A DBA Degree Fueled with Passion

Susanna Takkunen’s doctoral research revealed that a consumer-centric identity is key to digital transformation in the consumer goods industry. For Takkunen, obtaining a doctorate meant achieving a longtime dream – and fulfilling a promise she made way back in 1999.

Susanna Takkunen notes that the consumer-centric approach speeds up companies' digitalization. Photo: Junnu Lusa

Joanna Sinclair, 20.10.2022

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Susanna Takkunen got her Doctor of Business Administration degree from Aalto EE’s Aalto Executive DBA program in September 2021. Although it took Takkunen only 2.5 years to complete her doctorate, her path to starting her studies was fairly long.

“When my mother got her Ph.D. degree back in 1999, I gave a speech at her doctoral celebration. I promised that one day, I would follow in her footsteps. Ever since then, the idea was rooted in the back of my mind,” Takkunen explains.

Over the years, Takkunen initiated discussions about obtaining a doctorate a few times with Aalto University professors. The talks were good but never led to her starting a doctorate. In hindsight, Takkunen describes these attempts as superficial. At the time, she did not realize that you have to be truly passionate about your research subject, not just the idea of getting a doctorate.

It was rather shocking to discover that all my digital expertise was just not up to speed compared to the digital natives at the startup."

She found such a topic upon starting work at a startup and everything fell into place.

“Before joining the startup, I had worked for large consumer goods companies for close to 20 years. It was rather shocking to discover that all my digital expertise – which I thought to be quite plentiful – was just not up to speed compared to the digital natives at the startup.”

This revelation made Takkunen ponder how large corporations would work if they understood everything that disruptive startups do. What would they do differently? 

Consumer centricity as a driving force for achieving digitalization

Inspired by her startup experience, Takkunen promptly set up a research venture. She convinced several large companies – both domestic and international – to collaborate in a project exploring how to accelerate digital transformation in the consumer goods industry.

“Prominent Aalto University professors expressed interest in the venture, and I ended up working as a researcher at Aalto University for the duration of the project – and conducting my doctorate on the same topic in Aalto EE’s DBA program,” she says.

For her, Aalto EE’s DBA program was a perfect fit. 

“You get incredible guidance from professors who are dedicated to helping you achieve your goal. The process is tailored to offer maximum support, which enables you to use your time very efficiently.”

You get incredible guidance from professors who are dedicated to helping you achieve your goal."

Takkunen’s research findings are highly relevant for any leader in the consumer goods industry aspiring to drive digital transformation. She demonstrated that a company’s attitude towards digitalization is determined by its organizational identity: whether it considers retailers or consumers to be its primary stakeholders.

Consumer centricity acts as a driving force for achieving digitalization – whereas a retailer-centric identity acts as a barrier to change, slowing down or even preventing digital transformation.

“A consumer-centric identity promotes organization-wide understanding of the transformative nature of digitalization. It helps companies recognize that digitalization requires major changes, takes years to get rolling – and is never fully finished because digitalization must evolve together with the consumers and the customers,” Takkunen underlines. 

“A retailer-centric identity, on the other hand, leads organizations to either adopt a compartmentalized orientation – in which digitalization is perceived as a means to augment the existing business model – or an ambivalent orientation, in which the status quo is sustained.” 

Several companies asked for my help when I was conducting my DBA degree."

Many leaders have asked her, how can a retailer-centric company transform its identity and become consumer-centric. “My research indicates that the change has to come from the top. The CEO must be the driving force, empowering the entire organization to place consumers front and center.”

Passion for consulting

Just a few weeks before graduating, Takkunen started a new job at Accenture Strategy & Consulting as Principal Director and Lead for Consumer Goods and Retail.

“Several companies asked for my help when I was conducting my DBA degree. In consulting, I found my next passion,” Takkunen explains.

“I was very fortunate to get a great position at Accenture. I am now continuing the work that I love: fostering transformation with incredible companies in the consumer goods industry.”

The Aalto Executive DBA is a structured program in business administration for individuals with considerable managerial experience who wish to merge professional practice with theoretical perspectives to discover novel insights. Graduates will develop doctoral-level in-depth knowledge of the latest theories and methodologies in business research and act as thought leaders for organizational change. Read more

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