In the dynamic Eastern Region, Tuomas Pukkala, the Country Manager for Ukraine and Kazakhstan, is a key player steering Leinonen’s efforts in the area. He believes that success in the diverse markets of Ukraine and Kazakhstan hinges on valuing people in the workplace, a principle deeply ingrained in Finnish culture. Continue to read as Tuomas sheds light on his journey, unveiling the strategies behind navigating these unique territories, managing diverse markets, and driving Leinonen’s growth in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
Could you introduce yourself and provide a brief overview of your role as the Eastern Region Manager? How does your Finnish background influence your approach to managing operations in Ukraine and Kazakhstan?
My name is Tuomas and I originally come from Espoo, Finland. Back in the day I completed a double Master’s degree in Economics at LUT University, Lappeenranta. I’ve been working in Eastern European markets ever since and lately a bit further east in Kazakhstan.
I would say that a Finnish background is overall a competitive advantage in those markets. The Finnish understanding of what a workplace should be like is something that local employees very much appreciate. Our business is so much people-focused that if we succeed in recruiting great people and retaining them, we are already well on our way to success.
What challenges and opportunities do you face in managing diverse markets?
First of all there are time management challenges of course. We work in different time zones and can’t be everywhere all at once. Luckily we are so well integrated nowadays working online that the problem is mitigated. Understanding how employees and clients from different cultures work and think is sometimes also challenging. These are also, however, great opportunities to learn and develop.
Considering the challenges posed by the war in Ukraine, how does technology play a role in enhancing efficiency and client services in the Eastern Region?
Leinonen is putting a big focus in developing our working efficiency and client servicing capability. We implemented a software called UKU that allows us to control and analyse our working process from onboarding to invoicing and even employees’ flexi-time. This is something that is not really related to the war in Ukraine. From that side, I would say the most impactful is our AML platform DOKS that we use to do KYC. Like everyone else, we do need to be on the lookout for companies that we cannot take as clients not only due to sanctions but our company values as well.
Considering the conflict in Ukraine, what adjustments have been made to the key goals and objectives for the Eastern Region’s strategy?
Our office in Ukraine is continuing to work very much in the same manner as before. All our employees are back in Ukraine after spending some time abroad at our other offices. As far as our strategy goes, we are positioning ourselves to be able to help investors that are going to be investing in Ukraine to help with the restoration of the country. It will, however, take some time and a positive outlook to the end of the war until private entrepreneurs will really start to invest in the country.
In Kazakhstan and the Central Asian region as a whole the story is a bit different. There is a real interest now among investors to look at the region and consider the possibilities that will open down the road as the economies develop and the large population base starts to consume more products and services. If talking about right now, we are seeing companies that used to sell something to for example Kazakhstan as simple exports now opening their own sales offices there. They see the potential and also want to control the sales process better to know who their clients are. That’s why we are also investing in Kazakhstan to achieve more sales and growth within our strategy period. We are looking to expand in Central-Asia in the next years if the trends remain positive and there is client interest.
Can you share a success story or notable achievement from your time managing operations in Ukraine and Kazakhstan?
I have had the privilege of opening a couple of new country offices for Leinonen, which always feels like a pleasant achievement and brings new people and interesting challenges along with it. From recent times I would bring up one of our clients achievements though. A Finnish machinery entrepreneur who opened a machining workshop in Zhaporizzhia, Ukraine a few years back. They’ve been able to keep the shop running for the whole war-time period and we´ve been very proud to have been able to help them to do that.
In the context of the company’s growth plans in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, how do you envision leading and developing the team to align with these strategic objectives? Are there particular leadership principles or team-building strategies you plan to emphasize during this period of growth?
As we are not in the office together all the time in today’s business environment, we need to have very strong operational team leaders that support our accounting professionals. They need to be able to do that with teams that are partially working from home. We are putting a great emphasis on our team-based organizational structure which will be standardized in all Leinonen country offices. The main thing for us is that everyone knows what they need to do, and can easily get assistance when they need it. This kind of standardized organization structure helps us to achieve that.
One of our company values is ”Right people together”, and the together part means that we are trying to not have situations where employees become isolated at home. That can happen in a remote-working environment. Working from home is great, but we do need to periodically meet in person because we believe that’s where the real idea exchange and team building happens.
How do you balance your professional life with personal well-being, and are there any routines or practices you find essential for maintaining that balance?
I’m a pretty routine-oriented person. The day always starts with the same breakfast, and I know that I get my best work done at the office, not at home. It’s very important to take care of relationships to family and friends. Living abroad, if you don’t keep in touch with your friends back home and visit whenever possible, you will soon find that you lose contact with them. Luckily I have some great friends and we have some nice meeting traditions as well as active online correspondence.
I believe in the power of sports as a form of stress management, and that working shouldn’t be the most difficult thing you do on any given day. Do a really hard workout, sit in the sauna for 20 minutes, and take a cold-water plunge and working behind a computer will feel pretty comfortable after that.
Reflecting on your career journey, can you share a moment or experience that has had a significant impact on your personal growth and leadership development?
Significant personal growth comes from overcoming difficulties, and I was lucky to have had a lot of those very early in my career. Actually, it was at my first ”real job” after graduating in 2015. I worked at a factory in St. Petersburg doing export sales. The company was sold by its Finnish owners to, in fact, investors from Kazakhstan. Unfortunately the investors were not able to manage the business professionally, but anyway decided to fire the Finnish CEO and try. This turned into a complete disaster, and pretty soon the owners tried to smoke out all expat employees by abusing various labor laws.
There was quite a bit of pressure put on me and borderline criminal conduct from the new owners. Among other things I had to protect our clients, as it was clear that the owners were promising things that they would not be able to deliver. Those were some pretty tough months, but in the end it turned out fine from my perspective and you could say that I developed a pretty good ability to withstand stress from that.
In brief, Tuomas journey reveals resilience and leadership, merging Finnish values with the intricacies of Eastern markets. Leading Leinonen’s strategies in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, his journey reflects a dedication to growth, teamwork, and the belief that success comes from valuing both people and principles. As we look ahead, we eagerly anticipate what the future holds for Tuomas and the Eastern region.