The shared School of Business and KY history feels very important, says CEO Emma Aer

The Aer family has been a part of the student population of the School of Business for four generations
Lahjoittaja-alumni Emma Aerin perhe, Kauppakorkeakoulu
The Aer-Paasonen family in 2020.

Emma Aer started her studies at the School of Business in 1990. She majored in international business, which was one of the first programmes to be studied in English and where casework was central to the teaching. After graduating in 1996, she has worked in various positions and in different countries. Currently, she lives in the United States and works as the CEO of a German-owned food manufacturing company, Franklin Foods, in Florida.

Emma Aer, lahjoittaja ja alumni
‘During the coronavirus pandemic, I received an interesting call and decided to become the CEO of Franklin Foods, where I've been for two and a half years now. We've been in the United States for almost nine years.’

The Aer family has been a part of the student population of the School of Business for four generations. ‘Both my grandpa's sister and my grandfather's sister studied at the School of Business in the 1920s and 1930s! It was a time when women hardly studied, so I have always been very proud of my great aunts. My aunt (my mother's sister, “muster”), who is now 83 years old, also graduated from the School of Business. At one time, she was the secretary of KY and once agreed to sit next to the chair of the board of a Danish School of Economics for one evening at the anniversary celebration. This evening was the beginning of a happy relationship that has been going on for over 60 years now. So, my aunt married her anniversary date, moved to Denmark and is very satisfied with her life.’

Emma Aer and her husband, who she met at KY during her studies, have three sons, two oldest of whom have returned to Finland. They both study at the School of Business in Otaniemi, of course. One of the boys is in the bachelor's phase, the other is already in the master's phase. 

‘Our family has often shared stories about studying at the School of Business. My great-aunt remembers her student ceremony in the 1930s with tears in her eyes, saying, ‘Those were wild and wet parties!’. That was the nature of things back then.”

Years of activity at School of Business and KY

Emma Aer says that she had been very active in many ways during her years of study. The jobs she took on were both menial jobs and more challenging tasks.  

KY-aktiiveja Etelä-Amerikassa, yritysvierailu
On a site visit in South America

‘Studying at the School of Business made my own thinking more versatile and taught me problem-solving. My whole study period, with all its great international experiences, was thought-enriching in so many ways. The same applies to my work experience, which I acquired alongside my studies. I worked throughout my studies to gain both work experience and ‘funding for extracurricular activities,’ as they say.’

KY:n porukka Etelä-Amerikassa 1990-luvulla
KY activity in 1990's: two and a half months of backpacking all over South America

The additional activities that asked for funding included the skiing club KY-Ski’s skiing trips and municipal evenings. ‘KY's South American project is another memorable project, with which we collected money for a year. We had 15 students and we had two and a half months of backpacking all over South America. I had a great student exchange in Esade in Barcelona. Regarding the student's daily life, I would also like to mention the Friday lasagne of the Rafla restaurant at Runeberginkatu: there was no Friday without Rafla's delicious lasagne!’ 

In addition to learning and experiences, the School of Business gave Emma Aer not only a husband but also an extensive group of friends and acquaintances. ‘KY was building a strong sense of community already back then. The student union offered versatile opportunities to engage in hobbies, develop us or spend leisure time together. Many of my good friends are from the School of Business, and I've got a huge network of alumni of the School of Business who I'm able to contact at relative ease.’

Work and family life in six different countries

After her graduation, Emma Aer started her career in marketing, sales, and business development tasks first at Valio and then at Coca-Cola. ‘We moved to London where I worked at a gaming start-up, and our second son was born there. After a while, my husband was transferred to Gothenburg, and I was a housewife for almost four years. During that time, I completed a master's degree programme in finance and industrial economics at the University of Gothenburg and thus updated my skillset.’

Our first child started preschool in Finland. I went to work for Nokia at that time in 2005. We lived in the Jorma Ollila era, and I was developing the business of mobile games in the multimedia unit. I was responsible for a major change project where we worked on how to keep the customer satisfied and loyal and how to make our entire business customer-oriented. After that, I worked on a brand and marketing strategy for Nokia.

From Nokia, Emma Aer moved to Valio, first as a marketing director, ending later in charge of two business units. ‘We moved across the ocean in 2014, when I started as the CEO of Valio's subsidiary in the USA. I was in that position for four years, until I moved to Reima to build the company's own online store, Amazon distribution and dealer distribution in the United States and Canada.’ 

‘During the coronavirus pandemic, I received an interesting call and decided to become the CEO of Franklin Foods, where I've been for two and a half years now. My job involves managing people and organisations as well as results. We've been in the United States for almost nine years. All my earlier work experience has increased my understanding of customers and business as a whole and helps me now.’ 

Adjusting to the USA

Emma Aer's boys' sports hobbies at school helped the whole family to adapt to living in the United States. ‘Adapting to American lifestyle took its time, but once we got used to everything, the whole family was stronger again. The years spent abroad have strengthened our family ties and the belief that no matter where you are, you will find the means to create something good out of everyday life.’ 

‘People are actually quite the same regardless of their nationality. The Americans like to outline opportunities and look forward with enthusiasm. People are quite work-oriented. Europeans may sometimes sigh at the Americans’ positivity. In the USA, it is important to earn money for life because there is no European social security.’ 

Emma Aer has noticed in her years in the United States that flexibility has also increased in the United States and that the Americans are also thinking more about combining work and leisure and family life. ‘With hybrid work, productivity has decreased in companies, and now we are looking for a suitable balance between flexibility and results. Companies need to think about how flexible they are to keep good employees in their service.’

Emma Aerin perhe rapujuhlissa Bostonissa vuonna 2021
The Aer-Paasonen family in a crayfish party in Boston in 2021.

A strong desire to help where possible

Emma Aer feels proud and happy the School of Business and what it has given me, both in terms of studies and family and friends. 

Kauppiksen alumni Emma Aer ystävineen
Friendship in the 1990's. ‘Many of my good friends are from the School of Business, and I've got a huge network of alumni of the School of Business who I'm able to contact at relative ease.’

‘I have received a lot and now that I can do so, I want to give back. Issues related to nature conservation and equality are important to me and have been my main donation targets. In addition to these, I also wanted to support the internationalisation of our School of Business students, because the School of Business provided a good foundation for my own international career. Here in the United States, there is a strong culture of giving back, and yes, it is true that giving back makes you feel really good too.’ 

KY-aktiiveja Etelä-Amerikassa 1990-luvulla
KY's South American project is a memorable project!

Emma wants to tell the students not to rush too much, but to gain a wide variety of experiences during their years of study together with friends or by themselves, because work experiences, exchange studies and other life experiences are really important and enriching. They lay a foundation for the future. 

‘Enjoy your studies, do a variety of things that interest you, and try new things, because that is where growth happens. And finally, the idea is that if you have something that you want to change, you should boldly be the force of change and start acting as you see fit.’ 

Thank you very much for your donation to the School of Business, Emma Aer!

Interview: Helena Salminen and Terhi Ollikainen
Text: Terhi Ollikainen

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