We would like to introduce an Aalto ISM Alumnus! Our first story is about Vesa Sironen, who has had a very interesting study path and career and is now sharing many life experiences and valuable advices. Are you ready to hear the story?
Intro and university
Hi Vesa, could you briefly introduce yourself? As an ISM alumnus, could you tell us why you chose this major, what are advantages and disadvantages of that choice?
I’m Vesa, an ISM student. I started in 2007 and continued studying in 2017 after a five-year hiatus.
I chose ISM because of the combination of IT and business. I’ve held an interest in information technology for a long time. I first encountered Internet in the beginning of the seventh grade, when Urho Konttori (nowadays the CEO and co-founder of VR-phenomenon Varjo) introduced the concept to me at the school library. I’ve been hooked ever since.
The first time around, the courses at ISM were a bit of a letdown. To put it into perspective, it was still stuff about the waterfall model and SOA, when the world around us was going the way of Scrum. That’s why I went abroad to study at Stockholm School of Economics for my CEMS exchange and took part in the joint Aalto/Stanford course ME310 in 2009–2010. I was trying to hold on to my place of study but couldn’t resist the call of entrepreneurship after working throughout my studies.
You studied in many universities and completed multiple degrees. How did it help you in your career? How has it influenced your career choices?
I do have studied at eight different universities (exchange programs included), but my BScBA still remains the only academic credential I hold. Having had the opportunity to look at the world from many different angles and having met so many different people has definitely expanded the horizons. It has fed my curiousness and the insatiable hunger to know and understand. I am sincerely thankful for the Finnish education system for enabling me to do this.
Why did you decide to take some time off from studying? What encouraged you to return to Aalto and get a master’s degree?
I had been working more and studying less. Ultimately, it was the manager of academic affairs who made the decision for me in a rather sobering telephone conversation.
There had been thoughts of making a comeback when the dust had settled. The perfect moment came in 2017, when at the beginning of a six-month parental leave I re-applied and was accepted to complete my studies.
Entrepreneurship and work
What motivated you to become an entrepreneur and how did it happen?
At the time I started my first company, a sole proprietorship, I had been working in management consulting and entertained the idea of starting on my own. Having been let go from a job, I first did a three-month consulting project on contract which reassured me of the validity of my decision. Things started small and sometimes the learnings were pretty harsh.
I just had my 10-year anniversary of entrepreneurship and business is still a hard thing; one just must keep learning more.
What drives you in daily life? What inspires you?
People inspire me both at home, at work and in general. Building a family and building companies makes for a good balance. I have been lucky to get to work with excellent people and will be the first to say that any successful organizations are partnerships – no one can go it alone.
As mentioned earlier, the thirst of knowledge is something that drives me. Learning new things and uncovering information I haven’t known before gives me a sense of understanding the world better. Life today – especially business life – is a world of unknowns and incomplete information. Maybe it is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding; trying to make sense of all of it.
What is your next career goal?
As the chairperson of the board of Gapps, my goal is to help the team build a great success. The company is on a solid growth path of 73 % CAGR over the last eight years and I can see us becoming a serious player in the Nordic scene.
However, being a chairperson is not a full-time commitment and I still feel like I have a company or two in me. 2019 will show what are the next steps in an operational role!
Tips for ISM students
Could you give an advice for those who have not found a suitable career path yet? How to find it?
I’ve come to realize that no one wakes up one day and realizes that their passion lies in some X area that they don’t really know anything about. Rather it takes some trial and error to find what is of interest to just that person. If possible, try out different things at work and outside of it to understand what makes you tick.
I always felt that there was a strong push towards a corporate career within ISM and CEMS. I’m happy to see that the possibilities in entrepreneurship and smaller companies have gotten more airtime in the recent years. It’s the easiest to start a company when one is still at school or recently graduated; the lifestyles get pretty flamboyant after working in a corporate job for a few years and that’s when one needs a much greater war chest to take that leap.
What kind of soft and technical skills are required to work for a start-up?
A key soft skill is the ability to deal with ambiguity and be able to perform even though there is incomplete information at best to base decisions on.