The Skills and Expertise of a CEO Are Put to the Test Every Single Day

CEO of Berner Antti Korpiniemi finished his EMBA degree at the end of the 90s, when he was working as a department director in the company. Since then, he has advanced to the helm of the entire corporation. “An EMBA is an investment that pays off”, he declares.


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Antti Korpiniemi took to the helm of family company Berner Oy in fall 2013 when George Berner, former CEO of 25 years and great-grandson of founder Sören Berner, retired. Also, Korpiniemi had worked for the company for two decades at the time and had been a board member since 1997.

Korpiniemi completed his EMBA degree at the end of the 90s while working as department director. “I had advanced to a demanding role at a rather young age and felt I needed a more solid foundation. My aim for the degree was to expand my understanding.”

Directors need to learn how to motivate, set goals, and ensure and improve job satisfaction.”

Studying while working was “really intensive” –  hard work and demanding. The professors were international already two decades ago. “During the EMBA, I began to understand the thinking in large global corporations, which has helped me a great deal”, says Korpiniemi. Berner was going through a strong period of growth and internationalization at the time, which meant that similar themes were on the forefront both in the studies and at work. Korpiniemi praises the fact that an EMBA is, in fact, a degree, not just a collection of further studies. “Completing a degree makes students pursue the studies to the end and complete the assignments. And executing lessons in practice at work is vital. The theory isn’t enough ­– you have to deliver.”

“If I had to advise a young person whether to buy a new car on invest in an EMBA, my answer would be clear. The value of a car goes down whereas an EMBA is an investment that pays off.”

Leadership Can and Needs to Be Learned

Korpiniemi was still fairly inexperienced as a director when completing the EMBA program, so the studies proved useful. But what are his thoughts now: can you learn leadership in class?

 “You can and you need to. Naturally, you learn and gain emotional intelligence from experience, but at the same time a director needs to learn how to motivate, set goals, and ensure and improve job satisfaction. Emotions play a role in business – you won’t reap results if feeling low.”

It is important to keep in mind that expectations towards work differ among junior and senior employees. According to Korpiniemi, millennials yearn for freedom and flexibility to build their careers but also have high expectations towards work: they are keen to influence their work and reflect on their motivation, and work needs to be meaningful and the supervisor available.

Being direct, honest, and open are keys to leadership and relationships at work. Shared goals and direction are important.”

“Some say millennials are self-directing. That’s not the case.”

Different age groups may want different things from work, yet a great deal is universal when it comes to leadership.

“Being direct, honest, and open are keys to leadership and relationships at work. Shared goals and direction are important.”

Many of Korpiniemi’s fellow EMBA students changed jobs during or soon after the program. This is a common occurrence. An EMBA degree opens doors on the job market. Korpiniemi has stayed with the same employer and been satisfied. In his case, changing roles internally, growth, and internationalization have provided enough new challenges.

“I’m fortunate that my personal ideology, vision, and views are in line with the culture of my company. Work, integrity, and humanity have been our values for over a century, characterizing how we want to develop our work community.”

The Goal for Lifelong Learning: Improved Understanding

When embarking on his role as CEO, Korpiniemi spent a month studying at London Business School. There, his aim was the same as in the case of the EMBA: improved understanding. A CEO constantly faces major challenges. “The skills and expertise of a CEO are put to the test every single day.” A proactive attitude to learning is all about deepening one’s understanding to be better prepared for difficult situations and solving them. Instead of just one solution, you see many possible solutions and alternatives, learn that the problem could also be seen from this angle…”

Korpiniemi is certain that whether younger or older, skills need to be updated constantly. Learning means taking care of your competitive edge. It is also a question of occupational welfare. If you are unable to keep up the pace, you will not feel well at work. “I agree 110% that continuous training throughout the career is vital.”

Learning means taking care of your competitive edge. It is also a question of occupational welfare.”

As the first CEO to come from outside the Berner family, one question begs to be asked: what is it like to lead Berner as a non-Berner?

“I have worked there for 28 years and immersed myself so deeply in the culture that my personal principles are entwined with those of the company.”

In this sense, work has come naturally but is not easy by any means.  

“My work changed a lot when I became a CEO. Where I used to head a business unit, I now need to master HR management, the business side, maintain and improve enthusiasm and motivation among employees, and foster the best possible preconditions and shared goals.”

In a family company, the owner is usually not far off and has a face. This is also the case at Berner. “Only yesterday I thought at the board meeting how people often have a false idea of how family-run companies are all about sitting around in leather chairs, drinking coffee, and chatting. But we operate on the same market as any listed company. To our advantage, our work is more long-term than in the case of companies that think in quarters, but it’s not like we would be thinking 25 years ahead anymore. The strategy is usually examined with a three-year scope.”    

Antti Korpiniemi is EMBA 1999 alumnus. This story is part of Aalto EMBA 30 years series. Other stories can be found from below. Read more about Aalto Executive MBA.

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