Former economics student Soila Höijer ended up in IT and enjoyed her work

‘I want to encourage girls to partake in the diverse IT sector’
Lahjoittajien seinäteos /  Donors Wall at Aalto BIZ. Photo: Mikko Raskinen
Donor wall artwork at the School of Business. Photo: Aalto University / Mikko Raskinen

Our alumna and donor Soila Höijer began her studies at the School of Business in 1974.

‘The School of Business felt like a concrete place within the society – a place that runs our society. I got in with my papers, some passed the entrance examinations. I graduated as economist (bachelor’s degree) at Christmas in 1977. I started my master’s degree studies and passed my exams, but my master’s thesis was left unfinished when I was drawn into the world of work. I completed my master's thesis over 10 years later.’

Alumni ja lahjoittaja Soila Höijer
Soila Höijer. Photo: Helena Salminen

‘In the autumn of 1978, when I was first looking for the topic of my master's thesis, Professor Fedi Vaivio’s proposal to me was “A paperless office”. In the early 1990s, Professor Pertti Haaparanta gave me the topic “The impact of paper export prices on the stumpage price of pulp wood in Finland,” so that is what I did. Both professors recognised silent signals and were able to look far into the future already back then. How wonderful!’

As a side note, Soila Höijer wants to set straight the fairly common impression that politics were not visible in the School of Business back in her day.

‘It’s not true. Once I had to oppose the seminar work of a Taistoist (communist) student. The professor did not want to evaluate it and let me decide whether to give her a passing or a failing grade. I read the seminar work and ended up proposing that it be accepted, but without a grade. The professor did as I had suggested.’

Economics helped to understand IT

Soila’s major was international economics. She doesn’t know if she chose it herself or whether the subject chose her.

‘I was really interested in the subject, and the themes seemed concrete. Economics bring the society together, and I think everyone should study it. I worked at Finnpap – Finnish Paper Mills' Association' sales department until during the recession Henrik Serlachius said that he was going to propose sending me to the IT department, which needed a practical expert. I was terrified, but “Hentta” said that it was a place of the future, and that is exactly what happened! Economics also helped me understand how IT is a huge driving force in organisations, in both good and bad ways.’

When Finland joined the European Union, Finnpap had to be dissolved because it was seen as a cartel. Companies had already resigned from Finnpap before this.

‘Finnpap's IT operations were transferred into the world of Metsä Group, and they launched huge SAP projects until we were suddenly sold to IBM. When I returned to the office after one summer, the fifth floor was quite empty. People had “voluntarily” found new jobs outside the company. My own path led me to become a consultant at Accenture and Acando. During my last years of work, I worked on various tasks at the Swedish-speaking service centre of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in Porvoo.’

IT is a lot more than coding

Soila Höijer focused on financial management projects and enjoyed her work a lot. She felt that she knew a great deal about the functions of organisations, which was true.

‘Sometimes the IT sector makes some people only think about coders. Actually, when a project begins, we also need those who map out the current situation, manage changes, carry out training and make specs for the coders. I've been an “interpreter” between coders and financial managers. The work has been very versatile. The IT sector is also very suitable for women. As an IT consultant, I was able to see the world and collaborate with people from different cultures.’

Soila does not wish to reproach the public sector and its recent IT operations. Instead, she states that the systems of export companies in the private sector must work, and there are absolutely no alternatives.

‘The systems will be tested and put into operation even if only partially. Of course, it is sometimes necessary to postpone the introduction. Ownership of projects means joint responsibility and joint care. The progress of the projects is monitored closely, and it is best to say it upfront if you cannot do something. Once my supervisor asked me to chat with them. I was a little confused, but they ended up thanking me. They wanted to tell me what a strength it was that I told them upfront if I didn’t know how to do something.’

Ownership is about commitment

Soila Höijer is one of the donors supporting the professorship of ownership at the School of Business.

‘When it comes to ownership, commitment is important to me. I wish ownership was about something more than money. I wish that if you set up a company and make it succeed, you could also invest in it and not just sell it out immediately. I would like ownership to be more than “I own 40% of a start-up and now it has produced this and this much money and if I sell my share ownership, I get a huge amount of money”. There should be a little more ownership, and I don’t mean that it should be social work.’

After her career, Soila has become an active volunteer. ‘After working 30 years in the IT world, where I felt that I got a lot of help from my colleagues, I now want to give it back somehow.’

Among other things, she has participated in Aalto's mentoring programme as a mentor. ‘Last spring, I was glad to see that my first mentee found employment in the way they wanted. “Your guidance and support helped me get my new job,” said my mentee. It made me quite emotional. I have also participated in helping Ukraine at the airport in the ranks of the Finnish Red Cross, and I have been a box collector at the Hunger Day collection. One of my favourite volunteer tasks is helping schoolchildren with their homework (LäksyHelppi) in the Oodi library.’

‘I have also liked attending the Better Business – Better Society seminars at the School of Business, as it seems like I cannot let go of continuous learning,’ says Soila Höijer with a smile.

Interview: Helena Salminen and Terhi Ollikainen
Text: Terhi Ollikainen

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