There is a bit of a researcher inside Mikko Kosonen

The Chair of the Aalto University Board encourages initiative and courage.
Aalto University Mikko Kosonen / Photo by Jaakko Kahilaniemi

Mikko Kosonen, President of Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, has a master's degree (1982) and a doctorate (1991), both from the Helsinki School of Economics. In 2016, he returned to his alma mater for a new role as a member of the Aalto University Board and from the beginning of this year he has served as its Chair.

His experience includes over 20 hectic years working at Nokia, where he was responsible for strategy and business infrastructure during the company’s years of strong growth. After Nokia, he studied and wrote about strategy, and since 2008 he has served as the President of Sitra.

Mikko Kosonen completed his doctoral thesis alongside his work at Nokia. His international business dissertation was the first in its field in Finland, dealing with the internationalisation of industrial system suppliers.  

‘While working on my doctoral thesis, I was lucky enough to be in a position where I could immediately test my research results at Nokia. Doctoral studies provided me with knowledge and self-confidence, and through them I discovered that there was a bit of a researcher in me. Between Nokia and Sitra I worked as a researcher for a few years, and together with Professor Yves Doz we wrote a book and several publications on strategic agility,’ says Kosonen.

A good strategy is a simple strategy

Strategic management has been at the heart of Mikko Kosonen's work and research career. ‘A good strategy process engages all key players in a joint “discovery phase” and activities. A good strategy, on the other hand, summarises the organisation’s value proposition and provides all key players with an inspiring and credible path to follow. A good strategy also evolves with the times and updates as the world changes.’

Aalto University is now looking to the future when it prepares its new strategy. The university community has been able to participate in the preparations, including by raising questions that the new strategy should respond to. The board chair is satisfied with the work’s progress. ‘We want to involve the community and get different thoughts, ideas and views. Then, through the process, those ideas and views crystallise into the factors that make Aalto University so special.’

‘In many ways a university community is different from a business community, and this must be taken into account in strategy work. Businesses often focus strictly on one area, while the university's time span is longer, and it must have many strengths that enrich the whole entity.’

Mikko Kosonen regards the original idea of Aalto University as a multidisciplinary research-based innovation university as brilliant.  ‘This was an excellent demonstration of successful national strategic thinking. Our own unique profile will give us great opportunities in the future.’

The world changes at an ever more intense pace. According to Kosonen, the university must think strategically and be smart. ‘International competition for expertise is tough and, for example, Asian universities have more money and people than we could ever have. No one fares well alone any more, and we need to find the best partners in the world that share our values. It is also important to network to ensure our relevance in society.’

‘We must also find new solutions to the challenges in lifelong learning, and in order to stay competitive, utilise new technology-enabled learning paths. The challenge of sustainable development must also be seriously addressed. Aalto University has much to offer in this field as well.’

Otaniemi is a unique centre of expertise

Mikko Kosonen was a member of the Aalto University Board in 2016 when it decided to place all the university's core functions in Otaniemi. That decision has now materialised, with both the School of Arts, Design and Architecture and the School of Business operating in Otaniemi.

‘This magnificent and unique campus is definitely our strength. Placing all our schools in the same location creates true multidisciplinarity. Otaniemi's ecosystem includes basic research, applied research, art and businesses. It is a concentration of experts who together create solutions to the world's toughest problems,’ says Kosonen.

Mikko Kosonen encourages initiative. ‘It is worth looking for new solutions, being brave and challenging the status quo. It is the only way to keep up with global competition.’

Mikko Kosonen
  • Born in 1957
  •  Master's degree in economics and business administration in 1982, a doctoral degree in 1991 (International business)
  • Employed by Nokia in 1984-2007, held several management positions, including Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Infrastructure
  • President of Sitra since 2008
  • Member of the Aalto University Board 2016, Chair 2019 onwards
  • Hobbies include outdoor individual sports, as well as culture and reading. His recent reading list included Elena Ferranten's Napoli series.
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