Henry Tirri: Scaling technology business requires strong strategic and psychological competence

A good professor or business director shares wisdom that can only be gained over the years
Henry Tirri. Kuva: Terhi Ollikainen
Henry Tirri wants to teach students what really happens when you scale business operations. Photo: Terhi Ollikainen

Henry Tirri is a regular teacher at the lectures of Matti Rossi, professor of information systems. Tirri is a highly experienced technology leader in global business and professor in the academic world. This autumn, he taught in the master's and doctoral course Critical Issues in Information Systems Research. The course focused on the diversity of the expansion of technology business.

Tirri says that, with Matti (Rossi), they agreed more than five years ago that they would look for and find this rather new type of position, that of Executive in Residence at Aalto University. At that time, EiR positions were both very new and rare, and there are not many of them today either. 

‘At that time, I was between jobs, so to say, and wondered what I wanted to do next. I wanted to work together with higher education institutions, partly because of my background, and partly because all my tasks were such that involved collaborating with the academic world. This led to the idea that I could sometimes teach something at the School of Business's Department of Information and Service Management. Intensive courses were the best fit because I live in the United States. It is precisely my extensive experience in the world of business that I bring to the class.’ 

Practice means much more than theoretical lessons

The collaborative experiment between Tirri and Rossi has been very effective. Based on their experiences, it would be profitable to develop this type of concept where representatives of the business world actively participate in the courses. 

‘I'm a computer scientist by profession and my professorships at the University of Helsinki and Stanford University focused on AI. However, I have not wanted to teach these subjects because Aalto has highly qualified professors in these matters. In general, I am not interested in teaching any specific content such as platform economy, I would rather try to benefit from the expertise I have gained along the years. For 20 years, I have worked in the academia, and another 20 years in business, so I am happy to bring lessons learned from those years to Aalto.’

Tirri wants to teach students what really happens when you scale business operations. You can read about it in theoretical textbooks, but the practice is much more than that. 

‘I want to talk about what you need to pay attention to. So, for example, in this autumn's course, we talked about issues such as the company's strategy and mission and vision, and how the company is managed if the number of staff increases from 100 people to 1,000 or 2,000. Understanding the complexity of global business is important and obviously challenging. I have wondered whether it is so that the enormous impact of geopolitics and regulations on global business, for example, is discussed surprisingly little in education, or that students do not understand what it means. These issues also involve both psychology and economic understanding.’ 

Presentation skills a necessary investment

The course involved project assignments aimed at scaling technology business operations. Tirri listened to the final presentations of the project work and says he pondered that very diverse student groups had produced pretty good plans.

‘The presentations were good, but, at the same time, I noticed that there was a need for information. Now, if students are moving from this stage straight to the business world, there is still quite a steep learning curve to truly understanding the multi-faceted nature of scaling. You also need tenacity to give a presentation. If we want managers in a decision-making position to listen to the proposal so it can have an impact, you should even exaggerate a little and always keep the goal in mind. The presentation should not meander too much, and the final summary should be crystal clear.’

According to Tirri, young and enthusiastic people or researchers can be both smarter and cleverer in their work than those who have a long career, but you cannot push wisdom. ‘Sharing wisdom is a skill both good professors and business managers should have when training their successors, for example. You gain wisdom and experience over time.’

Department of Information and Service Management

The Department of Information and Service Management refers to the creative use of information and digital technology in business and the move from industrial to service dominant forms of production.

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