The MBA Alum of the Year Found Meaning Challenges in the Humanitarian Field – “I Have a Talent for Managing Crises”

The MBA Alum of the Year 2023 award has been granted to Päivi Hurttia who has pursued a career in journalism and communications, among other things. Hurttia recently returned from Ethiopia where she spent a year working at the International Committee of the Red Cross, ensuring the safety of humanitarian assistance to all regions.
Päivi Hurttia
Communications professional Päivi Hurttia returned to Finland in late summer 2023 from Ethiopia, where she worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross. Photo: Johnny Jussila / Aalto EE

Aalto University Executive Education and Professional Development (Aalto EE) has chosen Päivi Hurttia as the MBA Alum of the Year 2023.

The award is granted to an individual who has graduated from the Aalto MBA or Aalto Executive MBA (Aalto EMBA) program and is passionate about lifewide learning. This person has also contributed positively to Finnish society and working life, demonstrating exceptional achievements in their respective field. The award was granted for the first time.

Hurttia, who has pursued a career in journalism, communications, marketing, and human resource development, graduated from the Aalto EMBA program in 2018. She ended up in the humanitarian field by accident.

“I got a position in the communication team of the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service. Soon after, I became aware of an opportunity to train for a role as an international aid worker with the Red Cross. During this time, I also learned about the operations of the Red Cross,” Hurttia explains.

“I noticed that I had a talent for managing crises, and I realized I could even live in conflict areas.”

Teachers understood the different professional backgrounds of the students and adjusted their teaching methods accordingly.

Anu Haapala

In August 2023, Hurttia returned to Finland from Ethiopia, where she worked for a year as a Communications Advisor for the International Committee of the Red Cross. In this role, she provided support to the senior management and communications team of the Red Cross National Societies, focusing on crisis preparedness and communication.

Her areas of operations included five African countries: Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). Her primary objective was to facilitate the safe and effective delivery of humanitarian aid to all regions within these countries.

“Today, I trust my leadership skills”

Hurttia enrolled in the Aalto EMBA program in 2017, but her familiarity with the program dates back many years. Between 2006 and 2008, she collaborated with program participants to create a course publication for three EMBA programs for the former Helsinki University of Technology, now part of Aalto University.

“Students were energetic, skilled, and inspiring. I even had the opportunity to interview professors. It was so inspiring that I began to dream about participating in the program myself,” Hurttia recalls.

The most valuable takeaway from the EMBA studies was the acquired self-confidence: the understanding that I am capable of more than I ever believed and that I am as skilled as others.

“For instance, I earned an A in a corporate financing course taught by Professor Vesa Puttonen despite having no prior working experience in the field. Although teaching was of high quality all the time, teachers understood the different professional backgrounds of the students and adjusted their teaching methods accordingly,” she recalls.

Peers from different fields and positions enriched Hurttia’s learning experience, and their questions made each module more interesting.

Self-development played an essential role in her studies, with Hurttia’s primary emphasis on personal and leadership growth. “Today, I trust my leadership skills,” she states.

Hurttia was amazed to have been granted the MBA Alum of the Year award. Her work in the humanitarian field was a factor that influenced her selection.

All companies and organizations can make a difference and contribute to building a better world. The difference is not really that big.

Anu Haapala

“Compared to countries like the United States, it is relatively rare for someone who has graduated from an MBA program to work in the third sector in Finland. MBA programs are generally considered to be targeted for private companies, and the cost is not accessible to many,” Hurttia explains.

“In my opinion, the principles for running a business, a public organization or an association are the same: you need to secure financing, conduct marketing, develop products and operations, calculate the income statement and balance, report to sponsors, and treat employees appropriately. All companies and organizations can make a difference and contribute to building a better world. The difference is not really that big.”

For those interested in taking the EMBA program, Hurttia advises them to make sure they allocate enough time for studying.

“You shouldn’t only aim to scrape through the program. Learning takes time and a lot of effort.”

A career aligned with personal values

Hurttia’s personal values have strongly guided her career: she believes that nobody can choose their place of birth or physical appearance and that everyone should be treated equally. She wants to work for companies that are committed to improving the world for both the environment and humans.

“I don’t understand or accept racism. I appreciate people who respect others and cooperate with each other. The values, neutrality, impartiality, and humanity of the Red Cross align well with my personal values,” Hurttia says.

In addition to working with organizations, she has also worked at the Helsinki University Hospital (HUS). She strongly believes that public specialization healthcare is extremely important, as it ensures equal access to services for everyone.

“I’m happy to pay taxes so that someone who needs care will be able to access it regardless of their economic situation.”

On her LinkedIn profile, Hurttia mentions that she held a helicopter pilot license and has successfully reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and the base camp of Mount Everest. What do these achievements say about you?

“If you have a dream, you should make it come true,” Hurttia answers.

“As a child, my dream was to become a pilot, and I got my helicopter pilot license in 1995. It is no longer valid but at least I realized my dream. In early August, I got to sit on the pilot’s seat in South Sudan – without taking off, though. I relived my memories and felt really good.”

“Trekking in the mountains can be incredibly challenging, and you often find yourself questioning why you’re doing this. It requires stamina, hope, and team spirit to keep you going. During my journeys, I have encountered individuals who prioritize personal performance over teamwork and view slower participants as a burden. Personally, I believe it is crucial that everyone can reach the destination or at least return safely.”

Dedicating time to team members will pay for itself

In her free time, Hurttia serves as a Chairperson of the Board of the Finnish Red Cross Helsinki and Uusimaa District. She strives to be a goal-oriented and reformist leader, emphasizing the importance of well-prepared meetings and effective decision-making.

“I’m available to our volunteers and frequently meet them at events. I actively cooperate, network with individuals, and contribute to decision-making. I strive to be approachable, valuing others’ opinions and making well-informed decisions.”

Hurttia has received feedback on this matter. While ambition is crucial, she emphasizes that making decisions without considering others’ opinions is not a productive approach. She believes that if the team does not agree with the proposed changes, real progress will be difficult to achieve.

“At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I dedicated a significant amount of time to listen to and empathize with my team members. At one point, my boss expressed concern about this, but I assured them that the time spent would yield positive results – and it did. My team members didn’t become exhausted, and eventually, we even achieved the goals we had given up on. It was a valuable lesson for me.”

Hurttia is convinced that leadership is her strong suit. Additionally, she is passionate about training and mentoring others.

“I assist individuals in their professional growth and guide them toward achieving both personal and team objectives. I want them to find fulfillment in their work, even when faced with challenging circumstances along the way. Work is an important part of personal life and growth,” Hurttia points out.

“When recruiting new talent, companies should be open to hiring candidates who check most of the boxes rather than seeking a perfect fit. This approach can enhance diversity within the organization. Personally, I have learned to adapt to various roles while in a given position. You don’t have to know everything when you begin.”

Learning is lifewide process and does not conclude when you graduate from formal education. Hurttia continues to enhance her skills even though she completed the EMBA program five years ago.

“I find lifewide learning important. This fall, I will learn more about board work and music.”

Hurttia plays drums, but she had to drop the lessons a few years ago due to the pandemic. Now she is looking for a new teacher and would like to learn to compose music as well.

The MBA Alum of the Year award is granted to a graduate of the Aalto MBA or Aalto EMBA program who has significantly impacted Finnish society and working life and has done unique work during their career. Aalto EE has two MBA programs in business management: Aalto MBA and Aalto Executive MBA (Aalto EMBA). During their studies, participants undergo a process of change and development that encompasses both personal leadership and the ability to understand how the changing business environment affects their organization. Our programs are general, including all key areas of business. Read more

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