Sokotel Oy, part of S Group, operates thirteen Sokos Hotels and seven Radisson Blu hotels in Finland in the Helsinki metropolitan area, Tampere, and Oulu. In addition, the network has one hotel in Tallinn. Business Area Director Anne Riska is responsible for approximately one third of Sokotel’s hotel network.
Riska has worked in leadership positions in different consumer businesses for most of her career. Before joining Sokotel in early summer 2023, Riska was a Business Director at Terveystalo for over twelve years. Riska has further developed her leadership skills in the Aalto MBA program.
“My educational background is in hospitality management. Developing customer experience and customer service have always been close to my heart. With the MBA, I aimed to expand and update my leadership skills and also improve my English language proficiency,” Riska explains.
During the MBA, I applied many lessons from the program in my work."
“The Aalto MBA was a great choice for me. During the MBA, I applied many lessons from the program in my work at Terveystalo – and soon after completing the MBA, I started working at Sokotel. The MBA provided an excellent foundation for my new job,” Riska states.
A first-rate education and a wonderful learning environment
Riska had contemplated further studies for a long time.
“I seriously considered pursuing a Master of Science in Economics, but I concluded that an MBA would provide more tools for developing my leadership skills. During an MBA, you also obtain a valuable network of people working in significant positions,” she underlines.
“An MBA is a big investment, not only financially but also in terms of time. I wanted to get the best possible value for this investment, so I chose Aalto EE,” she adds.
Riska describes the Aalto MBA as an excellent experience.
“Every aspect of the program strongly conveyed that Aalto EE wants to offer a first-rate learning experience. Moreover, Aalto University Töölö is a truly beautiful learning environment. The elegant building, all the art around you – and to top it off, excellent snacks during breaks,” Riska says.
The beginning of Riska’s MBA journey was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her MBA group could not meet in person for the first six months.
Every aspect of the program strongly conveyed that Aalto EE wants to offer a first-rate learning experience."
“The remote learning was very well organized – but it was a very memorable moment when we were able to move to in-class learning and finally get to know each other properly, face-to-face,” Riska reminisces.
“We had a marvelous, very international group, which further enriched the learning experience. It was extremely interesting to hear the perspectives that people from different cultural backgrounds had on all the topics we covered. It also helped develop my language skills, as the majority of our break and lunch conversations were held in English,” Riska points out.
Useful lessons in leading strategy
The modules related to strategy management and development receive special praise from Riska.
“I found the Strategic Management and Strategic Foresight modules particularly useful. They significantly expanded my knowledge of tools that help in strategy creation. Scenario planning is a good example. I have already applied it in my work, and it has proved very useful. These modules also broadened my view of trends, phenomena, and circumstances that should be taken into account when devising a strategy,” she explains.
“Aalto MBA’s strategy modules clearly helped elevate my leadership to a strategic level. I now have a strong understanding of how I can link our corporate strategy to my own leadership and promote strategy execution through my communication,” Riska remarks.
Riska mentions that she also gained a lot of practical benefits from the Leading Creativity module.
“I got great concrete tips for supporting hybrid teams: inspiring ideas for building a work environment that helps promote everyone’s job satisfaction, regardless of whether they work remotely or on-site,” Riska says.
“Likewise, the Business Project was also a very valuable experience. Our group carried out a project that supported a large company’s transition to an agile operating model. The project gave me a comprehensive overview of agile work methods and practical exposure to what it takes to successfully implement such a change,” Riska comments.
Three tips for people considering MBA studies
Riska emphasizes that the Aalto MBA program provided her with valuable skills for her position at Sokotel.
“At Sokotel, I hold P&L responsibility for the hotel business in my region. I need to be able to assess the direction in which the business is evolving and competence in creating scenarios that are several steps ahead of the current situation. These are exactly the skills I honed most during my MBA,” she affirms.
According to Riska, the hotel industry is now facing fierce competition for skilled staff. Retaining top talent is extremely important – and good leadership plays a key role in engagement.
“The Aalto MBA increased my self-confidence and clarified my values. Thanks to the Aalto MBA, I am now a better leader. I have a stronger strategic perspective and my leadership is more current and relevant,” Riska states.
Riska says that she warmly recommends the Aalto MBA program. She has three tips for people considering MBA studies:
“Having a realistic view of your own time resources is crucial. If you have a family, you need to recognize that an MBA also requires commitment from your family members. If you are pressed for time, you might want to consider spreading your studies over a longer time-period, for example three years. Aalto EE offers flexibility if needed,” she reflects.
“I also recommend challenging yourself and choosing some modules that don’t feel safe and familiar. For instance, I took the Mergers & Acquisitions module, even though I have no finance background, and I got my bachelor’s degree from a very practice-oriented polytechnic. I worked hard and managed just fine – and since learning largely occurs in groups during the MBA, the support I got from others helped tremendously. For the module’s final assignment, I worked on a real M&A case for my then-employer Terveystalo. It was highly rewarding, and I gained significant insight into the M&A process,” Riska says.
“My third tip is the most important one: it really pays off to be an active member of the MBA network. You learn and gain so much from everyone else.”