Business, Expression, Random, Singapore, Suomi
Comments 4

3 differences in the Finnish vs Singaporean business mentality.


Hmm today I want to make some random observations about how “business” and “money” are conceptualised in both Finland and Singapore.

Caveat/ HUOM: Quite some people tend to lapse into this voodoo “The grass is greener on the other side” mental framework when conceptualizing differences in both countries. For example, they might tend to compare the “cons” of one country with the “pros” of the other, which then is not logical.

Anyway, all societies are different–they have various quirks, celebrate and champion different ideals, and have governments which focus on different priorities in the macro-picture. And having been on “both sides of the grass” and thought about this topic, I think I can articulate some salient differences in the way both Finns and Singaporeans think about money and businesses.

Can you extrapolate the following analysis to Europe Vs Asia? I am not sure. Why don`t you share your thoughts with me?

Difference #1: Finns tend to think long-term in businesses. Singaporeans tend to think short-term.

A huge, huge thing I had learnt from school is that Finns plan a lot.

By a lot, I mean a lot. Most of my classmates plan and plan and plan, and if the plan isn`t perfect you don`t see action. The contingency planning is also excellent–my Finnish classmates would plan what to do if Plans A, B, C, D, E, F, G etc don´t work.

Of course this is under the assumption that my friends even turn up for school. Some Finns really don`t give a damn about school, but I think that is fine too because they are enjoying life, even though this means that I have to do more portions of the project work. And building up their careers too OMG, considering most university students in Finland also work part-time in large Finnish companies.

Also, the smart Finnish folks I have had the fortune of working with do tons of concept generation. So for a given project, they will think about Concept A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and then after that, choose the best one democratically.

In addition, Finns tend to worry about long term stuffs, such as sustainability of businesses, environmental concerns, global warming and climate change, etc. The goal of businesses seem to be to make the world a better place.

For Singaporeans however, er…we just do? As in not so much planning is involved. We come up with a reasonable idea, and then just execute to see what happens. I think this is good because it gives us speed.

In my project-work experiences with my Singaporean friends, we seriously “just do”. There are few cases as contingency planning wayyyy before–we will think about how to deal with crisis on the spot as they occur, haha. This is probably why we get things done fast.

This is however, slightly problematic when there is an error in direction, because you have to redo.

Also, Singaporeans tend to think more about how to profit-maximise in their businesses, rather than having long-term concerns about `making the world a better place`. Of course in any viable products that can generate profit, the product has to value-add the consumer.

However, I haven`t met any Singaporean who told me about “making the world a better place” in their main objective of starting a business. The main reasons would tend to be “I want to be rich and value-add my customers”. Not so much of “I want to make the world a better place via my products.”

I suspect this is the one main thing as to why Finns are “productive”–because you dont see the amount of planning that goes behind the work. Planning is invisible, you can plan stuffs during your free time, during exercise, when you sleep, etc. But because they dont go back on their direction once the plan is close to perfect, they work really little hours in execution.

So against the background of a complex changing world, who is to learn from who? I think the key is balance and therefore both Singaporeans and Finns can learn from each other. Singaporeans can learn to plan more, when Finns can learn to worry less and “just do” more.

Difference #2: Most Finnish companies are contented to just serve the Finnish market. Most Singaporeans are contented to just be financially rich.

On one hand, I have often wondered why Finns are so innovative but few Finnish companies want to be more ambitious to do global expansion. You see, Finland ranks really high globally when it comes to innovation! Read here, here and here.

However, I believe there is an invisible “bubble” when it comes to Finland. It is as though Finns live in their own world.

Now this is good and bad. Good because if you live in your own world, you won`t get polluted by the world`s nonsense. You will just take your time to think, live your own life as you deem fit, and just enjoy nature. Bad because there is a risk that you simply won`t be ambitious. Why? Because the bubble is comfortable and safe–life can be better, but I am not starving. So?

So most Finnish companies actually only target the domestic market, which then is a problem because the market is small. If you ask, “What about Nokia Smartphones?” Well it sort of failed. “What about Rovio?” Well it sort of is failing, having conducted lay-offs last and this year too.

The worst thing here is that it could potentially be impossible to even describe “ambition” to people who have defined “ambition” as “just having a job”.

The pros of bubbles is that it gives you a comfortable, safe and sheltered life. The con is that there is a high risk that it makes you f*cking complacent and ignorant of what is going on outside this bubble. So if you want to be in a bubble, make sure you have a keen understanding of the world`s happenings.

One company that could afford to be more ambitious is Fazer, the Finnish chocs company. HELLO I eat Fazer every freaking day! And every 4 months when I return to Singapore I will buy at least 5kg of Fazer as souveniers. Fazer is close to the nicest milky chocolate on Earth. =)

On the other hand, most Singaporeans really just want to be rich. I think Singaporeans live in a bubble too, and the same applies. We think that Singapore is a comfortable, sheltered, prosperous safe haven, and there is no need to do anything “out of the box”.

However, because from young we are subjected to a cut-throat education system, our survival instinct is pretty strong, because we are fixated about money. This fixation abut making a lot of money is good and bad. Good because you can be sure that SIngapore will continue existing to 100 years old (yay!), because there is economic sense in whatever we do. If a company doesnt make profits, it gets kicked out and dies, for example. Bad because when you are so focused on making a lot of money, sometimes the price to pay may be high, such as mental/ physical stress and less time spent with loved ones.

Come to think about it, the average Finn and Singaporean are pretty risk-averse. They prefer to work for large companies rather than do their own start-ups. The difference is that if you work for a large firm in Singapore, you have a chance to be really filthy rich. This is not true in Finland because of the high income taxes and low income disparity, but in exchange you get work-life balance.


Difference #3: The terms “filthy rich” and “money” are close to being taboo in Finland. This may not be so in Singapore.

This brings me to point number #3: The concept of money is different in both nations.

In Finland, I think there is this weird sense of jealosty against rich people and big companies. Finns seem to think that rich people and large corporations are necessarily evil.

Because of the strong unions in Finland, there is also a tendency for Finns to think that companies exist to employ them, and not for profit-maximising purposes.

Take for instance this recent Finnish Post office–Posti strike incident. Posti went on strike today! The main reason given is, and I quote–

“While the company is making profits, employees conditions are being weakened,” said Nieminen. “Workers on low salaries cannot accept the proposed conditions.”

When I read it I was like “??????????”

What has corporate profits got to do with “weakening employees´conditions”? It seems like the framing is slightly “off”, because isn`t the replacement of employees to streamline the work process and make the entire process more efficient??!

Anyway, this might be to do with the notion of “equality” in Finland too–companies might well be evil, and profits should be evenly distributed to employees.

In Singapore, this is not the case. If your company makes a lot of profit and you still pay your employees the market rate, or slightly above, then your profits are justified and people will respect you.

Hmm such weird cultural differences.

Anyway, on hindsight, what I have learnt is that foreigners who have long-term ties with Finns should bring Finnish innovation outwards, rather than try to fight with the rich Finnish incumbents within Finland.

Why? The logic is simple. Because big Finnish companies are proven in the Finland. They have a long reputation and are rich. If you stay to fight, you are up against giants.

I am inclined to think that the ideal business model for any foreigner with a spouse/Finnish bf or gf here should do a business model consisting of both Finland + his/her native country.

Ideally, this business model should allow you to bring Finnish innovation OUTWARDS, and the value proposition should be to help Finnish companies globalise. You should identify a business gap in your home country, and sell the home country what Finns do well–innovation + great planning.

This would make sense and be win-win situations for both Finland and the home country. You can then shuttle between Finland + the home country and be mentally balanced since you can have both the Finnish Boyfriend and your friends and relatives in the home country.

Obviously if in spite of all the business facts and analysis, you still want to stay in Finland to “fight” (I have no idea for WHAT) then I wish you all the best! =)


  1. Markku Ikonen says

    I think got it wrong in saying that Finnish companies don’t want to do business globally. You gave two examples Nokia and Rovio Nokia is far from being failed company it is very profitable and world wide just because they lost in sector does not mean that it is no longer large player it is and will be for long time. Rovio is different entirely it designs games which fly by night at the best every where. What about Metso extremely large global player in mining, Outokumpu is another that comes to mind. I almost fell over when you stated that Finnish companies are not innovative I suggest you do your research more thoroughly, start from ship building of ice breakers and have look at Swan yachts. Finnish companies are also up there in paper as number one innovator of all times when it comes to paper making and machinery. Bio companies are also worth mentioning.
    What about the Metsä Fiber in Aaanekoski it will be entirely up there that no one else have that kind of technology. Difference is that Singapore is more of a financial hub rather than player in industrial heavy engineering other than oil and gas but technology for that is not Singaporean it is from Holland and UK and Finland Let me know what you think

    • Where did I say that finnish companies are not innovative?

      I’m saying that they are VERY innovative but MOST are not targetting markets beyond Finland.

      Haha, really? Nokia handsets didn’t fail?

      • I think the miscommunication here is that you were talking about Nokia phones, while Markku is talking about Nokia the company (which, while no longer a giant, is still a player).

        In my experience, Finns are really obsessed about targetting foreign markets. This to the point that state economic policies have been prioritizing export industries over those targeting domestic markets for decades. The mistake we Finns make is to look for the one big industry to replace the last big industry. When I was a child, the saying was, Finland lives off the forest (a reference to Finland exporting a lot of wood products like paper and wood-processing technology like paper machines). When I was at University, Finland was suddenly seen (by Finns) as the high-tech capital of the world, largely led by Nokia. And now that Nokia is no longer the giant it was, everybody’s looking for the next big thing. A couple of years ago, the next big thing was supposed to be games. I’m not sure what the current buzz is, having recently emerged from my PhD🙂

      • Hello Antti!

        Interesting that you are saying that. Please don’t mind my curt responses with markku– haha we are sometimes squabbling, even on Facebook–It’s how we communicate.

        Can you clarify what you mean by “targeting”?

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