Jarno Eskelinen, Managing Director at Siemens Healthcare Oy (Finland and Baltics), noticed that the MBA degree had a clear effect on his career.
”I wouldn’t be here without the MBA.”
He is sitting in one of the meeting rooms of Siemens Healthcare in Espoo. As the company’s managing director, he oversees Finland and the Baltic countries.
Before his MBA studies, Eskelinen was offered the role of product manager for US-owned global healthcare company Abbot. He was 27 years of age at the time and had not finished his university studies, and felt it was not the right time to say yes to a role with so much responsibility. He wanted to graduate first. But his employer had a plan: Eskelinen could complete an MBA degree while working and split the cost with the employer.
Eskelinen became enthusiastic: “Sounds good,” he said. “I was interested in the focus on economics, and the MBA program at Helsinki School of Economics had a good reputation" (the school later became part of Aalto University). His new employer had completed the same program, recommending it warmly.
Eskelinen studied while working between 2002 and 2005.
“The MBA was the key turning point for my career. It gave me what it took to advance on the career ladder. The subsequent steps after being a product manager at Abbot would not have happened without the MBA, or the journey would at least have been longer and harder.”
Eskelinen first progressed within Abbot, also working in the company’s German branch in charge of the European, Middle-Eastern, African, and Canadian markets. In 2013, he transferred to Fresenius Kabi, another healthcare company, before his appointment as CEO of Philips Oy. He has been in his current role at Siemens for just over two years.
Eskelinen was working on his thesis on social pharmacology when he began the MBA studies. He graduated as Master of Science in Pharmacy in 2002.
Sometimes we would spend the evening together chatting about the studies – the peer support helped along the way.”
”Initially, I wondered how I would manage through the exacting financial MBA degree with my background in pharmacology, but soon noticed that international funding for instance is somehow fascinating. I was thirsty to know more.”
Eskelinen is from Iisalmi in the Savo region of Finland. He went to a sports high school in the city of Kuopio. His subsequent pharmacy studies in Helsinki aroused his interest in the pharmaceutical industry, and he ended up working in the sector. He feels the MBA program is a good fit with the global pharmaceutical industry.
Especially the beginning was hard. “I was aware of my own level and how advanced the technology graduates were. It was a steep learning curve and immersion in vast amounts of knowledge. My fellow students were awesome, they taught me a lot. Our group included lawyers, physicians, even a teacher. The team spirit was great. Sometimes we would spend the evening together chatting about the studies – the peer support helped along the way.”
Learning doesn’t happen automatically, you have to make an effort.”
Eskelinen talks about his career with a great deal of humility. Perhaps his attitude has helped on his journey. “The studies made me see what I didn’t know. The MBA opened my eyes to strategy, ethics, business management, marketing, how a small group should operate and be organized.”
In addition to the actual content, the program taught how to handle pressure and efficient time management.
“Was there more to life? Not really. Afterwards I wonder what I jumped into, but learning doesn’t happen automatically, you have to make an effort.”
Eskelinen appreciated the fact that the studies were in English. In his global role, mastering English terminology is an advantage. “My studies at Helsinki School of Economics were in Finnish, so the MBA played an important role also in grasping English terminology.”
Especially the modules on international funding stuck to mind, business ethics being another important theme for Eskelinen. In the early 2000s, the topic was not discussed as widely as nowadays, and it was also an important part of the studies. The philosophy is in line with Eskelinen’s personal values and industry. “I was fascinated by the role of ethics and identity and working culture of companies, potentially creating added business value. Naturally, values and caring play a starring role in the healthcare industry. The studies showed me the impact of ethical operations.”
The MBA program also explored strategic thinking and leadership a great deal. Eskelinen has an extensive background as an ice hockey player. On the rink, he has been chosen as captain to lead the team and sort out the occasional trouble between players.
“Ice hockey has definitely helped in my leadership role. I’ve had the chance to follow top coaches, who have shown how to create a good team spirit and work towards a common goal. A good work morale and sense of humor can help achieve something big. You will never do it alone, you need to give a helping hand to others. Being part of a team teaches how every member can be a giver: you can take someone with a bad day under your wing, showing it’s not time to give up, but let’s think up a strategy for beating the opponent…”
You will never do it alone, you need to give a helping hand to others."
On and around the rink, you learn the joy of winning, pain of losing, and how to get over a defeat. “Ice hockey and workplaces have a lot in common: the chosen strategy, team spirit, everyone knowing the goals and their own role in achieving them.”
Eskelinen has advanced rapidly on the career ladder and found himself in situations where subordinates may be older and more experienced. Typically, he has entered the scene to steer a major change.
“Any change begins inside the company. Caring and trust are the most important values for me. They cannot be achieved in an instant, but have to be built. People need to see that the leader is interested in them and wants their best. That’s when the crowd starts to follow the leader and strategy. It doesn’t happen the other way round, people following a leader without trust.”
How can trust be gained in a situation of change and uncertainty?
“You need to get close to people”, says Eskelinen. “Meet colleagues in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, wherever they are. Meet customers, talk to people, build objectives together. It takes a lot of discussion and open dialogue. Not everything can be done from a meeting room in Espoo.
I think it’s fair that colleagues see me as a whole. Knowing someone personally increases trust."
According to Eskelinen, as a leader he also shares personal issues and feelings with subordinates and colleagues. “I think it’s fair that colleagues see me as a whole. Knowing someone personally increases trust. I think it’s a good method to spend coffee and lunch breaks talking also about other things with people besides work. Whether it’s a Savo thing I don’t know… But I have noticed that it’s easier to trust someone when you know their motives, values, and what they are really like as human beings.”
What leadership skills would Eskelinen like to improve?
”I would like to be a better listener.”
Eskelinen says that throughout his career, he has tried to get people to talk openly without enforcing his own ideas too much. He is interested in the thought of an autonomous organization that is low in hierarchy. This is perhaps partly because he has been given a great deal of responsibility from a young age and seen the effect on performance, as long as goals are clear. The same method applied to the MBA studies, which brought together a bunch of smart people, who were given the chance to solve issues together.
“I have a thing for leadership through values and major, joint goals. Decentralized decision-making requires a clear direction, passion, and commitment”, says Eskelinen. “In my view, the brain power of people is not used enough and something I want to unleash.”