An Interview with the Embassy's Trade Counsellor, Jarno Valkeapää
Jarno Valkeapää works as the Trade Counsellor at the Embassy of Finland in Ottawa. We talked to Jarno about his first year in Ottawa and his work connecting Finnish companies to business opportunities in Canada.
First of all, how did you end up at the Embassy of Finland, Ottawa?
Prior to joining the Embassy I was employed at Finpro (Finnish Trade Promotion Company), and at the time Finpro and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were finding ways to collaborate more closely. They were advertising new positions in the Ministry called Team Finland Special Advisors which were created to fill in some of the areas that Finpro is not present. As soon as I heard the word “Canada”, I knew it was a job that I had to apply to. So really, the timing was right and the job requirements for this type of job fit my background because I knew the Finnish companies and industries.
How has the first year been in at this job and in Canada?
Well, in February 2016 when they called and asked if I would be interested in the job, the position was already supposed to start on January 1st, so there was a lot to catch up on. So the first year has been very hectic with a lot of new things to learn about – which I’ve enjoyed a lot and it has been a positive experience. I’m tasked with helping Finnish SMEs (Small and Medium enterprises) to find business opportunities in Canada and to be a kind of door opener who can facilitate the necessary connections. My objective is clear, it’s just a matter of learning how and where to develop these connections in Canada. To do so, I have been working together with my Finnish counterparts and the Embassy staff here in Ottawa.
What do you think is the most rewarding and challenging thing in this new position?
What has been most rewarding is the feedback I have received. Canadians have said to me that they now know how to contact Finnish businesses, so as the word has spread I have been getting more jobs. That is rewarding, but the ultimate reward is that Finnish businesses either expands their businesses to Canada or at least start seriously looking into the Canadian market. These rewards won’t be seen for a couple of years as it takes time to establish in a new market, but when I see a Finnish company be successful in Canada then I know I’ve done my job.
The first word that comes to my mind in terms of the challenging part is “focusing”. The scale of things in Canada, and the size of the country is something you only realize once you are here. There is a lot of time spent travelling and you need to build separate networks across provinces due to the differences between them. There is a lot going on and many different opportunities and it can be challenging to know where to focus your energy. From a business perspective the best plan is to try to pick the low-hanging fruit. I think this will be easier once we build a more comprehensive network.
What do you see as the most promising industries for Finnish companies in the Canadian market?
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that in Canada they needed someone with Arctic knowledge as they see it as an opportunity for Finnish companies, specifically in the Forestry and the bioproduct industry. So that focus area really fits within my background since I’m trained as a forester and I’ve been helping similar companies in Finland. Two other main areas I’ve been focusing on during my first year in Canada are the mining and maritime industries. Canadian mining companies have invested a lot in Finland and they know the Finnish technology, so Finnish companies already have a good reputation here. So there’s potential for investment in Finnish mining technologies in Canada. In terms of the maritime industry, some Finnish companies are already established in Canada and they know their counterparts.
I think there are a couple of industries with a lot of potential in Canada for Finnish businesses. In Finland there are many remote areas – although not as remote as they are here in Canada –and we have established good eLearning and eHealth services. This could be used to improve services in remote towns and indigenous communities in Canada. In order to use these services telecommunication infrastructure is needed and that is another business opportunity I see for Finnish companies.
How would you describe a typical day at work in the embassy?
My day kind of works in two shifts, there’s the Finnish shift and the Canadian shift. When I wake up at home I generally check my emails and do some quick answers because it’s already the afternoon in Finland so if I sent something yesterday afternoon they may have already replied. So in the morning I usually work with the Finnish end and the Canadian shift begins after that. My typical day involves many phone calls to Canadian and Finnish counterparts and some meetings here at the embassy. It’s very non-structured and there’s often something popping-up that you don’t plan for every day. Sometimes it’s stressful, but it fits me well.
Do you have some form of long-term plan or something you want to achieve within the next couple of years?
That’s a good question because I still feel like I’ve just started here. Presently my term is until the end of 2018, and if I leave then, the plan would be to have what I’ve started continue after me. There is a need for this kind of mediator between Canadian businesses and organizations and their Finnish counterparts, so my long-term plan is to see that the connections made can carry on. I don’t know what my future holds but I am focused wholeheartedly on creating a strong network of Canadian and Finnish businesses.
What are your interests outside of work?
I would love to explore more of the Canadian nature, but I never seem to have much time to do so. But to handle this kind of job you need something outside of work and that would be sports and the outdoors for me. I’ve enjoyed the nearby Gatineau Park and its skiing opportunities last winter. I have a bit of a dilemma being in Canada because there’s so much beautiful nature to explore but I’ve hardly had any time to enjoy it yet. A part of what I enjoy about being out in nature is that it allows me to be disconnected. My family also keeps me very busy and detached from work. Over the past year I’ve also become a bit of an Ottawa Senators fan and I’ve enjoyed their journey to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.