| 30.11.2020

Jan Vapaavuori: Spend time with people from different backgrounds

Leadership is about vision, common sense and focusing on achieving something; however, leadership ultimately is about people. That is why it is good to spend time with people from different backgrounds - you always learn something new from them, said Helsinki Mayor and Honorary Doctor at Hanken, Jan Vapaavuori, in his speech to Hanken students on 9 October 2020.

Vapaavuori was the first speaker in the new discussion series Honorary Talks, where Hanken's Honorary Doctors visit Hanken to discuss current topics and share their experiences. 

When Vapaavuori was asked if a person is born as a good leader or can become one, he started by giving an example from sports.

“I think we can all agree that some might have better physique than others to become top athletes, but to actually become one you also need a lot of training and work. We are all unique as individuals with different backgrounds, but I think we can largely influence what we can become.” 

Vapaavuori referring to sports is no coincidence - he admits to loving sports and reminds students with plans to become leaders that you should be in good shape for that because it is tough to be a manager. 

When Vapaavuori studied law in the 1980’s, he thought he would start working in the private sector. That career has, however, not yet begun. 

“I was involved in politics when Ben Zyskowicz called me and asked if I wanted to join his team. I thought I could join it for half a year, but then I stayed in that field a little longer than that.” 


Lunches with interesting people 

In his leadership, Vapaavuori does not follow any specific theory, because all situations and organisations are different. Therefore, he advised students to spend time with people from different cultural backgrounds who have studied differing things. 

“You may not immediately understand what use you have of all the discussions you have, but will realize it much later.” 

To emphasise the importance of ​​spending time with people who do not necessarily think the same as yourself, is an idea that he has got from Björn Wahlroos. 


“I know that Wahlroos likes to have lunches with interesting people every day and can also afford that luxury.”  

Vapaavuori says it is in the meetings between people that new ideas take shape – the ones you can’t google. 

”Those are ideas and visions that can’t be copied, add value.” 


"Leaders should withstand criticism" 

During his career, Vapaavuori has become accustomed to public criticism. According to Vapaavuori, it is simply impossible to make major changes without facing criticism. 

“The better your position and the more people who support you, the easier it becomes to cope with criticism. If you want to become a politician or a leader, you have to learn to handle criticism - politics and leadership are both about making changes.” 

If Vapaavuori compares his work as a minister with his current job as mayor, he sees a big difference. 

“The ministry job is very political and moves at a strategic level almost constantly, while my job consists of tasks that are operational and apolitical.” 

This is also what he wants the post of Mayor of Helsinki to focus on in the future. 
Jan Vapaavuori has later announced that he will not take part in the municipal elections next spring. Thus, he will also leave the post as Mayor.