Antti Harjuoja believes in dreams: “Otherwise there is no reason to wake up to a new day”
Antti Harjuoja moved from his birthplace Tornio to Rauma at the age of seventeen to chase an ice hockey career. During the 16 years following that move Mr Harjuoja has studied, worked hard in different lines of business and travelled around Europe. Various experiences in life encouraged him to listen more to his own feelings and hopes while making choices.
Turku Science Park Ltd is one of the partners of the UBI China project which operates under the Pori-based company Prizztech Oy and is part of the Ubiquitous Computing competence cluster in the national Centre of Expertise programme. The project aims at increasing the expertise and export activities of Finnish companies in the Chinese markets. The goal is to use training and coaching to find Finnish products that would be suited e.g. to the demo houses being erected within the DigiEcoCity project in China and hence more broadly to the Chinese market.
Antti Harjuoja and his business partner Juha Latvajärvi started as coaches of the UBI China project earlier this autumn. They will be promoting e.g. the export explorations of Turku region companies into China. Their recently founded company Avika Oy utilises Mr Harjuoja’s know-how in B-to-B marketing and sales, training, and project management. Mr Latvajärvi brings expertise in China after working with the Chinese markets in various positions since 1999.
From Tornio to the world
Antti Harjuoja began to play ice hockey at the age of 11. He was aiming at an ice hockey career and outgrew the Tornio hockey scene by the age of seventeen, and so he told his parents that he would move to Rauma to play in the local club Lukko’s junior team. After completing upper secondary school and military service he left Rauma for Tours, France where he played almost a full season at the turn of the millennium.
“When I returned to Finland I was planning to continue playing in the team of Uudenkaupungin Jääkotkat. However, I had to go through three knee operations during a period of just eight months, so I decided that chasing that dream is over. I began industrial engineering studies in Helsinki and started a new phase in my life which, in retrospect, seems to have been guided by reason.”
At first, the IT industry felt like the right choice for Antti, although he grew tired of Java programming and databases during the studies.
“I fought my way through the studies, though. An interest in international work that started in France inspired me to do my practical training in spring 2002 at Elcoteq’s Zürich unit, and the next autumn I went to student exchange to Copenhagen.”
After graduation, Antti started work in MicroMedia, a company specialising in marketing communication and sales promotion.
“My career progressed quickly, and there were changes in my private life, too. In the end it got too stressing and I decided to quit my job. After a couple of months’ break I ended up in Logica as a project manager. I never really felt at home in the big company, I thought that the work was somehow impersonal.”
Antti left Logica in summer 2008 and started in August at Mercuri International as a sales management and sales consultant and stayed in that job until spring 2010.
“In terms of personal expertise those were very good times, but in spring 2010 I decided to take on a challenge and went to work at SAP. Everything was OK in principle, but I had no burning desire for the work.”
“Big changes in my life over a period of a few years affected me so much that I wanted to take a break from the rat race and do something else. So I applied for design management studies at the International University of Southern Europe in Barcelona.”
What to do when you grow up?
Antti packed his things in a car and headed to Barcelona. After the autumn he travelled for a couple of months in Italy and Germany. The experiences in Spain and Italy made him appreciate the more laid back Southern European lifestyle and think about what he really wants from his own life.
The 30 books he read during the trip, ranging from Finnish private eye Vares to Dostoyevsky and art history, as well as discussion with the people he met on the road gave him inspiration for own thinking. In conclusion Antti decided that he did not want to return to the rat race in which he had ended up after giving up ice hockey and finishing his studies. He wanted to start a new life that would be more guided by his own feelings.
“A year ago I suggested to my friend Juha Latvajärvi, who lives in Tampere, that we could set up a company that utilises the Chinese networks. The idea began to develop in the spring, and in March we agreed on it. I feel that it has given me back the desire for working.”
“We came across the opportunity to offer our expertise to the UBI China partly by chance, by following the tips given by the right people. It reminds us that everything depends on people. One has to take on new things and opportunities with an open mind”, Antti says.
Contacts in China
The right people are important also for those aiming at the Chinese market. A small company has to gain enough credibility which is usually obtained through a third party – in practice the right people. With help from UBI China, the SMEs exploring the Chinese markets are supported by Avika’s network which has been used by e.g. UPM and Tikkurila in creating their own channels and contacts.
“The Chinese are looking for long-term co-operation relationships and they do their homework carefully before meetings and signing of agreements. They have high payment morals, but they examine the agreements closely in order to ensure as beneficial agreements as possible for themselves. From the Finnish perspective it is important to use an expert or a contracts lawyer in negotiations.”
“It is interesting that Finns pop a champagne bottle after making a deal, but the Chinese start work and celebrate only after gathering the profits”, Antti Harjuoja says.
Antti settled in an old wooden house in Turku city-centre last spring.
“I hope that my current work as an independent entrepreneur will take off, but if not, then I’ll have to do something else. Nevertheless I believe that our network in China combined with expertise and experience in sales work and networking will take us forward.”
What about Tornio, could he think of returning there?
“I haven’t longed to go back there. I miss Southern Europe more. Maybe I will return there someday if my work allows it. You need to believe in dreams, otherwise there is no reason to wake up to a new day”, Antti says about his motto.
- Born in Tornio in 1979
- Played ice hockey until 22 years old e.g. in Tornio, Rauma and France
- Bachelor of Industrial Engineering
- Sales, marketing and project management jobs in e.g. MicroMedia, Logica and Mercuri International
- Entrepreneur in Avika Oy as of autumn 2012