You were born in Finland. Tell us a bit about your life journey that has now taken you to live in the United States.
I was lucky to be born in a country that takes education as seriously as Finland does. I went to high school in a small west-coast town (Pomarkku) with 2,500 inhabitants. The class sizes were around 12 students, with all of us receiving individual attention at every stage. I remember studying French in a class so small that in the US it would probably have been called private tutoring! I had already started working during the last year of high school and have had my hands full, usually with full-time studies and work, ever since.
After high school I moved to a somewhat bigger town called Turku where I studied Law, worked in management consulting, operated a nightclub and met my wife as well! Around the final years of law school I moved to Helsinki where I worked for one of Scandinavia’s biggest law firms, Roschier, in the area of transactions, disputes and IP until December 2011 – which is when I received an invitation to join the UN on a temporary basis in its regional headquarters in Bangkok (UNESCAP).
I couldn’t have had a more wonderful start to my career than working on international transactions, trade agreements and economic research and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working in Asia which certainly lived up to its image as the most dynamic continent in the past decades.
Once my wife and I felt that we had accomplished as much as we could in Asia in the early phases of our careers, we started to look around for options to move closer to the action, which put London, Paris, New York and Singapore right on the list. While it was pure coincidence that New York was the first location that opened up for the both of us simultaneously (we both managed to be fully employed from the day we landed), I am happy that everything happened like it did. New York has been a thoroughly career-altering experience for the both of us, and while the city certainly comes with its trade-offs (from its antiquated subway system to congestion) the positives outweigh the negatives 10 to 1. I think a colleague of mine said it best when he compared Austin and New York by saying that in both cities you are running, but in New York you are running on an escalator!
The degree was exactly as rigorous as one could expect from the fact that it was curated by LSE.
You already have Law degrees from universities in Finland and the US. Why did you decide to study for a BSc with the University of London?
I’ve always wanted to understand our society and socio-economic behaviour, and for me my legal studies were the first step on a long road to accomplish that goal while still making sure that I have marketable skills that would keep me gainfully employed from day one.
However, legal studies were never going to be enough for me given that modern legal practice is quite often confined to descriptive analysis and research, while economics and psychology keep all the juicy theories and questions to themselves. After graduating with my first master’s degree in Law from Finland I set out to do a postgraduate degree from King’s College on the topic of economics and competition law as a “halfway house” on the way to a more rigorous degree in economics.
In 2015, I felt that the time was right to take on the BSc with the University of London and I am glad that both my supervisor and my wife agreed, given that it was not always easy to manage a full workload and full-time studies on the side, in particular given that the degree was exactly as rigorous as one could expect from the fact that it was curated by LSE.
The reason I chose the University of London at the time was rather simple – there was no other programme that offered a similarly rigorous and academically fulfilling programme that could be undertaken without dropping out of work, which would have been impossible simply for visa and financial reasons alone. The fact that the University of London provided an incredible amount of support both before and during my degree made the choice even simpler, and if there were MSc degrees in economics with LSE curation available I would already be enrolled!
The US LLM degree from Fordham came on top of my studies at UoL and work at the UN during 2016/17 which, needless to say, was an academically challenging period overall. However, both programmes were wonderfully flexible and the admin staff in both universities found ways to accommodate my situation without making me fall behind the overall graduation schedule, for which I am grateful to both institutions. The main reason behind doing a local legal degree was to be eligible for the NY bar exam, which I passed in 2017.
Tell us about your role with the UN.
In the past years I have been blessed with the opportunity to support the work of the UN in various capacities, including as a contracts and grants consultant, economic affairs officer, procurement officer and, most recently, as an administrative officer in the front office of the Assistant Secretary-General for Supply Chain Management.
In all of my positions I have worked on international transactions, contracts or financial arrangements, with my most recent tasks being focused mostly on making complex deals happen and providing compliance oversight in virtually every country in which the UN has presence. Having the opportunity to serve the UN at such a level is sincerely beyond anything I had dared to hope for when I left Finland in 2011, and I only hope that I will be able to continue on this path for much longer.
In terms of actual real-world tradeoffs when working for the UN, the only one that comes to mind is that the private sector and academia rarely has a good understanding of what people such as myself do in the organization, with quite a few being utterly surprised to hear that the UN conducts billions of dollars’ worth of transactions and has a pension fund with more than 60 billion in assets under management. However, when we get the chance to explain what some of us legal/economics experts are doing it is easy to find a common language with our peers on Wall Street, Big Law and beyond.
Do you think that your University of London degree has helped you progress in your career?
Absolutely! To begin with, the BSc Economics degree is a wonderfully rigorous experience that has its academic bar high. The LSE-delivered content prepared me to take on increasingly complex transactions given that I gained real, hands-on experience in statistics, econometrics as well as mathematics which have helped set me apart from others in my field.
In addition, I gained a comprehensive and deep understanding of economics which has allowed me to progress in academia much faster than I otherwise could have. Based on the feedback from some of my previous interviews with the UN, I know for a fact that employers have taken note of the University of London credentials, and in some cases have specifically mentioned that they had selected me from the long-list exactly because of how I had demonstrated a knowledge of both law and economic modelling which was essential for the task they had available. Given that I did not need compromise between work and my studies to accomplish this I am very happy indeed!
I never needed to compromise on work and I also had time to spend on other things to my heart’s desire.
How did you balance working at the UN and studying for your degree?
I was lucky to have an extremely supportive supervisor in Bangkok when I started my studies. In fact, she had been a Professor of Economics herself and had long promoted the idea of going the full mile and doing a BSc in Economics. Because the study modules and periods of in-person teaching were extremely well laid out and timed in a predictable manner, combining studies and work was never too difficult logistically. All it took was some pre-emptive scheduling of my annual leave days to coincide with visits to London, as well as to accommodate for exam days and the lead-up preparations.
The actual studying, however, took a fair amount of self-discipline which I managed to outsource to my study routine which consisted of readings and problem-sets every evening with 4-6 hours of studies each weekend. I am sure that I could have passed my exams with a somewhat easier study plan, but I was gunning for First Class Honours which I ultimately managed to achieve, and I didn’t want to take too many chances knowing that the LSE curated exams can be tough!
Hopefully the above doesn’t sound like I didn’t get to do anything else than studying – the fact that my supervisors were on-board and equipped with a routine that was clear and worked for me, I never needed to compromise on work and I also had time to spend on other things to my heart’s desire.