“I’m a very simple man, I work in a simple way. I just want to put companies together”, he says, explaining his role as Executive Director at The Thai-Finnish Chamber of Commerce.
Karri Kivelä prefers not to complicate things more than necessary.
It was far from written in the stars, when the 58-year old Finn was appointed as an Executive Director of TTFC on October 21th 2015. Karri Kivelä’s background differs a lot from what’s expected in this position, carrying twenty-five years of experience from sponsorship planning and sponsorship sales in his early career, before he changed track and got into handling business accounts at Logonet Group in 2007, where he’s still present.
It was the job at Logonet that brought Karri Kivelä to Bangkok, when they opened a position in Thailand in August 2012.
“I was in the mid-fifties, divorced with a grown-up child, my health was good and I’ve always been working in a global context. Basically nothing was holding me back“, he explains, when ScandMedia meets him at the TFCC office. So Karri Kivelä sought the opportunity right away, never concerned about leaving the tall pines for lazy palms and all the changes following that kind of transition.
“I always have a smile on my face and never had a problem getting along with people. I’m a very open person and Thailand is an easy place to live in and get along.“
After two years in exile, in the summer of 2014 he got into the Board of TFCC, engaging himself when a major revamp was taking place. Back then TFCC was falling behind the Nordic Chambers in Bangkok, which are their natural benchmarks.
“We had many challenges compared to other Chambers. Team Finland in Bangkok lacked government funded trade people who are vital in a team consisting in the Embassy, the Chamber and Trade representation. In the Chamber we started to ‘make Finland great again’ in Thailand. Now Team Finland is getting more help and co-operation from a working Chamber.”, Karri Kivelä explains.
Finland’s export to Thailand hasn’t changed much during the last five years. TFCC has found a way of making the non-profit Chamber fully operating and staying in line with other Nordic Chambers with support from six partners, fifty corporate members and ten individual members all eager to establish and develop trade links between Finland and Thailand.
TFCC partners represent the biggest Finnish global export companies such as Kone, Konecranes and Valmet. Karri Kivela is very satisfied having the trust of Finnish heavyweights but he hopes that the Finns would succeed “to sell something smaller than a horse“ to foreign markets.
“There are lots of innovative people in Finland with new products to end consumers. We are global leaders in IT, Clean Technology and Education. TFCC just needs to inform these start-ups and already established companies in Finland of the opportunities in Thailand”, Karri Kivela states and points at Codemate, a software development company with roots in Finland sharing office with TFCC, as a good example of a Finnish know-how success in Thailand and SEA.
There are many ways to lower the fence and to bring more similar success stories to Thailand, according to Karri Kivela. Firstly he wants young entrepreneurs and students to seek the opportunities in South East Asia instead of staying in the biting cold North for most of the year.
“We just need to show them how nice and warm it is“, he says and points that Finland also needs to tell more positive stories about themselves in the region.
“Most people don’t know that Nokia originated from Finland and that the Finns invented mobile phones. Everyone has a mobile phone and everyone can relate to that, so we can tell them that this is another success story from Finland“, he says.
In branding perspective an important year is fast approaching for Finland: Year 2017 will be the nation’s 100th anniversary. TFCC has just started planning for this in cooperation with the Embassy and Team Finland. Presenting Finnish innovations, design, entertainment and culture is on the agenda with some Sibelius tunes – just to mention some of the fruits expected.
Focusing on the present year for TFCC, Karri Kivela has a clear strategy to connect with other Chambers of Commerce. TFCC wants to keep working closely with the Nordic Chambers in Bangkok, as this benefits all, and the same goes for Finnish Business Councils in the SEA region; especially the Finnish Business Council in Singapore, not forgetting the nineteen domestic Chambers of Commerce within Finland, he states.
One of the biggest challenges for any international company in Thailand is to find skilled Thai workers and to be able to handle the operations smoothly with all Thai staff with one or two international country managers. Good HR practices are essential for companies in Thailand and TFCC wants to be active in organizing seminars in this field.
Whether the Blue Cross Flag will set its mark on Thailand and SEA in the coming years, we’ll have to wait and see. Right now elevators and escalators from Kone are seen all over the country while Rapala lures are floating in the lakes and rivers of Thailand.
Funny story: Karri Kivela took a honourable 27th place in a Rapala fishing competition in November 2015, with more than two-hundred local Thai fishermen. Not bad.