The Dean Encourages Women to Choose Finance

The Dean of Aalto University School of Business, Timo Korkeamäki, has studied CEO mobility. Results reveal that companies significantly work towards preventing personnel mobility: long executive employment contracts and non-competition clauses. "Our research results signify that it is good for people to move around."

Timo Korkeamäki considers the low number of female students a societal issue. Photo: Jaakko Kahilaniemi / Aalto University

Annukka Oksanen, 01.08.2022

Timo Korkeamäki, you are the Dean of Aalto University School of Business. What is the dean’s most important task?

“Pointing a strategic course. Ensuring that more or less everyone is aware of the direction we’re taking. At the same time, it’s good to keep in mind a university is a place for debating and disagreeing.”

What is the hardest task?

“Making sure that people have information. Communication and keeping others up to date. Sometimes you need to make difficult, micro-level decisions on resource allocation and employment.”

With a degree in economic sciences, you can go to Wall Street and make money. But you can also make decisions on how resources are allocated, which is a wonderful opportunity to do good."

What is your most important leadership lesson?

“I emphasize listening. It is extremely important to listen to people. This has been a major challenge during the corona period, as there’s only so much you can convey in remote discussions. Learning to read people’s expressions and manners is just as important as listening to the words.”

Only 31 percent of students admitted into Aalto University School of Business programs were women. How can the gender balance be improved?

“31 percent is a shockingly low figure. We see this as a societal issue and are currently looking into the reasons for this imbalance. In finance, the imbalance issue is global, but our entire School of Business is seeing fewer and fewer applications from women. 10–15 years ago the situation was half and half.

We have, for example, surveyed upper secondary school girls’ perceptions of the School of Business. Quite appalling things have come up: calculating, competitive, focused on personal success.

Upper secondary female students outside the capital region know very little of us on average.

We have an image problem. I see two communication challenges. With a degree in economic sciences, you can go to Wall Street and make money. But you can also make decisions on how resources are allocated, which is a wonderful opportunity to do good. This angle should be more widespread.

Secondly, sustainable development is a focus area for Aalto in general, and it is our strength. Economic sciences offer an extensive readiness in several areas.”

What do you rely on at times of crisis and restlessness?

“We have operated in quite a fog for two years in a row. Sometimes universities are criticized for being too scientific. During uncertain times, I find it a strength that all actions are based on a theoretical framework. On the other hand, our task is to also produce fast information to support current decision-making.

We also urgently need reliable information. The way I see it, it has increased the value of universities. At the university, we need to make sure that we use science to approach things in an unbiased way in the future as well.”

At the university, we need to make sure that we use science to approach things in an unbiased way in the future as well."

Together with Gönül Colak, Professor of Finance at Hanken, you have studied CEO mobility. What discoveries do you wish to share with those applying for leadership positions?

“Companies significantly work towards preventing personnel mobility: long executive employment contracts and non-competition clauses. Our research challenges these measures. Our research results signify that it is good for people to move around. CEOs should rather be instructed to keep their LinkedIn page and resumé in shape.”

That sounds a little wild. Please explain.

“We studied how corporate risk-taking, and thus growth, are impacted when the CEO believes that they are in their final CEO job or that there is no other work available. Our sampling is from the US. We produced strong empirical results indicating that a CEO with other employment possibilities is more enthusiastic risk-taking than a peer with no other employment outlook. When taking a risk, the CEO simultaneously hurts their own position. If they do not see other chances for employment, they may rather focus on ensuring the scope of their current job. It is not a novel idea, but one that has seen quite little empirical study.”

Did you make surprising discoveries?

“We compared the intensity of the mobility effect according to each state. The US has state-specific legislation on non-competition agreements and other clauses hindering mobility. This provides an excellent laboratory for the researcher. This way, we got verification for the fact that when you limit mobility, you also hinder corporate risk-taking and growth opportunities.”

What are you reading or listening to at the moment?

“Frankly, I’m ashamed of how little I have time to read. But I have really started to like podcasts. When driving or on the move, I listen to the Financial Times and The Economist. Listening to them keeps me informed and highlights the value of high-quality journalism.”

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