A look at corporate leadership in Finland: who are they?

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Thus far in our blogs when discussing diversity-related issues in the Finnish job market we’ve concentrated on standard employment relationships. This week we’ll set our sights a bit higher and talk about CEOs in corporate leadership in Finland. 

This blog was sparked by my reading the recent Finnish CEO survey by Chief – an executive search agency.  Based on that and some other previously published surveys we can build a representative image of a Finnish corporate leader. It’s still very much the middle-aged Finnish “Juha” as you’ll see. 

CEOs of publicly traded companies in Finland: some characteristics

The recent survey by the executive search agency Chief looked at the characteristics of CEOs of publicly traded companies in Finland. They examined the CEOs of 160 publicly traded companies. 20 % of these companies were large companies, 28 % were mid-size, 33 % were small companies, and 20 % were so-called First North companies.

What they discovered is that CEOs in publicly traded companies in Finland tend to be recruited from outside the company.  This was true for all of the surveyed CEOs, but the trend was particularly noticeable among recently (2019-2020) recruited CEOs. 71 % of these new CEOs didn’t rise up from within the company. Interestingly, the survey notes, the best CEOs in the world tend to be insiders. 

They also found that CEOs of these companies tend to stay in their positions only for a relatively short period of time. On average, CEOs stay in their positions for 4.9 yrs. This is particularly true in large companies. The term lengths for CEOs in Finland seem to be getting shorter. In 2018, the average term length was 5.1 years. Again, a markedly different trend from the best-performing CEOs in the world as the survey notes. An average CEO on that list has been a CEO for 15 years. 

In Finland, CEOs of large companies tend to be engineers (60 %). Mid-sized companies tend to have MBAs as their CEOs (73.8 %). Small (60 %) and First North (60.7 %) companies also favor MBA CEOs. A small portion of CEOs in mid-sized and small companies have law degrees, while large companies have MBAs as their CEOs if they don’t have an engineer. 

Nearly half (42 %) of the current CEOs have been CEOs before. A number of them have been leaders of a core business area, but very few have been heads of supportive functions.

CEOs of publicly traded companies in Finland are middle-aged. Their average age is 52 years. Most of them, in fact, are middle-aged Finnish men as we will see below. 

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Women in corporate leadership positions in Finland

The survey by Chief found that 7 % of CEOs of the 160 publicly traded companies in Finland were women. For the largest companies, the percentage was slightly higher at 12.5 %.

A recently published survey by the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health looked at women and men leaders of publicly traded companies, state-owned companies, and larger unlisted companies in Finland in 2018. They looked at CEOs, board members, and board chairs. This survey provides a bit more information about women in corporate leadership positions than the Chief survey.

The Ministry survey found that 8 % of CEOs of publicly traded companies in Finland in 2018 were women. They tended to be CEOs in companies employing a smaller number of people. At the same time, only 4 % of board chairs were women. Again, these tended to be in companies with a lower number of employees. 

A third of board members (34 %) in large companies were women in 2018. The percentage was smaller in mid-sized (29 %) and small (24 %) companies. The proportion of women on corporate boards was largest in companies that operated in the health and social services industry (42 %). It was the smallest in the hospitality (13 %) and real estate (16 %) industries.

Women in these corporate boards were more often highly educated than their male counterparts. 90 % of women on corporate boards had a master’s degree or higher. For men, the same percentage was 77 %. While women in Finland tend to be more educated than men, the difference in the general population is not this high, as the survey notes. In the general population, the difference is 1.7 percentage points in favor of women. 

Although the proportion of women CEOs hasn’t really grown that much over the recent years, the proportion of women in corporate boards has. In 2007, 12 % of corporate board members were women. In 2018 it was 29 %. So, a clear step towards increased diversity in Finnish corporate boards.

Foreigners in corporate leadership positions in Finland

As we have seen from above, Finnish corporate leadership is heavily dominated by middle-aged men. It’s particularly dominated by middle-aged Finnish men. 

The Chief survey found that the majority (89 %) of CEOs of publicly traded companies in Finland were Finnish. 28 % of CEOs of large companies, however, were not originally from Finland. 

Despite being dominated by middle-aged Finnish men, CEO positions in Finland have become increasingly diverse, however, in terms of nationality in recent years. A previous survey of CEOs in Finland from 2018 noted that 19 % of new CEO recruits in Finland in 2017 were not originally from Finland. In the Chief survey, the percentage was 43 % for new CEO recruits in 2019 and 2020.

Last year the Confederation of Finnish Industries conducted a survey of foreign business leaders in Finland. The survey didn’t look at the nationalities of these leaders but rather focused on their opinions on the push and pull factors of Finnish society and the corporate environment. Thus we don’t have statistical data on, for example, the nationalities or educational backgrounds of foreign business leaders in Finland to compare them to their Finnish counterparts. 

Thus it currently still seems that if you have set your sights at a corporate leadership position in Finland you better be a Finnish man with preferably an engineering degree or an MBA. And in building your career, you should not aim for positions in corporate support functions but in basic functions.  

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