| 20.12.2021

Joel Sunabacka, Young Leader of the Year in Western Finland: Let employees realize their visions

"We have always done it that way" is an expression that Joel Sunabacka, head of the Bank of Åland in Vasa, Hankenalumnus, and winner of the competition Young Leader of the Year in Western Finland, cannot stand.

Joel Sunabacka

“Continuing to do things as they have always been done is blocking development. I bet that the same things can be done in a more efficient and profitable way. Or at least it is worth taking a try.”

Sunabacka likes developing the organisational culture and he is happy to let his employees carry out their visions. This is also a way to recruit the best skills.

“Especially for the younger employees, a 9–5 job is not enough – they want freedom and responsibility,” states Sunabacka, who during the autumn has reflected much on his leadership as he wonthe competition Young Leader of the Year in Western Finland.

Winner’s mentality from elite sports

Sunabacka was attracted to the banking world as he believes that it is an industry where you can make an impact.

“As a bank manager, you can support entrepreneurs. In addition, responsibility and sustainability have become increasingly important also in the financial sector, and as the leader of a bank, you can act as an ambassador for these values ​​and steer the development in the right direction.”

Sunabackadid not start his career at the bank, but in the insurance industry.

“What eventually made me change industry was that I was offered the opportunity to become manager of the Bank of Åland in Vaasa when the manager at that time was about to retire. The winner mentality comes from elite sports: I have played in Veikkausliiga – the premiere division in Finnish football – and stopped only when it started to be like a job, which I did not want it to become.

In addition to leading the Bank of Åland in Vaasa, Sunabacka is currently also responsible for the new office of the bank that he founded in Oulu, and the office that will soon be opened in Jyväskylä.

Sunabacka became a manager at the age of 28, which is early in the banking industry which is known for being conservative.

 What makes one a good leader?

“A good leader has visions and sees the entire playing field without micromanaging the employees. A good leader can also create a good team spirit, make the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and ensure that everyone works with the tasks for which they are best suited and most comfortable with.

What changes have you made at the bank during your time as the manager?

“We have made a lot of changes, but the biggest one is probably that we have gone from being a small local bank of six people to a successful organisation of over 20 employees, soon providing service covering half of Finland.”

“As a minor example it can be mentioned that we, to increase awareness of sustainability, stopped organising boring investment evenings where we presented overviews of the market or one of our new products – these are things that customers want to discuss in person. Instead, we have introduced sustainability and innovation evenings where local entrepreneurs talk about their sustainability work. In this way, we can create added value also by offering a forum for networking.”

Active alumnus at Hanken in Vaasa

Sunabacka is always available if he can contribute with something to Hanken.

“I like to be a guest lecturer and have also participated in the graduation ceremonies. I have not yet been an official mentor, but I constantly have several students as part-time employees in our office. Later in my career, I will also volunteer as a mentor. I think that it is important to share the experiences and skills gained during your career.”

What do you experience as the most important thing you have gained through your studies at Hanken?

“There are mainly three things: I got a good education and theoretical knowledge of leadership, but above all many good friends, even though I was not the most active in student life. Hanken also gave me the basis for aiming high in my career.