Pekka Ala-Pietilä’s nomination as the School of Business Alumnus of the Year 2020 was announced on 10 October 2020 at the Aalto 10 – Alumni Studio & Science Show virtual event celebrating the university’s 10-year anniversary.
‘In high school, I was fascinated by three alternative study paths that were very different from each other: law, limnology and economics. As the study offering at Helsinki School of Economics (currently Aalto University School of Business) seemed the most interesting and extensive to me, I made the decision to apply to study economics,’ says Ala-Pietilä. ‘What I find essential is extent – economics provided the opportunity to examine topics from various different perspectives.’
Pekka Ala-Pietilä began his studies at the Helsinki School of Economics in 1978 and graduated as a Master of Science in Economics in 1984 majoring in international marketing. During the last two years of his studies, Ala-Pietilä worked at the Helsinki School of Economics as a researcher in the FIBO project (Finland’s International Business Operations), which was founded and led by Professor Reijo Luostarinen. As part of the FIBO research project, Ala-Pietilä completed his master’s thesis on the information systems of internationally growing Finnish companies.
‘The experience and skills I received in the inspiring and pioneering FIBO research group have proven crucial. The ability to understand and analyse complex issues to which there are no ready solutions has been a useful tool for mental processes throughout my career.’
Ala-Pietilä’s versatile working career has progressed through numerous phases. Through his research work, Ala-Pietilä ended up at Nokia’s Information Systems Unit in the early 1980s. His career continued at Nokia in various positions, including as President of Nokia Mobile Phones in 1992–1998 and as President of Nokia Corporation in 1999–2005, during the company’s period of strong growth. After his years in the service of Nokia, Ala-Pietilä became an entrepreneur by chance as he co-founded the mobile media company BLYK which operated in Great Britain, India and the Netherlands. The fourth phase of Ala-Pietilä’s career has involved boards of directors’ duties in various companies and the management of working groups, including chairing the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence.
Inspiration drives studies
During his studies, Pekka Ala-Pietilä was active in student activities at the Helsinki School of Economics. He was involved in KY’s cultural committee KUJ for many years. In addition, he chaired the board of the skiing club KY-Ski. ‘I did my bit on the recreational side, and I enjoyed it. Recreation is an integral part of studies, and I strongly recommend everyone to participate in student activities,’ says Ala-Pietilä with a twinkle in his eye.
He encourages current School of Business students to study things that are inspiring and meaningful to them. He also considers it advisable to acquire an in-depth understanding of a chosen topic already during one’s studies. It helps to lay a foundation for learning and development. On the other hand, it is also important to be able to understand complex entities in addition to having in-depth competence. Ala-Pietilä says that it is useful to also study other fields, such as art, technology or sociology, for example.
Moreover, Ala-Pietilä urges students to pay attention to relationship and communication skills. ‘As a person or leader, we are never complete. One has to have the humility to constantly learn from human interaction and from oneself. Teams that are built on trust-based relationships can achieve exceptional results. The significance of intellectual and emotional honesty in building these kinds of teams is essential,’ says Ala-Pietilä.
‘Life is a learning journey, and learning as such never ends,’ says Ala-Pietilä. One of the key tasks of higher education institutions is to enable and inspire the enthusiasm to learn, and this naturally has a direct effect on interacting in the business life later on. ‘Organisations capable of learning faster than others and able to utilise the gained knowledge are the most successful in the changing world.’