The Glue of European Trade

Karri Kivelä, EABC’s new executive director

EABC’s new executive director, Finnish Karri Kivelä, talks about his transition from assisting the Finnish trade community to advocating companies from all over Europe, and what life is like in the sunny Thailand.

Fleeing from Finland’s freezing climate to the allure of endless summer in Thailand, Karri Kivelä, who was formerly Executive Director of Thai-Finnish Chamber of Commerce (TFCC), recently took charge as new Executive Director of European Association for Business and Commerce (EABC). With his new role, he is tasked to advocate European companies how to successfully do business in Thailand.

From our last conversation with Karri three years ago in 2016, we learn that the-61-year old Karri Kivelä was born in Helsinki, Finland, and earned a Bachelor of Commerce from Saint Mary’s University, Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1983.

Before moving to Thailand in 2012, Karri has been working in sport and entertainment event production for over 25 years. From 2012 to 2015 Karri worked as Business Development Manager for the Finnish company, Logonet Promotion, which granted him an opportunity to move to Thailand. Then, he joined the board of TFCC in 2014. And now Karri takes the office of European Association for Business and Commerce as an Executive Director.

Karri told us that his role as Executive Director at TFCC for almost three years helps him prepare for taking the new position at EABC. He has gone through many obstacles but one memory that seems to be the most noteworthy for him is that, early on in his tenure, TFCC was in critical situation.

Karri Kivelä when he was working at TFCC as Executive Director (Photo: Disraporn Yatprom)

“I knew that something went wrong when I realized we only had 50 companies as our members at that time. It was disastrous because TFCC is funded by members and when we had only 50 members, it means we had little money to facilitate the operation,” Karri recalled. Not deterred or disheartened by the grim outlook, Karri marched on, working tirelessly to get the operation back on track. The difficult time armed him with knowledge and know-how, and earned him an opportunity to shine in his career.

As a result of the extra effort, TFCC doubled its members to 100 in the course of three years. “At that time we were the fastest growing chambers of commerce in Thailand and I am happy that TFCC has thrived and become very successful. Now that I’m leaving my success behind to move forward to EABC, I’m very happy about what we have accomplished, Karri expressed.

Having gone through several prominent positions in his career, Karri in his 60s is excited to take the new role at EABC. He even shared the good news via social media. “I posted on my Facebook account to tell all my friends from Finland that I got a new job in my 60s!” he laughed.

EABC is an advocacy organization aiming to facilitate European companies to operate the business in Thailand as well as to promote Thailand as a high potential trade and attractive investment destination for European business.

Though he has accomplished his career at TFCC, Karri found it’s quite challenging to work as Executive Director at EABC. “Now, I have to deal with various companies from across Europe and I as Executive Director don’t have the relative background. For example, I may not have much mutual understanding, or you could say the “glue”, with French companies the same way I do with Finnish companies,” he said.

Karri aspires to be the “glue guy” who holds all members together regardless of where they came from in Europe to provide benefit to all members. “We have to show the members how to do the business here in Thailand which is the same thing that what I did at TFCC but with a larger scale,” he stressed.

Karri Kivelä, EABC’s new executive director (Photo: EABC’s website)

Karri had lived most of his life in Helsinki before he decided it was time to move from cold Finland to extremely hot Thailand. “I lived 45 years in Finland where it’s very dark and also very cold. I also wanted to come and see a lot of differences in Thailand through their culture and ways of life. So, I thought it’s about time to find out something new in the world,” he shared.

When he first came here, Karri did not suffer much of a culture shock that much because he had been in Thailand many times as a tourist before and have been travelling around the world all his life. “I considered myself as an international Finn. I have seen a lot of things. So, I didn’t experience culture shock that much when I moved here,” he said.

Karri added that what fascinates him the most about living in Bangkok is, it’s always summer here. “When I wake up, it’s always summer in Thailand. While in Finland, it’s getting harder and harder to survive the cold and dark months where there is no sun from the beginning of November to the end of February,” he said. “Spending your day in the darkness can be very bad for your mental health.”

Now, Karri has been living in Bangkok for six and a half years and the only two Thai words he can speak are “Sawadee krab” and “Khob khun Krub” which mean hello/goodbye and thank you respectively. However Karri revealed that he always wanted to be able to tell Thai jokes and understand what Thai laughing is about. He believed that being unable to speak the language keeps him from understanding the Thai culture. That’s why he decided to study Thai language but sadly it was not so successful.

“When I learned some Thai sentences, I tried to use it with Thais but they never understand what I said. I always pronounced the words wrong. So, I say to myself I’m too old to study the language and since Thais need to learn English, I’d rather teach English to Thais,” he laughed.

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