I have had the opportunity to travel internationally for business, so my only hope when we were learning about our EMBA international trip was that it was somewhere that I had not been to before. My personal “wish list” of places was very long, but I admittedly had never even considered Estonia or Finland as somewhere I would visit. After spending five days in Tallinn, Estonia, and four days in Helsinki, Finland, I hope to return to both cities as soon as possible!
The “Old City” of Tallinn is exactly how I would picture a medieval city that has barely been touched in 800 years, yet it is amazing just how focused the country is on high-tech solutions. Helsinki has a drastically different appearance, yet is equally focused on high-tech developments. I was amazed to learn of the companies that began in Estonia and Finland including Nokia, Skype, Rovio (Angry Birds franchise), and Supercell (Clash of Clans), among others.
Throughout our international trip, we were able to visit fascinating companies ranging from start-ups to well-established global corporations like Nokia and Kone. One visit that stood out, in particular, was our meeting with BLRT Shipyards in Tallinn. As one of the largest shipbuilders in Europe, it was fascinating to learn about BLRT’s strategy including real estate investments in high-growth areas like Tallinn as a method to diversify its business. It was also interesting to learn of their expertise in ship repair and refurbishment without a worry about the original manufacturer of the ship. This repair business has helped the company bridge the gap between large “new-build” orders that are inconsistent and difficult to predict on an annual basis. By diversifying its business across ship repairs, metal recycling, real estate development, and many other niche businesses, BLRT understands that they need to be adaptable to survive future developments within their economy.
One particular thing that was mentioned during our meeting was that the company already has plans to relocate its entire operations in Tallinn as the city continues to grow and spread out towards its outskirts where BLRT currently sits. The BLRT Group understands that the land they currently occupy is more valuable for its real estate potential than as a shipyard due to the fact that a shipyard can be placed anywhere on the coast with little change in its operations. This visit illustrated to me the unbelievable adaptability that Estonian companies and even the government is built on. Unlike in the US where change can take years, if it ever occurs, it seems like change happens at the drop of a hat in Estonia, and rather than it being an issue, it is embraced and expected as a way of doing business.
Without a doubt, this trip was eye-opening for me. The chance to visit two countries that I never would have considered tourist destinations, and the opportunity to visit so many companies ranging from tiny start-ups to massive corporations in nearly every industry, is something I will always remember. The various meetings really allowed us to see how the topics covered throughout our EMBA courses are applied. And the time spent with my fellow classmates discussing their impressions of the company discussions and learning more about them personally will be invaluable for my continued development in the future.
Read more reflections and perspectives from the global study trip to Estonia and Finland:
- Bob Penland: Estonia - The Most Advanced Digital Society In The World
- Matt Phillips: Estonia and Finland - The Alumni Experience