Pekkka Laitinen assumed the post of Commercial Counsellor on July 1, 2017 as the new head of Finpro. With the whole Finpro team moving into the Embassy's premises at the middle of July, the Team Finland structure is now stronger than ever to together promote Finnish businesses and investments in Japan. Marko Salonen, his predecessor, went back to Finpro's main office in Helsinki to support Finnish companies wishing to enter the Japanese market.
The walls of Finpro's new office are covered with artistic Ivana Helsinki wall papers, and instead of tasteless tables, a sofa and rattan chairs invite employees and guests for fruitful meetings. "It might not be a typical business space," says Pekka Laitinen. "But we wanted to utilize our office to promote Finnish exports." And Ambassador, and other Embassy staff that Finpro has been working more closely with in recent years, can be reached just on the other side of the door.
Finnish design is indeed one of the pillars Finpro has been promoting in Japan. Since last year, Finpro has organized "Lifestyle Finland" and "Fashion from Finland" exhibitions and showcases in Tokyo, bringing Finnish lifestyle companies wishing to enter the Japanese market. One of the big upcoming events is the fashion showcase and pop-up shop in September 2017 around Tokyo's trendy Omotesando area. Another promising project might be the Moomin theme park now being constructed in Hanno City, Saitama. The commercial part of the facility called Metsä Village will have shops that might open up possibilities for Finnish B2C companies. That's where Finpro comes in. "Our task is to make it easier for Finnish companies to open offices in Japan," explains Laitinen. "We have plans to open a special soft landing office space in the central Tokyo during the coming autumn for Finnish companies who want to test the Japanese markets."
Of course, Finland is not all about design companies. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto visited Japan in March 2016, and together with Prime Minister Abe, issued a joint statement on a strategic partnership between the two countries, including closer cooperation in the areas of the economy, science and technology. The development of the partnership was again emphasized when Prime Minister Abe visited Finland this July, and so Finpro, jointly with the Embassy, is trying to materialize the cooperation in different sectors. Areas that Finpro handles on a daily basis vary from forestry, energy, food, healthcare to ICT sectors.
Laitinen is well seasoned to take the helm of these multiple tasks. He has about 20 years of business experience in Japan, mainly in the finance sector providing consultative services. Before assuming the post at Finpro he was Partner at the investment bank Septem Partners Oy for 9 years. Becoming a Board Member of FCCJ in 2009, he acted as President from 2015 to 2017 and also served as Partner Advisor to Finpro's Invest in Finland functions for 6 months until May 2017. Having first arrived to Japan in 1987 working for a Finnish bank, Laitinen's business expertise also brought him to Russia and the Netherlands. He is fluent in Finnish, Swedish, Japanese, Russian, and also has reading competencies in German and Dutch.
Being asked why he decided to stay in Japan, Laitinen shrugs and says "the Japanese market is interesting. I guess I just had a good working experience, I feel that I fit in." His favorite past time now is to go to his second house in Kita Karuizawa, Gumma prefecture with his Japanese wife Tomoko. "We don't buy miso any more, we make them from soybeans grown at our farm. And we're still eating the potatoes from last year's harvest stored in the cellar," grins Laitinen. The climate in Kita Karuizawa is quite similar to that of Helsinki, and so similar crops can be grown. The farm brings them corn, red beets and rutabaga which they enjoy at their Finnish log house. And sauna? "No, we don't have sauna. Only the house is Finnish," says Laitinen with a twinkle in the eye.