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Articles 2012

11.12.2009

An easy-going boss near you

An enthusiastic visionary utilizes his experience as a professional athlete in the business world. Petri Kokko manages mainly himself, and remembers to ease up regularly.

Just five minutes a day can change your life. Sounds like the sales slogan of a ‘cheap Jack’. The statement is interesting, because the man saying this is a well known former figure-skater, Google’s present country manager, and future development manager of international sales in California. But here, the 5 minutes is actually linked to managing troublesome back pains.

 

Petri Kokko tells the good news about ’pilates’ excercises in the Internet video where his friend, editor-in-chief Pekka Seppänen acts as a model. The choreography is not as polished as that of the gymnastic girls on TV. Ever so often the guys burst out laughing, and as the background music is a polka played on the accordion, the viewers really have a ball.  

 

But seriously speaking: the exercises appear to be beneficial. Is Kokko starting a new career as a good will ambassador promoting limbering-up exercises? The man’s familiar and conspicuously loud laughter is the answer to the question, as we sit in a café next to the Senate Square.

 

– I certainly had no intention of adding to the volume of exercise videos. This thing started from the fact that my own back is a mess because of my long career as a top athlete. I have done these exercises every day for many years, and have recommended them to my friends too. We thought that there actually aren’t any instructions like these for people working in business life, especially for men.

 

So we made them. According to Kokko, managers need exercise breaks every day, just like any other people, and a long distance to a gym need not be an obstacle.

 

– Work life nowadays is so rough that managers really must take care of their physical fitness. The traditional big shot life style – 50 kg overweight and unhealthy living habits – just won’t keep you going.

 

The 8-hour rule

The former World Champion figure skater may very likely be seen biking towards Aleksanterinkatu (street) in Helsinki. Petri Kokko looks after his physique by biking his 17-km route to work mornings and evenings, regardless of the weather, in summer as well as winter.

 

– There’s no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable garments, as advertised by the sports business, where I used to work previously.

 

When a job involves responsibility for the employees as well as for achieving results, a person’s mental capacity as well as physical stamina have to be in good shape. It’s also important to take care of one’s social coping skills. 

 

– I personally keep up my mental health by, for instance, reading. It’s also good to have friends with whom you can debate and discuss things. And at home too I can have a good debate about interesting topics, if necessary.

 

It is said that if a manager has to make a compromise regarding his time, his family and human relations are the first to suffer. Kokko doesn’t agree – he feels that his work life hasn’t taxed his private life.  

 

– When you come from the world of sports, you know that it’s easy to work too hard. But you also know that it’s a road that won’t take you far. On work days I try to stick to the 8-hour rule: eight hours of work, eight of rest and eight of leisure time. I believe that this makes me more efficient, assures the man, as some croissant crumbs fall on his casually tied scarf.

 

Of course the work days sometimes stretch out. Because of the travelling, a manager can’t always count his hours. The main thing according to Kokko is nevertheless that working overly long hours is an exception, not a rule.

 

Kokko has applied the work rhythm of the sports world to his daily routines. When a person practises for a sports performance, variation in the training weeks is important. First there is a good work week, then a week when you really push yourself hard, and after that an easier week for resting.

 

– Every third week I try to have a more relaxed week at work. If possible, I leave for home more early, I reserve time for fewer meetings, and take more time to think about things. This rhythm suits me.

 

Once a champion, always a champion

Regardless of his nearly ten-year career as a business manager, in the minds of the public Petri Kokko is probably still wearing a pair of black figure skates. When you’ve had a long and successful career as a top athlete, the picture sticks with you like a brand.

 

– It doesn’t bother me, in fact it’s quite touching. A few weeks ago there was a request from the public in a daily paper that we should make a comeback to skating. I guess that is something to be glad about.

 

When he was a boy, Kokko put on a pair of hockey skates and started to chase a puck. As a teenager, he wanted to improve his hockey skills, and figure skating was a good way to improve his skating. The art and technique of figure skating inspired the young man to pursue a career in ice dancing. In 1995 Kokko and his skating partner Susanna Rahkamo, his wife to be, were at the top of their competitive career: European Champions, second place in the World Championships, and Olympic level ice dancers. The same year the couple started their professional skating career, and during the next five years performed in 400 shows and competitions.   

 

In 2001, after his professional ice dancing career, Kokko started working as the programme manager of the TV sports channel. He had just got his MBA degree from the Swedish School of Economics in Helsinki. Two years later he became the managing director of Nike, Finland. He then worked for a year in the Stream advertising agency in Helsinki. But in September 2006, the post of country manager of Google attracted him more.

 

At first he had one subordinate, now nine, and when the server centre in the premises of the Summa factory at Hamina starts its trial run in 2010, there will be 50 employees. Kokko himself will then be facing new challenges in California, concentrating on developing Google’s international sales.  

 

Google has local organizations in all countries, because even a global enterprise needs to understand local needs. Of course the net users are able to shuttle flexibly in the international network, but the advertising companies that bring income may have very different needs depending on the country and culture in question.

 

– The Finns are among the world’s most active net users, while at the same time the enterprises here are slow to adopt the net applications. Definitely the biggest challenge in Finland is to get enterprises to understand its benefits to export. The Internet opens a possibility for every small and medium-sized enterprise to operate on the global market immediately and directly, Kokko explains with enthusiasm. 

 

It all starts from being your own boss

But how did a professional athlete become a professional manager? Kokko believes that sport is a good starting point for working in the business world and for managing. In a way, a professional athlete is an entrepreneur.

 

– Quite early on, Susanna and I realized that one has to know how to sell one’s skills in order to get the necessary sponsoring. Especially when we started to produce shows, including TV shows, the business world came strongly into the picture. The collaboration with the sponsors was so intriguing that it was easy from there to continue studying and on to a work career. 

 

Kokko says that working with top coaches and artists like dancer Jorma Uotinen has provided know-how especially in leadership. According to him, achieving good results comes from committing to common goals and giving them all you’ve got. 

 

– The coach’s task is to help the athlete to succeed. The job of the manager today is to help his team to achieve its goal. So there are a lot of similar features. I believe that a good supervisor works side-by-side with the employees, not in front of them.

 

A background in sports is a valuable resource. Kokko explains that in the world of sports one hardly achieves anything alone. The rule of thumb that success comes from cooperation with other people applies to the business world too. 

 

– The boss can’t do anything alone, but is just as successful as his or her team, says Google’s country manager, and continues to talk about the very essence of leadership and management.

 

– Leadership, in my mind, starts from being able to supervise yourself. If you can’t prioritize your own issues and get things moving ahead, it’s difficult to lead your team. Kokko emphasizes the point by using his hands; his expression is more vivid than that of a typical low-key Finn.

 

– I am convinced that the only leadership tool nowadays is communication. We must be able to convince people about the goals, trends, directions, corrections, whatever – and speech is the only means to do it. We should really concentrate on this in Finland. 

 

It is easy to believe that Kokko’s strengths are namely excellent communication, high energy level, contagious enthusiasm, and a strong vision.

 

– I probably wouldn’t be as suitable for difficult personnel reorganization jobs as I am for my present work. Different types of managers are needed in different situations.

 

It’s easier to make a turn when moving

When Petri Kokko and Susanna Rahkamo decided to pack away their skates in the year 2000, their last ice show at Hartwall Arena was attended by thousands of spectators – many of them with tears in their eyes. Kokko admits that the big change in their lives was not as easy for them as they had imagined.

 

– Ending a career in sports is never easy for any athlete. We also thought about whether we should have still continued.

 

The couple had nevertheless made a plan for a ’rainy day’: After quitting, we won’t stop to wonder, we’ll start doing something else right away. Later we can think if there was any sense in it, because it’s easier to make a turn when you are “still in motion, than from a standstill”. Kokko laughs as he describes how, on the very next day after their last ice show, he marched straight to a lecture at the Swedish School of Economics, wearing a pair of baggy trousers. 

 

– Susanna had graduated already during her sports career; she had a Master’s degree in Food Sciences. And pretty soon she started expecting a baby too.

 

Now our children are six and eight years old. Daughter Camilla is in skating school and son Max plays hockey, among other things. A sporty life-style is a part of the family’s everyday routine, and even competitive sports play some role. The topic is often discussed at home, as Susanna is chairperson of the Finnish Figure Skating Association and a member of the Executive Board of Finland’s Olympic Committee. In addition, she participates in the planning of the strategy for elite sports in the working group of the Ministry of Education.

 

– Sports have given us so much that now it feels good to be able to give something back in return.

 

Text: Arja Krank

 

- Beginning 2010, Kokko starts in the post of Google’s development manager for international marketing and sales in California, USA.

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Petri Kokko

 

- Born 21 February 1966, Greater Helsinki municipality.

- Master of Economics and Business Administration.

- Family: wife Susanna Rahkamo and two children.

- Google, country manager, Finland, 2006–2009.

- Previous work career: Professional icedancer 1995–2000.

- Programme manager of TV Sports Channel 2001–2003.

- Managing director of Nike, Finland 2003–2005.

- Managing director of advertising agency Stream, Finland 2005–2006.

- Icedancing European Championship 1st place, World Championship 2nd place, 1995 with Rahkamo.

- Finnstep dance, developed by the pair was adopted as an obligatory programme as of the term 2008–2009.

- A book that had an impact: James Surowiecki: The Wisdom of Crowds.

 

 

 


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