Aalto University Executive Education’s solutions for business challenges

Jukka Majanen leads the Finnish organisation’s Asia expansion

Education professional Jukka Majanen, previously working for INSEAD – and in his 30th year in Singapore – has, since 2023, been with the Finnish company Aalto University Executive Education (Aalto EE). Get to know more about Jukka, Aalto EE and also about ‘lifewide education’ – spearheaded by this Finnish education institute!

Jukka Majanen, Executive Director at Aalto University Executive Education (Aalto EE) in Singapore
Jukka Majanen, Executive Director at Aalto University Executive Education (Aalto EE) in Singapore

Jukka initially moved to Singapore back in 1994. He got this first degree in Finland and then a Master of International Management in the U.S.

“At INSEAD I was always on the executive education side. INSEAD runs the world’s largest MBA programme, also EMBA programmes etc. I was however involved in the corporate training – non-degree programmes. I shifted to the custom solutions a number of years ago and that’s one type of programmes we do here at Aalto EE as well – where you really design them from scratch for any organisation – businesses having some challenges; building up the leadership pipeline, wanting to create a more innovative culture, a more sustainable organisation, or concerning a merger and acquisition situation where you have to bring the cultures together. Whatever the business challenge might be – you then design a custom programme for that,” begins Jukka.

Understanding business issues

“In the executive education business and the kind of role that I’ve been in, and what I now do also at Aalto EE, you need to understand those business issues. Where’s the pain of the company? Why are they thinking of sending people to some programme; what’s the reason behind it? Taking people out of their offices and paying tuition fees can be costly investments in terms of time and money. So you need to be targeted. And it requires doing analysis, understanding the particular business and the motivations of their people and what they are they trying to achieve. That’s key. And you get better at it over time; I’ve been in this business for over twenty years. You may never fully arrive; you just get a better understanding of different scenarios. A multinational is very different from a local company let alone the government – they all have very different issues,” Jukka elaborates.

As for the needs analysis, the diagnosis, he likes to compare it to the role of a doctor: finding the root of the pain and then prescribing the medicine or conducting the treatment. “In our business the programme is medicine; what we deliver to our clients. That sort of skill you develop over time; especially in the custom side when you design from basically a blank sheet of paper.”

“And it happens that you encounter these very different issues that you don’t have a template for. But it’s not every school or university that can do it – it requires willingness to design something new and really spend time on it. I think Aalto is quite good at that; we design very creative programmes. I’m talking about also of my colleagues in Helsinki, where we have a big team doing some really interesting stuff, designing solutions to very complex problems for organisations,” he adds.

“I always say that the kind of training we do is not really just competence or skills development – executive education at its best is really changing people’s behaviour somehow, that they either start doing different things or they do things differently when they go back to the office – that’s where the impact of the programme is. And it’s amazing to see what impact you can really create; people coming back to you afterwards telling how they changed their leadership behaviours or restructured their organisation or whatever.”

Jukka Majanen, Aalto EE, speaking at a Graduation ceremony in Taiwan
Jukka Majanen, Aalto EE, speaking at a Graduation ceremony in Taiwan

Aalto in Singapore since year 2000

In 2023 the position of Executive Director of Aalto EE’s operations in Asia became vacant, to which Jukka applied and was appointed. “I knew that this position was going to be vacant as my predecessor was moving back to Finland. I decided to go for it, with a fairly stringent process to go through. And it’s a big change; even though the industry is the same my role is very different. The organisation is very different. And also appealing to me was not only the Finnish connection but the Aalto brand.”

“We have had an office in Singapore since 2000 – until 2010 operating as Helsinki School of Economics – so we’ve been here for 24 years. It was a pretty bold step: to my knowledge Aalto is still the only Nordic university and business school having this kind of operations in Asia; with own presence and doing these kind of executive education programmes It was the dean of the business school who just saw potential in Asia in the mid 1990s. And they found a very good partner in Seoul, Korea that we still work with. Imagine – a Finnish university has nearly 5,000 alumni in Korea alone! We have over 2,000 in Taiwan as well, where we have run an Executive MBA programme since year 2000 – it’s quite remarkable for European or Finnish University to do that,” thinks Jukka.

“Why do Asian companies and organisations keep on working with us? One thing is that we teach very differently from many of the Asian organisations – in general we teach in a very interactive way, where it’s really about trying to be very practical and not lecture that much, doing lots of workshop simulations… these kind of things. And this is not really the Asian way, traditionally, where it’s more about: learn, learn, learn, test, test, test…”

Aalto spearheads ‘Lifewide Learning’

Jukka Majanen, ED at Aalto EE, Singapore
Jukka Majanen, ED at Aalto EE, Singapore

“We come from a world where it used to be ‘Learn, then earn’. That has definitely changed. Now, you learn, then earn, learn again, earn… and that that’s where the ‘lifelong learning’ concept enters the scene. People are expected to keep themselves up-to-date..The speed of change is so fast that if you don’t advance your knowledge you, individually, or your organisation, will fall behind.”

Enter ‘Lifewide Learning’, spearheaded by Aalto! Jukka explains: “These are very different kinds of products, with smaller chunks, and which can be designed as microcredentials. It’s being pushed hard by Aalto, being the leader in Finland in this, and, I believe, even at European level. But it’s new; only emerging now really.”

“And it’s not just a branding exercise; it concerns how we mentally think about that. When you say ‘lifelong’ it kind of implies a linear mindset. With ‘lifewide’ we try to communicate that it’s more multidimensional: ‘Look at what you’re doing right now, what position are you in? How do you upgrade your skills right now? And how do you sort of expand your scope?. So that’s partly why we call it lifewide learning,” he elaborates.

“We’re doing quite a lot of development on this, within Aalto EE and at the university level. My boss Tom Lindholm, based in Helsinki, is not only the Managing Director of Aalto Executive Education, but also the head of Lifewide Learning at the University.

In a dedicated ‘Aalto Leaders Insight’ story (‘What is the Future of Lifewide Learning?’) Tom Lindholm talks about Aalto’s role as follows: 1) find new ways to provide easily accessible modular learning content for individual learners. There is a clear increase in demand, as people seek to update their existing knowledge based on latest research and acquire completely new competences to remain competitive and relevant in the job market; 2) meet the need to support organisations in their transformation, such as upskilling and reskilling.

Keeping populations at the leading edge

Jukka, like many others, thinks that “Finland has built this reputation of having a very good education system, one which is really well-known around the world. It’s amazing how well people know it. So you have to give credit to the government how they have really created the conditions for that to happen. And then of course we providers benefit from that because people look up to Finland.’

“In the Nordics we are truly knowledge societies, where if you don’t keep your population at the leading edge your future is not going to be very bright. I think the countries realise that, and are really pushing it very hard right now, with things like AI development, and then of course the educational providers along with it. It’s super important to do. Singapore has the same challenge and even more so with little national resources.”

Jukka Majanen, Aalto EE, with EMBA students at a ceremony in Taiwan
Jukka Majanen, Aalto EE, with EMBA students at a ceremony in Taiwan

In this context Jukka notes that many are very keen to learn from the Nordics, knowing that those countries are top ranking for most things. “‘You must be doing something right from a leadership point of view and governance’ and so on. And I think all the Nordic players have opportunities in that sense. And then companies and organisational like us can ride a on that branding. Personally I have to recognise that it helps me tremendously, because I don’t need to say much more than ‘Finland’ to get people in Asia excited,” he notes.

Aalto EE is also considering how ‘Nordic leadership’, as a concept, could be brought to Asia: “You cannot just copy and paste it, as the cultures are different. The question is what you can learn from it; what you can adopt and adapt. We are planning to launch some programmes within this later in 2024.”

In the extremely competitive landscape in Asia there are some other areas where Aalto EE strives to specialise, or differentiate in, with sustainability being among those. “Finland is considered a leading nation in sustainability and we conduct lots of research and teaching in that.“

“Aalto EE offers sustainability-related public programmes, where one can take courses individually. “We are also working on a new Executive MBA focused on sustainability, and which also people from other countries such as Thailand can join easily,” informs Jukka. Another one is digital disruption and technology adoption; how to build a data-driven organisation including data analytics and AI, combining tech and business and even design. That’s another strong area of our university. A third one is entrepreneurship: we have quite a lot of experience in that, helping companies build entrepreneurial cultures.”

For Aalto EE in Asia growth is a key goal, confirms Jukka. “We have good opportunities. Of the Finnish universities Aalto is by far the most international and it’s a strategic decision to have this presence in Asia.”

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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One Comment on “Aalto University Executive Education’s solutions for business challenges”

  1. What analogy does the speaker use to describe the process of designing custom solutions?

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