|History Lesson: Asian Favorite|
TEXT: VEIKKO JÄÄSKELÄINEN, MBA PROGRAM DIRECTOR 1984–1992
Back in the 1980s when executive education in Finland first got started, few people could foresee how far we would come. Sometimes, it takes a while for great ideas to catch on, but when they do, watch out. The sky is the limit.
The Financial Times newspaper regularly assesses European business schools. According to the latest listings, Aalto EE’s EMBA ranked in the top 50 globally. This is no small feat, and one we can all be proud of.
Few can remember the troublesome start of the MBA and EMBA programs. International education did not strike a cord in the 1970s. It was difficult to fathom that one day we would be exporting education from Helsinki to far-away places like Singapore, Korea and Taiwan.
My idea of an international degree program got a boost from the years I spent at the Pittsburgh Carnegie Mellon University. When I was not working, I attended local EMBA lectures as a non-degree student and learned what the US program was all about.
Once I returned to Finland, I found that few people were interested in my vision of international education. After many years the then Helsinki School of Economics gave in, saying that fine, go ahead and arrange training for people in employment, just as long as you raise the money, get along without hiring permanent employees, and find your own facilities.
I was not surprised by the slow progress in Finland, as I had witnessed the same at Yale University, where I studied in the 1950s. Schools tend to be more conservative organizations than even the church or the military.
Be an opportunist
Usually, progress requires input from outside forces. When I worked in the industrial sector, I got to know key people from the Finnish Ministry of Trade and Industry. They are the ones I eventually turned to in order to secure a small initial investment, although it should have been more in the interests of the Ministry of Education.
As well as my own opportunism, I leaned on my own intuition. By the 1980s, I was already old enough not to be scared of a small scuffle.
The first MBA program got off the ground in January 1984. Before long, we learned there was a need for special training for people higher up the business ladder. We wanted to provide something they could work on in the evenings and on weekends. That marked the start for our EMBA work.
But why Asia?
Because more and more Western companies were doing business in the region, and also because Asians were looking to become more international.
By chance I found an excellent local contact, Professor Dong-Sung Cho, a South Korean who had gone to Harvard and worked as professor at the University of Seoul.
I sent him a letter (back then email did not exist), asking whether he would like to come to Finland and teach now and again. He could not make it right away, but our cooperation began a few years later. In the fall 1994, Cho expressed his wish to set up an EMBA-like program in Korea in cooperation with the Helsinki School of Economics. I was the rector of the school at the time and said we were interested. Wasting no time, the first program got underway in Seoul in September 1995. It was later launched in Singapore as well.
Asian operations have been a success despite stiff competition. By now, thousands of Korean business executives have completed the program, known as KEMBA. We also have strong ties with other Asian countries, such as Singapore and Taiwan.
To date, many students have received an EMBA through our program. These people have gone on to successful careers as entrepreneurs or top business executives in multinational companies. It is interesting to see how far we have come – and how deep our roots are today.