Number two of this month’s interview calendar is Ari-Pekka Pelkonen, IT Management pro and Finnish guy with a twist.
He just started his own IT company called Spark Studio that helps companies ignite their business, whether with service design or management consulting.
For how long have you been living here? Let’s see, I was born and raised in Tapiola and then we moved to the U.S. when I was five and I came back when I was eleven; and then until 27 I lived here but also lived for some years in Jyväskylä. So more or less 20 years.
How do you like Helsinki? I like Helsinki more than I like Espoo, where I’m originally from. It’s a city that is big but at the same time small, and lately it has been changing quite a lot, with all these new start-ups, pop-up restaurants and coffeehouses. It’s a lot different than it was when I was young.
How was it when you were young? A lot of the nightlife and things to do were less. They were usually part of S-ryhmä, the S-Group. So now you have much more variety of possibilities of what to do.
Do you have a favourite spot in Helsinki? One place that I like to go is the seashore by Café Regatta. I think that’s a really nice place just to chill and relax. But also the central park, maybe because it’s so natural. It’s not a park per se, it’s more a forest. From where we live, you just walk five minutes and you feel like your 40 kilometres outside of Helsinki.
What do you do for a living? We just started our own company called Spark Studio. We offer management consulting, and service design. My expertise is also IT management. So together with my business partner Stefanie Hofeman, we help companies improve their existing or new services that they’re building up.
Do you have a special business approach? Our approach is that we start with service design and we try to help the companies with building a prototype or a new idea of what to do and then the companies from there on can decide whether to continue with us to actually build the end product or end service and if they do, then we can offer an independent view of how to do it.
Do you have a personal or work mantra? Well, not a mantra, but I always try to be open and positive and keep the client in the centre. You know that you’re working for them and you shouldn’t have your own agenda in the background.
Do you think you have some kind of American side? I think I do, it’s from living there so long. I started school there, so first of all, I learned how to talk in a different language and through that maybe I’ve also learned a lot from another culture. The U.S. is more open in some respects than the Finnish culture is. Their parents allow their kids to talk and experiment, talk in the bus or tram. And here, when you look at kids and they talk in the tram, their parents are just saying, shhh, be quiet, you can’t make noise, that’s pretty sad.
How often did you radically change your life? I’d say maybe three or four times. The first time was, when I decided to get another degree and move to Jyväskylä and study there. The second time when I moved back to Helsinki and then in 2009, when I left from a very good position and jumped into something new, which turned out to be an even greater opportunity. And then the last time, that now I’m an entrepreneur.
What have you been proud of lately? That our business has started off very well, that I’ve enough clients and projects and that more are coming in.
What is your dream? To retire at 40.
What would you do then? How old are you again? (Laughs) I’m 37. Well, let’s say my dream is to just keep living the way I am. There are so many positive things going on right now. If I’m healthy and things go as they are right now, that’s good enough.
The older you grow, what’s getting easier for you? Enjoying free time, letting go and stopping working and just enjoying the nature and being outside and being with friends. I think it grows. It’s getting more and more important, the older you grow.
What is your favourite question? I usually ask something very stupid and out of context, to break the ice. But I don’t think there is anything that I always ask.
Do you think you have some kind of Finnish side? I think I do. Some of the things that Finns value, for instance nature and sauna, as well as Finnish food; and also Finnish mentality and being honest and certain values like that. Every culture has them but somehow Finnish culture is more respected for honesty and straightforwardness. I think I have these things with a twist to it. I’m straightforward, but I try to tell it with a joke.
Do you have phobias? Yes, snakes. The phobia is actually from having a snake around me. I was nine years old and we lived in Colorado back then and the zoo came to school, to present animals and this zoo lady had this huge boa, I don’t know how long it was. They asked someone to come on stage. The snake was put around my arm. The lady was telling everyone how a boa constrictor works, so what it does it tries to choke somebody to death, so when they have an animal they just squeeze it harder and harder.
And then it started squeezing me! I tried to tell her, it’s hurting, please help, but it took her a little while to get the snake off. After that experience I don’t want to be near them at all!
What’s your favourite story? Lately, I’ve been joking about the differences between business lives in the Nordics. How different Finns, Danish, Swedish or Norwegian sometimes are. How the Swedes like to just discuss. Danes promise things and they never deliver on time because they start six years too late and so on. Pointing out these things, that’s what I kind of do. It works, but then sometimes when you tell it to a Swede, Dane or Norwegian, they get it after a while, but first they are kind of irritated and feel a little criticized.
Thank you for your time!