On the couch sits a man who is excited about everything. Surely it cannot be genuine, let alone healthy. How does he do it, and what is he hiding?
“I’ve never experienced the feeling which some people have that there’s nothing to do,” says Unne Sormunen, the recently-appointed CEO of the production company EndemolShine Finland. He talks for two hours about his career and his Aalto MBA studies, and suggests you try mate tea, which according to him fills you with energy.
Radio, television and sports. These are the keywords to use when you want to find information about Sormunen. At our meeting, the picture of the man broadens, but traditional broadcast media and sports, especially ice hockey, stay in it for a good while.
Sormunen comes from Lahti. Following in his fathers footsteps, he started training karate at the age of seven. Later on, ice hockey entered the scene in a big way, and eventually he reached the post of team captain with the Pelicans’ under-19s. He’s not all praise for his time in ice hockey, however. He says he stopped training after the overbearing macho culture and brashness that comes with the sport became too much for him. In the same breath, he is quick to commend the way ice hockey clubs are currently run.
We’re too easily compartmentalizing people and making them one-dimensional. This is a big mistake."
After his matriculation examination, he left Lahti and moved to the Helsinki area. He took a journalism course at the Laajasalon Opisto institute, and says he tried to do as much as possible, as well as possible.
This started him on a journey of rapid advancement. He rattles off a list of his previous jobs, and never fails to mention several people whom he is grateful to. He started off as a sports reporter for Yleisradio, then he went to Radio City, followed by four years as program manager for The Voice channel, which allowed him to get fully involved with TV work. His next employment was with MTV, working as a sports producer responsible for World Championships. After two years at MTV, he moved to Nelonen at Sanoma to work as an executive producer, and was quickly promoted to manager of domestic programming. For over four years, he was responsible for program acquisition for Nelonen in TV entertainment, dramas and films.
During his time at Voice, he was a program manager during the day, and in the evenings he was commentating ice hockey matches and conducting rink-side interviews for Canal+ and UrhoTV. He learned a lot during that time: “On the one hand, you’re leading something, but on the other hand, you’re the person who people forget to invite to the office Christmas party.”
Sormunen likes to observe the people around him, and admires those who have a knack of doing many different types of things well. “We’re too easily compartmentalizing people and making them one-dimensional. This is a big mistake. My wife is originally from Shanghai, and I’ve seen in Asia how everyone can be many things at the same time.”
His wife is actually the heroine in this story. She has encouraged him and pushed him forward at every turning point of his career and life. Sormunen mentions his wife on several occasions, and says that without her support things would probably look very different. They’ve managed to negotiate their demanding jobs, hobbies, business trips and even a two-year course in good understanding. The couple were able to go on their honeymoon at the turn of the year, four years late.
Just before their departure, he signed a contract with the production company EndemolShine Finland and left his job at Sanoma. EndemolShine Finland produces, for example, the Finnish versions of Gogglebox, Married At First Sight, and Ready Steady Cook. He heads the Finnish branch of a large international production company, has seven permanent employees and roughly one hundred freelancers.
Aalto MBA blew me away! Suddenly I was with all these smart people who have knowledge in every field you can think of.”
He tells us that it’s difficult to get people for some jobs, because of the new golden age for TV program productions taking place in Finland. There are so many programs being made that the best people can pick and choose the companies and productions that they are comfortable with. It’s common practice in the business to change jobs every month from one company to the next. Sormunen gives a lot of thought to the way millennials and their juniors consider work. “They want to have nice working environments, and want their work community to influence the world. They want to have fun, preferably right now. The work community should take care of them only as much as they want, and they need to be able to express their creativity.”
Leadership requires many new skills, but there are also a number of principles that have persisted throughout his career. “Things need to be done properly. People should be treated well.”
Let’s go back a couple of years to an important moment. It was time to study.
Several managers at Sanoma had taken an MBA, and recommended the same for Sormunen. “It was lucky that I didn’t do it earlier, as this was just the right time to learn more.”
When our talk turns to his MBA studies, his enthusiasm goes up another notch. “Aalto MBA blew me away! Suddenly I was with all these smart people who have knowledge in every field you can think of.”
His program was attended by an aerospace engineer, a children’s clothing designer, the principal of a large school, a doctor-level researcher in medicines, a serial entrepreneur, a brand experience builder for a car maker, and an Australian climate consultant who was also a champion fencer and a conductor. “I was like a sponge, I took it all in.”
Sormunen completed the Aalto MBA program in 2017-2018 and graduated just before the end of the year, incidentally on the same day as the new employment contract was signed and the honeymoon began.
In addition to studying for the MBA alongside demanding work, there was quite a calendar puzzle to solve. What can you compromise on in a situation like that? You couldn’t hang out with your friends as much as before, and the one-hour jog was shortened by half. But often in the early morning, he would sneak off to the Tali golf course with his gear while his wife was still sleeping.
I get all emotional when I think of all the great friends I made. I think we’ll stay in touch for the rest of our lives.”
Thinking about his favorite courses, the first ones that come to mind were Ben Nothnagel’s Negotiations and Influencing course and Pekka Mattila’s Leading Change course. ”Those really opened my eyes!”
But do you have to be a Superman of enthusiasm and a scheduling master to be able to study and work at the same time? Sormunen says you don’t, but you do have to conduct all the necessary conversations carefully. Having one discussion with your family and another in the workplace lay an important foundation which allows you to fully engage with your studies.
In addition to all the things he learned, he also picked up close friendships: “I get all emotional when I think of all the great friends I made. I think we’ll stay in touch for the rest of our lives.”
Now, Sormunen is learning something new again. At work, he sits in the EndemoShine Nordic executive team, his own boss is in Stockholm, he’s sometimes negotiating with people from his former employers sitting on the other side of the table, the industry is developing at a rapid pace, and in addition to his subordinates, he is responsible for a turnover of ten million euros.
At the end of the interview, Sormunen announces he plans to change the TV industry in Finland. Yes, his enthusiasm seems real, and it’s also clearly contagious.