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Kristo Ovaska is the Alumnus of the Year 2022 of the School of Business

‘There is a great deal of demand for wide-ranging competence in the labour market,’ says Kristo Ovaska
Kristo Ovaska, Kauppakorkeakoulun Vuoden Alumni 2022
Kristo Ovaska. Photo: Aalto University / Roope Kiviranta

The nomination of Kristo Ovaska, the co-founder of the technology company Smartly.io who served as its CEO for ten years, as the School of Business’s Alumnus of the Year 2022 was announced on Homecoming Day on 27 January 2023.

Kristo Ovaska says that he applied to study at the School of Business (School of Economics back then) because he was interested in doing business and had no particular interest in becoming a doctor or a lawyer.

‘School of Business was a good, generic solution. Even when I was reading the economics book for the matriculation examination, I found it really interesting. When I was studying for the School of Economics entrance examination, I thought that economics was far more interesting than anything else.’

Rebranding KY Economics

15 years ago, the Finance students and student association had the best business collaborations from the perspective of Economics students.

‘We Economics students were first a little sour when all the banks and consulting teams collaborated with the Financing students and their student association, although we all thought that Economics students were the smartest and had the hardest courses. Something had to be done change this.’

Kristo Ovaska, together with other students of Economics, decided to completely rebuild their student association, KY Economics, in 2007–2008.

‘In 2008, when I was the chair of the student association, we organised a massive trip to the east coast of the USA. We visited the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the UN, The Economist's offices, Harvard and MIT with 25 Economics students to find out what economists are doing globally and what jobs are available to them. Many of those who took part in the trip have later ended up working in the aforementioned places.’

At the MIT campus in Boston, the student group was able to meet Bengt Holmström.

‘It was wonderful to be able to meet Bengt, whom we knew would be a future Nobel laureate, which then came true for him in 2016. We were supposed to write a report about our study tour that would have told how student-led entrepreneurship is promoted at MIT, but Bengt said: ‘Don’t write a report now. All Finland knows how to write reports. Do something instead.’ Inspired by these words and what we saw at MIT, we founded Aaltoes (Aalto Entrepreneurship Society) at the beginning of 2009. For years, Aaltoes has been the largest and most active student-led entrepreneurship community in Europe.’

Demand for wide-ranging competence

Smartly's business is automating advertising processes in TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest advertising. 

‘If I think about the combination of Aalto's three fields from the perspective of Smartly and what skills are needed in our business, I'd say that what your major is, is not that important. Instead, the fact that the jobseeker has wide-ranging competence from the perspective of business, technology and preferably also creative matters, is what matters. There are still few such experts. Coding skills and graphic design skills are appreciated.’

Kristo Ovaska says that the Alumnus of the Year award came to him at a really good time.

‘When I left Smartly's operational management in the summer, after 10 very busy years, I had just thought it would be nice to give something back to the school and be involved in developing the school. In particular, I want to help students, but also discuss what the needs of a this kind of modern technology company are. I would like to participate in developing teaching in areas such as management and marketing so that it would also meet these needs. This would ensure that students are well employed and that companies would get employees with the competence to help them grow. The technology sector is growing at a fast pace, and a significant proportion of new jobs are created there.’

Something completely different to counterbalance work

Kristo Ovaska considers it important that everyone should also have something completely different in their life to counterbalance their work.

‘Our whole family is engaged in snowboarding, and children's hobbies and competitions are not likely to be missed. When snowboarding, as in other extreme sports, work is automatically left in the background, or else things go wrong. Good sleep, relatively healthy food and exercise in general are also important in order to cope.’

‘There must be clear goals at work, an appropriate amount of tasks, and the management must be good. At Smartly, we have always thought that in order to be able to think innovatively at work, you need to have free time on weekends, and also during working days. We do work a lot, of course, but on the other hand, sometimes we have to take it easy in order to recover from the hard work,’ says the Alumnus of the Year.

***

The Aalto University School of Business Alumnus/a of the Year award is granted every second year for a person who has promoted interaction between the School of Business, society and alumni, contributed positively to the Finnish society, or done pioneering or exceptional work in his/her own field.

The Alumnus of the Year award of the School of Business has previously been granted to Matti Honkala (2008), Arto Hiltunen (2009), Mikko Kosonen (2010), Sirkka Hämäläinen (2011), Timo Löyttyniemi (2012), Riku Asikainen (2014), Salla Vainio (2016),  Elina Björklund (2018), and Pekka Ala-Pietilä (2020).

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