Author: Sirpa Ikola, VP Marketing, Nordic Baltic Zone, Schneider Electric
It all boils down to bravery, a certain type of boldness to ask for what you want.But also, the ability to handle failure. Because you don’t always get what you want, but as Wayne Gretzky famously said: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
Guess I can say that I have been quite brave all my life in my own way. From taking a dressage test with the largest and strongest horse in the camp, and surprising myself with the best possible results, to applying for a scholarship, getting it, and consequently moving all the way from Turku to Texas to study for MBA all by myself. And finally, bravely accepting an expat assignment in Singapore, when in fact I hadn’t even looked at the map where Singapore was.
Trust that your courage and skills carry you further
After my MBA studies I still wasn’t sure where I wanted to start building a career, and by coincidence I stumbled upon telecommunications industry, already in Texas. I was encouraged by a friend to apply for a technology marketing role at Ericsson in Dallas, Texas, and I did. I was selected and loved it since day one.
I had always loved technology but didn’t pursue engineering. Having less than 60% match for the skills they desired didn’t stop me. I felt confident to pursue telecommunications. But there was an issue, I missed Finland. I took the courage to ask my manager if he could recommend me for a transfer to the Finland office. He was surprised and perhaps somewhat disappointed, but he agreed to it. Within a month of my return, I was employed by Ericsson in Finland.
Dare to dream bigger and never fail to broadcast your intentions
Coming to four years at Ericsson Finland I started to dream about an overseas assignment, and my focus was on Asia. I had made very good friends who came from various parts of Southeast Asia during my studies in Dallas, and hence, I felt that I needed to experience living and working in Asia. I wasn’t sure how the process would work but I decided to “broadcast” my intentions to both my manager in Finland and to my colleagues over at the Ericsson headquarters in Stockholm which led me to learn about a very valuable lesson.
Broadcasting your intentions can be one of the best ways to kick-start a process towards your next goal. Within six months, I was called for an interview for an expat role in Asia. Two weeks later I got the news – I got the job! In Singapore, of all the possible places! I felt both excited and a bit scared because I had never experienced life in Southeast Asia let alone Singapore. This was my unique chance to broaden my horizons and dive right into a new culture.
“Having less than 60% match for the skills they desired didn’t stop me.
I felt confident to pursue telecommunications.”
Rough seas make strong sailors
Singapore was a very enriching chapter in my life. I aimed to stay for two years, I stayed 17. In Singapore, after a couple of years I was introduced to Nokia by a Finnish lady. She was returning to Finland and acted like an ally to a fellow Finn (me) to get me an interview. I finally accepted a job in this hugely engineering oriented, tremendously successful company with a brand that was deeply loved by many.
Nokia had healthy values on equality and inclusion. Your success depended on your genuine interest to sign up for those tough assignments to grow. I learned early and fast to sit at the table during important meetings instead of far back at the room or by the wall. I learned to voice my opinions confidently and to trust that my skills will carry me.
My time in Singapore sharpened my cultural sensitivity. I learned to appreciate the richness of diversity in organizational settings and the importance of knowing oneself.
Hold the ladder for other women
Upon returning to Finland, my attention was drawn to the LinkedIn publications of a female leader working at Schneider Electric. Her profile, her comments on the Schneider Electric posts and the content she was posting caught my eye. I decided to send her a connection request and directly scheduled a coffee with her in hopes of learning more about Schneider Electric which only grew my enthusiasm. I then bravely decided to ask if she knew of any openings and before I knew it, I began my new career as a Channel Marketing Director at Schneider. One good learning here is to take a few calculated risks, ask for what you want and you might get it!
Coincidentally, I have chosen to follow a career path in male dominated industries. I have had the privilege to learn and thrive under various challenging roles that have shaped me but also made me open my eyes to the fact that everyone succeeds in their own way and it is important for me to observe and listen carefully in order to be the best possible ally. My path has not been without speed bumps. I have learnt the importance of resilience, to rise more times than I have fallen. I am extremely grateful for a diverse marketing team that teaches me humility, patience and openness to everyone’s opinions. They also teach me that everyone’s path is different, and people can succeed in many different ways, not everyone needs to jump into the deep end every time for a career boost.