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My Career: From Start to Finnish

André came to Finland for a dream job, stayed for values

Get to know more about André via LinkedIn and MySpeaker


André Noël Chaker, Canada. Author, public speaker, entrepreneur

Ask a foreigner what brought them to Finland and many times you’ll be rewarded with an entertaining story of hearts colliding somewhere abroad, capped off by an eventual move to this northern corner of the world to live with their Finnish partner.

However, when André Noël Chaker moved to Finland in 1992, it was a lure of a slightly different kind that brought him here. It was a Finnish scientist, Professor Paavo Komi, who enticed Chaker away from the high life in law he had been aspiring to in Montreal and New York City. He was offered an enticing opportunity to join the head office of the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education in Finland, as its youngest ever secretary general. He was soon settling in Jyväskylä, at the time a city of approximately 100 000 people in Central Finland.

The subsequent decades have been filled with achievements for Chaker, including a stint as a popular singer, a director at the Finnish lottery, Veikkaus, and an author. After his book, The Finnish Miracle was released in 2011, its overwhelmingly positive response saw him change trajectory and set out on the speakers’ circuit. Success ensued. He was named Speaker of the Year 2012 and 2014 and Business Moderator of the Year in 2015. He has also moderated the Nordic Business Forum five times.

This passion for speaking has seen him make over 1 000 speaking appearances and found the company MySpeaker. He also developed a technology platform called Rhetorich to help leaders and professionals speak impactfully to grow their businesses.

André has delivered over 1 000 speeches since he commenced the speaker’s circuit.

Pasi Salminen

My first encounter with Finland was… when I was younger and studying in France, I spent my summers here teaching English. But then I came back for good. I had made friends here and these contacts were asked whether they knew somebody who can take this big position at an international organisation based in Finland for three years at least. Maybe for another three years after that. They immediately thought of me. At the time, I was in Montreal at a big law firm with a former prime minister as a partner. But I was the new junior there, and I was offered this big job in Finland raising money for science and sports, and for sports education around the world. It was an NGO, with an office in Paris, UNESCO; it was an extremely interesting offer.

This person had to speak perfect French, perfect English and had to be a lawyer. It just happened that I fit the bill and that I was willing. That's another thing: the curiosity. I was on a path where I would eventually become a senior partner at this firm. I could already see my future: I knew where they're going to bury me in Montreal when I'm done 60 years later – or I could go to somewhere where nobody's gone before, and I can learn all these new things. I couldn't say no to that. So, I landed in Jyväskylä in January 1992 to become the secretary general of the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education. I travelled around the world to lobby for money for science. I was their lawyer, their representative and their spokesperson. That was a beautiful experience.

The reason I stayed in Finland is… I had this curiosity. See, you don't become a lawyer in New York City, if you're not a little bit arrogant and a little bit edgy. So, I had a bit of that when I came here. But I genuinely wanted to understand how things can be different.  I just loved what I saw here:  fundamental things like the high level of trust in society, respect for others and the fact that people were not cutting everybody off! At a law firm, everybody's cutting everybody off almost all the time. It's an aggressive conversation style. Here, it's “I'll listen then I will speak”. It’s puheenvuoro. I love that Finnish term; everybody gets a turn to speak. Also, back then I also saw the beginning of the corruption of my own industry, which is now sadly self-evident. It used to be that one would think of suing in New York for 50 000 euros and say, “I’ll sue for a million just to make sure”. Now it's sometimes suing for a billion just to make sure! I mean, it has gone out of control.

Like many in Finland, André enjoys ice swimming during the winter.

André Noël Chaker

There is a growing trust deficit in North America and social disparities coming from the stress that so many people have from not being able to afford secondary education or medical assistance, especially in the US. The basic things are much more harmoniously handled here, creating what we would call happiness or contentment for which we are now known for in Finland, a harmonious set of circumstances and policies that create a very solid basis for creativity, business, friendship and raising a family .

There was also good luck involved. I almost went back to Canada; I was divorced once. But then as I recycled myself into an MBA graduate in finance and technology, I met this unbelievable woman from Eastern Finland, a country girl. It just transformed my life. She's 100 per cent Finnish with beautiful values: trust, hard work, the value of education. I felt these simple but important things were just phenomenal, and it resonated with me in surprising ways because I was still into more glittery things. But the fundamental things are actually more important in life. I hadn’t quite realized this as a young man. I discovered this gradually in my 30s and by my 40s I then wrote The Finnish Miracle because I believe that the miracle of this country is indeed in those fundamental values that have held the country together and made it thrive in the last century. And it's inspiring, it's wonderful to be a part of such a story.

Some other aspects of Finland that would be attractive to people abroad are… found in my book, The Finnish Miracle. I think that's a good start. You know, we're probably one of the most silent country cultures in the world. We listen to people, we give people space, and we are so polite in that respect that people feel almost offended that we don't talk to them.

There are so many tremendous things to bring up when I talk about my life here in Finland to my colleagues in New York City, who are lawyers and who are making three times more money than I am – they'd love to move here. When I describe what I get for my taxes and what my kids have gotten and the safety, the health, the education, the peace and silence, the trust – all of these things are just phenomenal.

Aspects about working life in Finland that are notable from an international perspective are… of course the speaking culture, the culture of silence that means I want to listen, or I don't want to disturb you, which I felt was isolating at first. But then I understood the mechanisms of why that happens. That was a beautiful insight, but it took me some time to understand it. I think silence is a great driver of understanding between people, when people can just be silent and listen to others and take turns and be respectful in the speaking culture. The speaker protocol between colleagues is inspiring especially compared to where I was, in a microcosmic culture where people were paid not to listen to each other, just to interrupt and sometimes yell and fight trying to grab attention so that you can get more customers and so on. So yeah, I love that about the Finnish working culture.

Downtime from his hectic is important for André, during which he partakes in a variety of activities.

André Noël Chaker

I also like the level of trust in this country. Just generally speaking at work especially and how fast and effectively things can go because of it. When the dominoes of trust can just fall in the right direction very quickly, things that would take a huge amount of time in other countries because people don't trust each other, or that the channels are not open go forward quite seamlessly here. And I love the fact that the chain of communication and collaboration is open for very impactful, very quick decision making, very non-bureaucratic, non-hierarchical decision making within organisations and companies.

As a fluent Finnish-speaker, my tips for learning the language are… make it a part of your life in ways that are meaningful to you. Whether it's with your partner, or your social or family life. Or better yet, at a hobby, like a basketball club. When you enter that hobby, enter as a Finnish speaking person. And don't accept when people try to speak English or other languages with you. Embrace it as a Finnish speaking person. No matter what level you're at.

The word in Finnish that describes something that other languages cannot is… sivistys. It’s a mixture of culture, sophistication, education and well-roundedness. It encompasses many things that are so instrumental to why this country has done so well: it has invested widely into sivistys. Even small villages and towns have a cultural centre and a beautiful church, a symphonic orchestra or a town theatre. A place of that size in Canada or USA might have a Texaco station and maybe a diner! I'm exaggerating, but you know... The level of investment not only in education, but also into being a well-rounded citizen with a wide range of knowledge of human culture and culture endeavours, even in sports and music and literature, it's inspiring. Sivistys encompasses so many other words in English that I think it's a beautiful, overarching word. I love that word.

André and his wife own and operate Villa Stenberg, an old farmhouse which was recently named the number one wedding venue in Europe.


Living in Espoo… has turned out to be such an amazing place for our children and for us, for our own health and access to nature. We live very close to Central Park. So, I've skied and run hundreds of kilometres in that park. We're also part of a support system for our children with schools and hospitals and clinics and shopping centres a 5–10-minute walk or drive away. The city been an amazing platform for the growth of our children and the growth of our businesses.

Actually, I thought I would hate living in Espoo in the beginning. I'm an urban guy, you know, Montreal, New York, Paris are the cities I worked and lived in. And then I'm married to this country girl, and she says, “I need a yard”. And, well, nowadays we also have an old farmhouse, Villa Stenberg, which was recently named the number one wedding venue in Europe. So yeah, I thought I would hate Espoo, but I love it – I'm a proud espoolainen.

Дата публикации 21.02.2024