Trade relations between Japan and Finland have a long tradition, going back to the 1920s when Japanese silk and pottery were known in Finland and in the 1930s, when some Finnish industrial products like pulp found their ways to Japan. Today, there are around 40 Finnish enterprises established in Japan.
Activities of the Finnish Business Executives club started through get-together luncheon meetings in the early 1980s. This informal activity was reorganized in 1992 to become the Finnish Business Council (FBC), and in 1999, the Finnish Chamber of Commerce in Japan was established in 1999
President of the chamber is Pekka Laitinen who has been in Japan for more than 18 years. Laitinen, who has an MBA from Hitotsubashi University, is a partner at Septem partners and a corporate auditor for Moomin Monogatari Ltd which is building a theme park in Saitama Prefecture. The Moomins are highly popular storybook characters in their native Finland and have a huge fan base in Japan.
Japan Today catches up with Laitinen to hear more about the activities of the Finnish Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
How many members does the chamber currently have?
We have about 80 members, mostly corporate, and some private members. Nearly half are Japanese companies.
How well known would you say Finnish companies are in Japan?
Finland has very strong brand recognition in Japan. Companies like Finnair, Nokia and Moomin are very well known. So, too, is Marimekko, an apparel and textile design company which has used some Japanese designers.
I should also mention that each November, an event called Slush is held in Helsinki for venture capitalists, attracting 14,000 companies, investors from all over the world. It is the focal point for startups and tech talent to meet with top-tier international investors, executives and media. There is a big boom in the venture capital industry in Finland, especially in software. Some of these companies have recently set up offices in Japan. In April, the first Slush in Japan was held at Odaiba. It was sold out with 3,000 attendees.
What is the chamber's goal for this year?
To increase membership. I have to say that one of the biggest obstacles has been in our home base in Finland. Some companies have an outdated image of Japan, that Japan doesn’t have any interesting things, and that it was big 20 years ago but nothing is happening there. Companies don’t pay attention to Japan and don’t realize the opportunities for them in Japan. Fortunately, there is an organization in Finland called FinnCham which is an international network of Finnish chambers of commerce. They are trying to connect all the chambers abroad. That enables us to give more support for new companies wanting to come into the Japanese market.
Are Finnish companies doing well in Japan?
I think so. Japan is one of Finnair’s top three markets. Nokia is one of the biggest network builders in Japan. Paper and pulp companies are also doing well, as are high-tech companies.
What networking events does the chamber do in Japan?
We have about six luncheon meetings a year with various guest speakers and we hold some joint events with other Nordic chambers. These include golf tournaments, Christmas parties, trips, and a visit to a solar farm near Hiroshima, for example. One of our members set up a Scandinavian Center in Akasaka and we organize events there.
What do you do at Septem Partners?
We are a small investment banking boutique specializing in M&A advisory for Japanese companies investing in Europe through cross border mergers and acquisitions. In Japan, we work very closely with TAP Japan KK, and with boutique investment ban FinTech in other non-M&A related projects.
Are you optimistic about the Japanese economy?
Yes, I am. Abenomics for me is psychological and I can see that it has helped Japanese companies to gain self-confidence. In Prime Minister Abe, finally this country has a spokesman who can go around the world and represent the country, even though we may complain about some of his policies. That is something which has been missing since Koizumi.
When you are not working, how do you like to relax?
I am a weekend farmer. We grow vegetables at a farm in Kita-Karuizawa. I try to go there every weekend. Climate-wise, it is very similar to Finland.© Japan Today