Greetings from Alumni: Tuomo Heikkinen
20 May 2020
This time, we interviewed our alumnus Tuomo Heikkinen, who currently works as lead counsel at Stora Enso. Before joining Stora Enso, Tuomo worked as a senior associate in Hannes Snellman’s M&A team until spring 2019. We spoke with Tuomo about his unique career path and working as an in-house lawyer.
Hi Tuomo, how has your spring been?
It has been rather busy – as one might imagine. During times of uncertainty and disruption, legal services, whether in-house or external, appear to be in high demand.
You have now worked as a lead counsel at Stora Enso for one year. What have you learned in the course of your first year as an in-house lawyer?
The easy and short answer would be “the DNA of different packaging materials and solutions”, since I work for Stora Enso’s Packaging Materials Division. But to elaborate a bit more, I would say the key lesson of my first in-house year is the huge value-creation potential for businesses that in-house, as well as external, lawyers have. To be successful in leveraging this potential, one has to be really interested in the business in question and in the wider world outside the narrow scope of each business segment as well. I have noticed that for both successful in-house and external counsels, the same applies: in an interconnected world, you have to be able to understand a myriad of different aspects that are technical, financial, and legal and connect those dots together in an individual matter. This is the way to become a trusted close partner for a business – for lawyers this alliance is built quite naturally but not without effort.
What would you say are the biggest differences between working as an in-house lawyer and working as a lawyer in a law firm?
As an in-house lawyer, you have to be quicker in decision making. In practice, this sometimes means that all the dots and spaces in the relevant documents cannot always be perfect and you have to make decisions more often without knowing all the details. Of course, this by no means justifies sloppiness, but you have to be a bit more focused on only the core of each matter.
You started as an associate trainee at Hannes Snellman in January 2013. Do you happen to remember what your very first day was like? And how about your last day at Hannes Snellman?
Yes, I do quite well, actually. The first day was full of excitement, and, in many ways, those expectations that I had were more than met during my years at Hannes Snellman. On my last day, I think I felt sad and happy at the same time. But, especially looking back now, it is the great colleagues I miss the most.
Your career path has not been the most traditional one. For instance, you have worked as a business journalist, you have spent 1.5 years in Uruguay and five years at a law firm, and now you are working as an in-house lawyer. Have you done any active career planning, or how have these opportunities come to you?
No, almost none of active planning to be honest. I have sort of tried to capture each interesting opportunity when available and literally gone with the flow trusting that life will float. Maybe it has helped quite significantly that I have a generalist mindset and I am genuinely interested in many different disciplines. Even though specialisation is quite strongly in fashion in today’s work-life, and I can also agree on certain clear benefits of this progress, I still tend to think that true generalists have their well-earned place in the future of work-life as well.
It seems that you have worked with people of different cultural backgrounds. What advice would you give to someone having to tackle cultural differences?
I think the key is, no matter how cliché it might sound, that you should treat and confront each person as an individual, not as a member of certain predetermined group. Challenge your own conventional, or even biased, ways of thinking and open your mind for different influences and constructive and transparent debate. Truly listen to the other persons. In the end, regardless of nationality or cultural background, everyone values pretty much the same things: respect and trust among people and within teams. With the basic rules of empathy, you will hardly miss.