”Ivan should be joining us at any moment. Here he is!” I stand up and walk towards the office. Teemu greets me with a focused yet open face, eyes gazing directly through me, a firm, almost fatherly handshake and a sparkle of excitement in his voice.
My excitement is far more than a sparkle, a firework. I am about to spend the entire day, shadowing Teemu Kokko, the President and CEO of my organisation. I can barely hide my trembling hands, and naturally I forget all my rehearsed ways of thanking Teemu and Haaga-Helia for this opportunity.
There is no time for small talk; a partner organisation is in the midst of filming a short video testimonial. Asked to speak for 60 seconds, he delivers neither a second more, nor a second less. I see a leader completely in his element, on and off camera. I gladly pick up a few storytelling and acting tips. Many photos will be taken of Teemu during the day.
The day is a roller coaster. I get a few insights into Teemu’s work with mail: more than 200 emails are dealt with an impeccable commitment and precision. Messages are sorted, delegated, replied to. Teemu has a zero delay policy. At times, it feels like a Tetris game. We look into calendars. Teemu keeps both outlook and his day planner synchronised, somewhat overbooked, and continuously updated. Overbooking the agenda allows having a few random breaks through the day, when text messages, mobile applications, and more communication tools can be attended.
If you happen to be Teemu Kokko, you must be fit. Discovering Pasila Campus with Teemu is an exercise: we run up and down the stairs; we rush through the corridors. The President is in perfect shape. Teemu shows me how many kilometres he walks each day. Besides, his calendar shows four training sessions scheduled for the week.
The schedules are gruelling. Teemu’s availability is scarce, unless booked months in advance. There is also plenty of flying, long haul and nearby. Teemu offsets carbon emissions of his travels, a personal choice, as he admits, somewhat discreetly. In one of the day’s meetings, an employee takes an active stance in discussing Haaga-Helia’s responsibility in climate change. It is rewarding to see Teemu’s wide expertise in sustainability. The President and CEO lays out Haaga-Helia’s materiality analysis with the upmost knowledge. From specific operational issues to strategic planning, Haaga-Helia approaches sustainability realistically: no empty promises, yet feasible actions, with measurable impacts.
The day is a fragmented myriad of brisk meetings, spontaneous encounters, long-planned pitching opportunities, delegation visits, negotiation rounds, and more. I shadow the strategy planning, intricate cooperation across departments, and carefully balanced formulations of official statements. Words are important. They matter. During the day, Teemu switches easily from English to Finnish, from Russian to Swedish. I lose easily the count of how many people come in contact with Teemu. Every person listens to Teemu’s words with magnified attention.
Students meet Teemu often, on Campus, in the restaurant, at lobby events. Teemu pays attention to what they read, what they discuss. Shadowing a meeting with the student union, I realise that Teemu is not just an approachable head of the organisation for the students. Teemu is an active participant in their lives. His care for Haaga-Helia’s learners is authentic.
During the day, I reflect on the mission statement of ours repeatedly: Haaga-Helia opens doors to future careers. I think about my studies in Vocational Teacher Education programme in 2005. Haaga-Helia did open doors to many career tracks for me, and it keeps me growing. Haaga-Helia is a big machine, yet it runs with human care for everybody who trusts their development to us.