There are shorter and longer ways of telling personal career stories. This is my longer one – for a shorter version, please check out my LinkedIn 🙂
This is basically the story I’ve told in voice over in carefully selected job related conversations in recent years. I think this is a story worth sharing and tells you my version of how I ended up here. I also think that the “novel” below resembles Aamu’s values and the thinking behind everything we do, we are in a people business after all. Without delivering business results Aamu’s existence wouldn’t be justified, but that is not the main theme here.
Why did I get into the consultative business?
In elementary school, when asked where to go for a school trip, my answer was “as far as possible”. I cannot remember it myself but that’s what my mom has told me. And she is very likely right, as always.
When growing up in a logger’s family, as a son of an entrepreneur, I always had the feeling that it is not for me. I felt the urge to be suited up when working instead of fighting deer flies in the forests or changing saw chains in minus 20 degrees, in the middle of the night.
That being said, it made sense to apply to a business school. Luckily my high school grades opened doors to me into Aalto University, Mikkeli’s international campus. As Mikkeli is only one hour drive from Pieksämäki where I grew up, it was not that far yet – but all the professors were from abroad, the student body was highly international and the program inhaled internationalization. I was still quite keen on maintaining my “as far as possible” attitude during university years. Therefore I ended up completing three awesome semesters abroad, one in Canada, China and France.
While I studied International Business for a bachelor and International Marketing Management for MSc, I started to feel like I’m missing some hard core business niche skills – especially when I realized during studies that marketing is not the area I wanted to specialize in. Basically my university program selections and the course selections during Master’s were made to keep various options open. As I believe that “jokaiselle jotakin on ei mitään kellekään”, that starts to feel a bit controversial to float without a niche.
There was no clear track what to do as an “adult” and I started to get a bit bored with the academic approaches and wanted to start doing something concrete. Entrepreneurship societies started to boom while I was studying and could have provided a great venue to start doing something concrete, but I never participated in their events. “I’ve seen what my father has done as an entrepreneur, how much he has worked… I do not want to follow a similar path.”
Luckily I had selected my MSc program wisely, as the second year was filled with projects to real clients. Trying to respond how should a small water cleaning equipment manufacturer internationalize or how could a small hackathon operator improve their customer experience were really valuable assignments to complete. I realized that project and client work is really suitable for me and something I really enjoy. It was also cool to have “customers” to serve instead of trying to turn grey into black while polishing answers to hypothetical business questions. Real cases were fascinating and resembled a lot of consulting – so that’s what I decided to look for in more detail.
What the heck is consulting actually? Little did I know…
Back to the early 2000s. With one of my business oriented childhood friends I remember having a discussion that as an adult it would be super awesome to have an own, one-man consulting company. You wear a suit, go to talk to people and charge a lot from doing basically nothing. How easy could that be? From university I could add initial notions like customers have certain problems they cannot or do not have time to solve themselves, and therefore they are keen on looking for assistance.
That’s about all I knew when I thought about “consulting”.
I never participated in any consulting company excursions and really knew nothing about what consulting could be like on a daily basis. I didn’t know what the famous “Big 4” stands for in the consulting world. So, job hunting was super easy with limited knowledge of the domain and lack of prejudices.
Google. “Consulting, Helsinki”. “Consulting, Tampere.” Then to Finder. “Consulting, Helsinki”. Repeat.
Thousands of results. I ended up sending randomly maybe a hundred emails to small consulting companies (less than 5 employees) or organizations providing consultative services and checking up their recruiting needs. 100% denial rate as “thanks but not looking at the moment”. Feasible. I barely had anything else than genuine interest and a paper from university about to be finished. For a super large consulting company, I ended up filling one long and boring “attach your CV here and then write all the same stuff into these text boxes into our system” application process, which applications status I still don’t know. Maybe they’ll call me one day.
Anyhow, smallest ones did not work, big ones seemed to be too faceless for a complete outsider.
Luckily, there was this middle ground in a few MEUR revenue scale of companies that already had an actual team instead of a few individuals. Those consulting companies (based on my active website screening and their website creation capabilities) seemed to do pretty cool stuff, worked for big clients and accepted applications via email. I really liked maybe two, three companies. I pumped up my application game, applied and got into the interview processes. The one that grabbed my attention the most was Magenta Advisory, thereafter acquired by BearingPoint.
Anyhow, four rounds of interviews with Magenta guys. First two online from France during last studies, then flight to Helsinki for 3rd interview and when it turned out that I’m flying back to France the day after, CEO’s 4th round was run right after the third interview. Luckily the CEO was at the office and he happened to have one hour to spend with me. I would not have bet that to happen twice.
Flight back to France and waiting for a couple of weeks. Phone call, quick discussion, no go. I don’t remember asking many reasons as I was quite prepared for that kind of outcome. During the process I sensed that first and second interviews and case studies went really well. From the third one I didn’t have similar thoughts, and even though the discussion with the CEO went well, I was mentally prepared for a decline.
If there were four application rounds already, why not make it five?
My thinking of “what if” scenarios started days before I got the phone call, as my gut feeling told me to prepare. It also told me that these guys at Magenta Advisory are doing something cool. They seemed to be a team. I really liked talking with each of them and appreciated the time and effort they put into the interview process. Also, I got a feeling that their boss would be an awesome leader to work for. In parallel, I applied to another consulting company and got kicked out of the process before that last interview round. Didn’t feel bad at all as those guys didn’t attract my interest on a personal level, even though they were also doing cool stuff, and I could have been suited up five days a week.
I thought about the best way to approach Magenta guys again. Lucky losers are quite sympathetic. You may almost make it but not quite, and still you get a second chance.
So, off I went and branded a new application phase into their recruiting protocol – “Lucky Loser application, round number 5”. So far maybe the most important A4 paper I’ve written. Never published earlier and rarely told as a story, but here we go. Water may have flown enough in various rivers.
When reading the text now, it is quite spot on to five years younger Ville. What’s not part of the letter is yet another funny aspect. Luckily I never stated in application texts that I am a detail oriented person, as when I sent the document above as an email attachment, I finished email’s foreword with “ytävällisin terveisin” (best greetings with a stupid typo).
When I am even older and balder I may look at that point as a quite crucial cross road. A few weeks later, I got a phone call that welcomed me to join Magenta Advisory! How cool was that! It was probably the only time I succeeded turning Magenta’s CEO’s head, and if I have understood correctly, the only time he has changed his initial hiring decision upside down based on an email. Later on he didn’t seem like regretting, which was also nice.
Why did I write that? I had a gut feeling that it might actually work. What I had to lose? It could give me a chance for a job that could offer me something else than a salary. Although I got to meet “only” four of the company representatives, it was a good amount enough to get convinced about their genuinity, mood, attitude… That I might actually enjoy working there – which I eventually did every single day for three and half years.
Does this kind of application process tell something feasible and meaningful about me? It might tell that I am open up for a challenge, that I try not to take life or myself too seriously, that I try to be genuine to others who are genuine to me, I may have bits of courage to try something unexpected. It might tell something about persistence or written linguistic capabilities or that you should follow your gut feelings and gut feelings are something to be trusted. Or it might be that a naive university graduate just got super lucky once. I want to believe there was something more than luck involved.
“It is not personal, it is just business” may sometimes apply, but in every case there are people behind. Making business at least a bit personal.
Proving the thinking of younger version of myself terribly wrong
The text so far has basically nothing to do with competences. It is more about people, about ambitions and interests, about persistence and thrive. What is unifying and underlying factor behind is perceived meaningfulness of the substance. Boring or not rewarding stuff with awesome people would still be boring.
When I was about to graduate and had spent time on three continents, internationalization was something I got fascinated on. Digitalization was and remains a cool, interesting and important theme but neither of those became the niche for me, although I thought so when I applied to Magenta in 2015. Time with them was super educating and a great school for real business. It was also a long enough time to grow as a person and to reflect personal priorities and ambitions. What do I want to do when I really grow up? What could be my niche?
I didn’t fancy entrepreneurship as my father worked so much. Well, he also got decent gains from the business. As my working days were not the shortest but gains were capped in the short term, I started to think of alternatives. Even though projects varied, the nature of business did not that much – MS Office had become quite familiar, although becoming to the right suggestions took hours and hours of thinking. However, seeing personal impact was not always easy. Could there be a next step to take somewhere else?
Happy member of Aamu Team
There were some big questions to answer with my mirror image before hopping in. Do I want to leave a steady business and prominent personal growth track and jump to a growing company with more uncertainties? Would I regret something? Big questions but eventually those were answered quickly after discussions with Aamu’s board members and operative team members. What I found the most important in backing up my decision?
People: My story at Magenta relied on people. Aamu’s team is a great bunch of highly skilled professionals. What is even more important is that they do not take themselves too seriously. That creates the perfect environment for the company to prosper. And the smaller the team, the more important it is that everyone gets along, which we do way better than just well. It is a team effort, after all.
Entrepreneurship at the purest: I started to get attracted to true entrepreneurship. What would be a better way to learn and inhale about it than work with them? Both internally, but even more importantly as clients. Board members have built various companies. My balls were not big enough to argue against their decision to found Aamu Partners – although there were no reasons to argue against it in any case.
Standard concept, Clarity and continuity: Aamu’s team had really done a magnificent job in putting together the Clarity concept and software before I hopped in. As the core of the concept is monthly collaboration with the customers’ CEOs, it enables tracking the impact what our clients achieve, and to assess our role along their growth path. It turns consulting truly to collaboration.
Daily learning: As my working background from Magenta was really broad from strategic and business development across various industries and functions, I could bring something along to Aamu’s work. In response, I have learned a lot about entrepreneurs’ mindsets and challenges they need to solve. Be it actions to avoid cash crisis on the horizon, personal ownership strategies and exit preparations, actually good KPI definitions to keep management aligned and on the right track or bonus model renewals to compensate staff more equally. New topics just keep popping up, and if I do not have a ready solution to provide, some of our team certainly has either a solution or a right phone number whom to call.
Building something cool: When I joined, there was something ready, something in development, something non existent. After several months, the situation is exactly the same but the things are different. As the growth continues, things change but backlog remains. And if something is refreshing, that is!
As a self-reflection, it is awesome to prove some of my initial thoughts wrong. Never saw myself as an entrepreneur until ~2018. Now I am becoming closer and closer to it. No matter how much I hated academia, I would have never succeeded at Magenta without all theoretical courses I covered. Even though being suited up felt like something to run after, those are just clothes after all. Clothes that will not make ideas, thoughts or actions any better. And consultative work is luckily way more than billing clients from some talking. During university studies I felt that a hard core business skill and a niche was missing from my skill set. A few more years of 2020 decade and I hope looking at the mirror with thoughts that Clarity concept (no matter how the concept looks like after several years) is that hard core niche.
Couldn’t be happier with the choice I made. Eventually the decision to join Aamu was based on a gut feeling, as my vibes told that Aamu could truly become something way greater as a company. And personally, I am sure I’ll have a joyful ride along the way, towards my next self-reflections after several years.
What colleagues say about Ville?
- A true servant and Alfred to our client’s Batmans (CEOs)! Quick thinker and has the ability to simplify, visualize and communicate even the most complex of business problems effectively through his consulting toolbox. Sports, especially ice hockey, enthusiast with a laid-back personality 🙂
- Ville has a positive “let’s rock” attitude 99% of the time. You can literally read from his hairstyle, how well he rested last night.
- I won’t be surprised if thanks to Ville, one day Aamu Partners will have a service “Strategy execution night shifts”.