Jari Hietala, a Vice President of Finpro South East Asia, stations in Bangkok, Finpro’s S.E. Asia Head Quarter. He’s been here once before in 1994-1998 as a Trade Commissioner of Finnish Foreign Trade Association based in Thailand.
Now he is responsible for Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia
“Thailand is the main office because I am here. I could have chosen Singapore but I love Thailand,” says Mr.Hietala.
“As an official part of the embassy, we are not restricted in the same way as companies are,” continues Mr.Hietala. “If we were a company, we would have to take into consideration taxation, ownership restrictions and other rules and regulations affecting normal business operations, but not us. Having my base in Thailand is also my cost efficient for Finpro”
Finpro is a non-profit organization operating in some 40 countries worldwide. It is also called as the commercial section of the Finnish Embassy that builds access to the market for Finnish companies; it helps companies to enter the international market which means all kind of activities that will increase their international competitiveness.
“It can even mean moving production from Finland to Thailand or buying components made in Thailand and exporting them to Finland. Anything that will improve our clients competitiveness internationally is Finpro’s interest,” says Mr.Hietala.
“It’s more risky business than just exports promotion”.
100 Companies per Year
Finpro’s S.E Asia deals with some hundred companies every year.
“We see different companies going through similar situations all the time,” says Mr.Hietala. “We have seen some companies succeed and others fail, and we begin to understand what it takes to be successful. The best thing in this job is that we learn so much every day. It is life long learning”.
Most of the clients are found by Finpro, usually Finnish companies. “We approach them rather than they approach us” Mr.Hietala explains how Finpro works.
“Everything we do is based on trying to understand what’s happening in Thailand, where are the new business opportunities. We monitor our environment all the time and when we see the opportunity, we think for which company this opportunity maybe interesting and we contact that company in Finland. Later we discuss and try to understand what they need in order to be successful”.
Almost all of Finpro’s cases deal with building market access for Finnish companies and finding partners. It’s Finpro’s job to analyze the market and identify the segments where the Finnish company has the best opportunity and Finpro suggests what type of partner concept the Finnish company needs
“The business is currently easier because China has become a very fashionable place to do business for both big and small Finnish companies. So the companies have often learned something about the Asian way of doing business. In earlier years it was more difficult to convince companies to enter the South East Asian markets than what it is today,” says Mr. Hietala.
A growing part of Finpro’s projects are so called Innovation Programs which are usually very large projects, sometimes even global projects with many countries and organizations involved.
“We have some projects under development to help Thailand and other Asian countries such as one project for road safety,” says Mr.Hietala.
“We have been told by the Thai authorities that according to statistics, there are 500 times more road accidents in Thailand than in Finland in relation to the population, so I think we have something to contribute to help Thailand improve its road safety”.
Mr. Hietala says that the way Finpro is operating make it a little bit different from the other countries’ trade promotion organizations in the sense that nobody else, at least not in Scandinavia, has developed this Innovation Program the same way that they have.
“It is very challenging. The Innovation Program deals with exploring the unknown; we don’t know what the outcome is going to be, once we’ve started,” says Mr. Hietala
Mr. Hietala insists on following Finpro’s values when it comes to work ethic.
“Being a Finnish organization when we speak about ethics and moral we just follow the Finnish culture,” says Mr.Hietala.
“For example Finland ranks the least corrupt country in the world for many years. This is the area where there’s a difference between Thailand and Finland. What a Thai may consider being perfectly acceptable, when they’re speaking about things that are not necessary 100% correct or true, the Finn says it’s unacceptable. For the Finn every word they say is supposed to be true. They mean what they say and they say what they mean”.
Beside business Jari Hietala’s life is pretty much about golf. He started to play golf in Thailand 1994 and has enjoyed it ever since.
“I started it because I thought I had to, everybody told me that “you have to play golf”, but now when I got it going, I’m really enthusiastic about golf, I play as much as I can and most of my friends are golfers”