I recently interviewed Karim Azriouli, a Finn who immigrated to Canada, where he already feels at home although he says missing summer nights in Finland, spending time in the summer cottage and of course sauna.
British & Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce in Finland: Helsinki and Montreal are quite different cities, starting from size for example, with all what that implies. What makes Montreal a good place to live?
Karim Azriouli: Diversity, lots of immigrants, different cultures and different nationalities sharing one city, that’s one thing I like most from Montreal.
BCCCF: You moved to Canada only knowing your girlfriend, without a job waiting for you. You moved to build up your career by yourself. How is it to be a foreigner starting from scratch in Canada?
KA: Bureaucracy is easier in Canada than in Finland. Finding a job is not easy without speaking French apart from English, of course it depends on the job too. I believe in being proactive. In most, if not all cases we are more used to move to other countries when we have a job in a company or a business opportunity already set but if we don’t have that, the initial step is far too big for most to take. Most immigrants here didn’t come with a business opportunity to begin with. They open their own business after and continue from there on. That makes a huge difference. Diversity, as I mentioned before, makes it more appealing for me personally as I come from a multicultural background myself. Besides being a citizen, how does nationality shape and define itself nowadays? Many people have more than one nationality or share a completely different culture and customs than which their nationality would initially suggest. Montreal is more diverse than most cities in Canada with an emerging number of immigrants. In this regard Montreal is naturally much more advanced than Helsinki for example, although in Finland we are seeing more people awaking the growing number of nationalities and cultures present.
BCCCF: What were you doing in Finland before moving to Montreal?
KA: I was working in the field of web analytics and Internet marketing – providing customers with analyzed marketing results. It was an Internet Marketing Consulting company. I was responsible for the sales and marketing of the company. We became quickly the fastest growing IT-company (Deloitte, Rising Star category) in Finland. It was my first job with a decent amount of responsibility, managing a sales unit consisting of 12 people. There were no restrictions, no limitations in how much I could influence and practice my experience as long as I could meet and exceed the expectations. It was a great experience. I wanted to continue and take the investment abroad but the company was not willing. The main reason was not being able to take the risk.
BCCCF: How do you see the opportunity of Finnish companies investing abroad and foreign capital coming to Finland? Let’s say, Canada and Finland working in cooperation?
KA: I see great potential in Finnish expertise. Finland has a high standard of know-how, even more so if you compare it on a global scale. Small companies usually stay small mainly because of their reluctance to grow into the international market, or rather, their reluctance to meet the challenges and demands when exploiting their investment to the fullest. Too often companies prefer to stay in their comfort zone. The Finnish way of doing business is repeatedly restricted by this mentality, often missing the opportunity or underestimating the potential of their investment. Because of this, when outside the boarders, the most commonly accepted answer and way of growing is by using solely local expertise instead of their own. This, on the other hand, makes Finland a great opportunity for foreign investors and partners. Ultimately, I see more opportunity of foreign capital coming to Finland than Finnish companies investing abroad. I am certain that the know-how and potential of the Finnish companies is competitive enough within the global market. Yet, I feel Finnish entrepreneurs should recognize even more the potential they have in their hands and be more aware and proactive in seeking opportunities. “We don’t want to grow too fast, we want to grow slow.” is a phrase used too often and inappropriate in the context whether international or local business in general.
BCCCF: Do you think Finnish companies are ready and willing to have a representation in Canada?
KA: Perhaps not acknowledged enough, there still is a huge demand for foreign expertise when it comes to taking Finnish companies abroad. There lies the mutual interest. I can’t see any reason why Canada would differ in this respect. Nokia is an often used example of a successful venture, a small company from a small country growing into a giant player and a global icon. Nokia is just one example and shouldn’t be left as the only one. Even if not the same kind of giant, there are constant opportunities for many other “Nokias” as long as we are able to grasp them.
Karim Azriouli can be contacted at email@example.com
Interview by Susan Fourtané for the British & Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce in Finland –
The interview was published first on July 14th, 2009 as part of the British & Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce in Finland’s Newsletter: http://www.bcccf.fi/newsletter/karim_azriouli.html