the sector. However, the industry felt interesting right away because it was in the midst of such a major turmoil and because the core business activities in the sector were restricted so strongly.

Both the measures taken by the decision-makers and the discussions with the supervisor made Valtteri Heikkala and Omar Khary immediately understand that the report was needed. The tight schedule motivated them, and the students also thank both the skills provided by their earlier studies and the strong confidence shown by Vesa Puttonen in their work.

‘The School of Business allows you to do really cool things if you just have the enthusiasm. We immediately felt that we are taking part in a relevant debate and maybe we can also add something to it. The school had provided us with excellent skills for carrying out this analysis – we only had to be able to modify and apply the knowledge we had learned,’ says Omar Khary.

‘Majoring in finance has made us familiar with the analysis of financial statements, so we had the basic competence needed for producing this report. I would say, however, that the greatest asset provided by university studies is that we have learned to adopt and utilise information quickly. This project really highlighted those skills. It was also great that Vesa Puttonen showed full confidence in the way we worked,’ Valtteri Heikkala continues.

Interest in the sector remains

The report also taught us a lot about the catering and accommodation industry and, in particular, its vulnerability when the customer flow stops. In addition, we became familiar with virtual teamwork, where all team members are in different locations throughout the process and only communicate via video calls or email.

At this point, it looks like remote work will continue long into the spring, and, since summer jobs will not start until May, Omar Khary and Valtteri Heikkala will continue performing their exchange studies and more master's studies during the spring. They spend their days studying, in video chats with friends and doing sports. They have also maintained their interest in the catering and accommodation sector.

‘We got kind of stuck in an investigative mode towards the sector, and we started to wonder whether the industry will see a lot of business acquisitions in the near future. We are also considering what kind of investments the sector may offer to capital investors and private investors if they have enough capacity to bear the risks.’

Link to the report:

Puttonen Vesa, Heikkala Valtteri, Khary Omar. Case corona: the cash flow situation in the restaurant and accommodation sectors. (In Finnish).  Aalto University School of Business, Department of Finance.

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