While Hong Kong as such may be looked upon with uncertainty recently, FinnCham Hong Kong can, in comparison, be deemed as a beacon of stability, celebrating 35 years in 2021. However, as Hong Hong has changed a lot over the years, so has the Finnish Chamber. ScandAsia learns more from its new Executive Director (ED), Elina Koski.
Covid-19 has obviously disrupted life in general also in Hong Kong, while things are pretty much back to normal now. Businesses and expats have been forced to adapt in ways at one’s disposal, while access to the larger Greater Bay area remains off limits from those being in Hong Kong.
2021 has also meant big and positive changes for Elina Koski. First is of course the appointment as FinnCham Hong Kong’s news ED early in the year, and second is that she has become the mother of a baby boy.
Elina says that she is appreciative that FinnCham HK gave her the opportunity to become its new ED even though she was just about to give birth. This managing role in the chamber was flexible in its nature also previously so the work-from-home structure that has very much become the norm during Covid-19 was already practiced by FinnCham HK previously.
“I think it is a good thing, and because it’s a very independent role; you can work from wherever suits you. I am my own boss, and can decide more in this role, even if I couldn’t take maternity leave, when I started as ED. In the long run it is a great opportunity and also a flexible role,” thinks Elina, who has already lived in Hong Kong and China for a few years with her family.
“Having a baby is of course a big change, but the main thing is that here in Hong Kong you can hire domestic help – otherwise you simply can’t work. That suits me quite well, to be able to have family and work combined at the same time. In Finland you would stay home for at least one year and take care of the whole household and the baby. Of course it is hectic, but I’m just trying to be effective; you want to spend time with the baby also, so when you work you do it 100 per cent,” she continues.
Elina is the only full time employee at the Finnish chamber, and usually supported by two interns, who help out with events, marketing and representation etc. Now, staff can once again also go to the workplace in Covid-19-free Hong Kong.
“I’m very flexible about from where you work, as long as things get done. I will try to be at our office twice a week at least. I think it’s important, and beneficial, to meet people physically and have some time face-to-face.”
Her family lives in the resort town of Disovery Bay on Lantau Island, which is a half-an-hour ferry ride away from downtown Hong Kong. Other interests, besides the work, are travel and exercising, such as trekking.
“It’s a quite remote and nice international suburb, almost one hour from the office in Hong Kong. People do hiking a lot, which we do with our two Chinese rescue dogs, going for long walks.”
They have also joined a Mandarin playgroup for their newborn son. “As long as we live here it will be great that our child can learn Chinese! I have also studied Chinese here but it’s so difficult! When we lived in Shenzhen we really needed to speak it every day but here in Hong Kong we don’t.“
Travelling more in China is also something Elina wishes to do, once possible again. Reopening the border between Hong Kong and China is a priority for both parties.
“Of course a lot of people are stuck on one side or the other, like my husband who has been working from home for almost two years. And for example, transferring money from China can be very tricky, when you cannot go there. And there are some people whose visas have expired but they cannot go to China to renew them.”
Elina relocated to Asia in 2018, first to Shenzhen, because her husband worked there, for one and a half years. Then they moved over to Hong Kong when Elina was offered a job there for a Finnish firm called Liana Technologies.
Previously she had also lived for example in Australia and Singapore for a year respectively, studying and working respectively.
At first she started Nordic Wild Foods, representing various Nordic superfood brands (berry powder) and doing the marketing and sales of those in Hong Kong.
“But quite soon I changed and shifted to consulting. I started helping other brands with marketing, research, go-to-market plans etc.”
In addition she got hired by Liana as Regional Director of Sales & Marketing, working with both Finnish and local clients in China and Hong Kong.
“I realised when I started my own brand that a lot of marketing investment was needed and decided that it was better to represent others’ products. Now, I am helping the Nordic brands here at FinnCham with similar things. But it was a good experience and I met many people and built my network within that area.”
Ever since arriving to China, Elina and her husband have been active members in the Finnish chamber and attending events. Elina previously chaired the Women in Business Committee, which has been turned into Diversity and Exclusiveness, so these days also for men.
“We do have a few committees and I think it’s a great for networking and getting to know people – the main benefit from joining a chamber,” she thinks.
Now, in her ED role, aside having the team of interns, Elina obviously also works very closely with the Board of Directors.
One committee of special importance is the Greater Bay Area Committee, that works in close collaboration with Finnish Business Council Guangdong. This committee provides useful information regarding business in mainland China and with cross-border business between Hong Kong and mainland China.
“There are some changes happening including putting the spotlight on the Greater Bay area. It is a growing area that people in Finland are not that familiar with, even though it is already competing with Silicon Valley etc. globally. That should be of interest to our members as well that we are not only concentrating on Hong Kong, but the Greater Bay area, with its population of 75 million people. There are lots of opportunities and I think we have to start concentrating on that more. We also need to strengthen the collaboration with other Nordic chambers in Hong Kong and also the other Finnish business councils in China. I can see in front of us a lot more Nordic collaborations,” says Elina.
“Also, I’m really focusing on how we can offer our members more value. FinnCham has been here for 35 years, during which Hong Kong has been changing a lot. And maybe ten years ago it was enough with us offering some nice parties and networking events, where there was usually a Finnish person in each member company who would be happy to join. But now there are actually many local people heading Finnish companies here and that is a big change. So we have to offer real value for them, which is more than to just the opportunity to attend the annual crayfish party etc.,” she continues.
The shift to hire more locals has already happened, but, regardless, there are still new Finnish people and families arriving to Hong Kong.
FinnCham HK is in addition looking for ways to find local members in order to increase the network.
“We have to be meaningful, and must have the network here for anyone considering Hong Kong or going to mainland China through Hong Kong. If they need a company secretary, a lawyer or any kind of help we are here to help them.”
“If it’s a start-up from Finland it really depends on what sector; if it’s a company looking to start a business here I might connect them with Invest Hong Kong; I always try to find somebody from our network and we have a few corporate members offering such services. If it happens to be food and beverage we might connect them with one our members representing some Finnish F&B companies here.”
“I also used to study in Lapland where I took my Master’s degree in tourism, and I very much would like to concentrate on helping for example Finnish tourism and travel companies to come to Hong Kong and promote here.”
“It’s a very interesting and versatile job; sales, marketing, events… lots of things. And I really enjoy helping Finnish or Nordic companies to enter this market. On the other hand we have to find ways for business opportunities for local companies in the Finland and the Nordics.
The chamber will also launch its own paid services going forward, based on some packages: “We don’t get any government funding from Finland so in that sense we are different from Business Finland for example. We also have to find new ways for revenue, through giving services.”
Other key collaborations are with the Nordic Innovation House HK as well as the Consulate General of Finland in Hong Kong, and especially their new resource the Consul for Trade and Investment, Mr Mika Finska.
With NIH-HK, Hong Kong Cyberport and the Create HK agency, the chamber is also involved in a one-year programme which aims at creating market opportunities in Finland and Sweden for digital entertainment and gaming companies from Hong Kong.
On the impact from Covid-19 it has been both bad and good. “Our members from certain industries have been hit harder, but there are new and increased opportunities for some companies as well. Lifa Air, for example, produces masks and focus on the indoor air quality.”
Some Finnish companies have also left Hong Kong and shifted their respective head office to Shanghai, Elina informs.
“Politically we are of course closely monitoring what is going to happen with China. I just want to highlight that there has been a lot of bad publicity, with the protests and Covid-19, but Hong Kong is very safe and it is very to set up at business here. The Business language is English, the tax system is very competitive, and it’s a great gateway to China, and other Asian countries as well. Hong Kong is still a great place to be and if you are looking at entering the mainland market it’s usually quite complicated so usually one gets started in Hong Kong. Therefore you still have lots of benefits and good things. That is also what I want to communicate in my role; sharing good news from Hong Kong.”