Glenn Gassen, Germany. Director of innovation, growth and investment
“I was surprised by how child-friendly Finland is.”
Glenn Gassen‘s first contact with Finland was a semester spent at the University of Turku. The positive experience and the country’s many unconventional sides raised Glenn’s curiosity. Putting his expertise as a researcher into use, he started to learn more about Finland and its people. He ended up writing articles about them for the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
This led to a scholarship to conduct research on German-Finnish relations in Berlin and Helsinki. When Glenn’s first child’s due date was getting close, he decided to take the final leap and move to Finland to start a career here. Fast forward to 14 years later, and Glenn has embraced karaoke, ‘vaunulenkit‘ [walks with a pram] and the local business and innovation ecosystem.
How I got my current job is… I learnt Finnish for about 10 months and then started to work in the City of Espoo’s Mayor’s Office. I quickly got more and more responsibilities, and eventually, I was the head of international affairs. Then the German-Finnish Chamber of Commerce asked me to head its market entry and business development services and develop new services for innovation, startups and third-country projects.
In 2018, my current position opened in Espoo. I knew it was an outstanding opportunity. Espoo, and Otaniemi in particular, is just a unique environment where the future happens today. With my background in Espoo and a good sense of German business development attitude, I started to help foreign companies and investors to engage with Espoo’s innovation and growth ecosystem. On the other side, I help local players to grow and succeed.
What I find surprising about working in Finland is… the way of collaborating and doing together. It is really easy to find partners, start working for a common goal and make something possible that would be impossible alone. This is a great advantage, and it just makes things fun. In many other places, this is so much more difficult.
I was also surprised by how child-friendly Finland is. Companies are usually very supportive. As a result, it is possible to have a career and a family, which is not self-evident in every country. I’m currently on paternity leave, and I think Finland truly is one of the best places on Earth to raise kids.
The international business development industry in Finland is… driven by startups and born global. Most international business development happens in startups that need to aim at foreign markets right from the beginning. There are relatively few SMEs going abroad, compared to Germany, for example, and the domestic market is too small to develop large-scale business.
Internationalising Finnish companies offer good opportunities for foreign business developers. There is a need for intercultural skills and foreign market expertise, and I think that Finnish companies are exciting to work with. Many have a true pioneer spirit, solve real problems and make customers happy.
If I could change one thing about Finnish working life it would be… more focus on marketing and sales. There is still this tendency to focus on technical details instead of creating value, communicating it well and helping customers to make decisions that bring value. Finnish companies often do great things but don’t tell enough about it. Marketing and sales orientation should be a pillar of the organisational culture.
The Finnish word that best describes working here is… ‘edelläkävijä‘ (forerunner). You can rather easily do something completely new or solve a significant problem without the burden of “this is how we used to do it”.
The hobbies that I have really enjoyed in Finland are… Karaoke is one of my favourite Finnish hobbies. It helps a lot with getting to know Finnish music and culture. Otherwise, I enjoy playing football with fellow Germans. We founded the FC Germania Helsinki football club in 2016.
Lately, I’ve had less time for football due to my kids. Therefore, I tried vaunulenkki, which means a walk with a pram. I’m currently on paternity leave, and I’ve discovered many of the beautiful places in Finland with my kids. And finally, vegan cooking has become one of my hobbies. Many food innovations and lively community discussions make it easy to find new food experiences.
What I enjoy most about living in Lauttasaari, Helsinki is… living on an island close to the sea and having a 100-metre walk to the beach. Daily services, my workplace and the city centre, are all within a 10-to-15-minute journey.
Personally, I was not surprised that Finland was rated the happiest country in the world for the fifth time in a row this year.
The piece of advice I would give to someone contemplating moving here for work is… connect to one of the expat groups on Facebook. You can easily ask and get advice first-hand from countrymen already living here. This can also help you to start building your personal network in Finland.