Toni Toikka - Time to Say Goodbye
It has become time to thank you all and look back at the past years before turning our gaze to the future.
The FACC has grown faster than ever before, becoming more well-known than ever before in both the United States and in Finland. We have doubled our enterprise memberships reaching the highest level ever. We posted record revenue in 2017 as not only the membership but also the event sales hit a fresh high. There is more to come as we have yet another 30% growth in the pipeline for the fiscal year ending 2018. Over the past months, FACC has reached more than 100,000 views on our Facebook post on several occasions, a figure that would make most online marketing managers of well-known brands jealous.
Since founded in 1948, the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce has been chaired by many iconic business leaders, to name a few: Mr. Kari Kairamo, Jorma Ollilla, Matti Virkkunen and Risto Siilasmaa. Leveraging our history and the legacy of these great leaders, we had a strong brand to build on. One of the many characteristics these leaders share is that they have unselfishly sought to benefit the Finnish Economy. This principle has become even more important to FACC over the last years.
However, as the saying goes, “success one day does not give you a free lunch every day thereafter”. For more than a decade FACC had experienced loss of membership and as a result, diminishing revenues. The cause was quite simple: FACC had strayed from its original mission and deployed time and resources to things that benefited only a small group of members, becoming irrelevant to most of the Finnish export companies. Simultaneously, the Finnish government had gradually shifted its support elsewhere. All these developments together had gradually led FACC to dire straits.
We had to wake up to the same harsh reality as most of the chambers all around the world. The world had changed and we needed to change with it. The question “how would we transform”, was paramount.
When the former prime minister of Finland, Mr. Jyrki Katainen was asked how SLUSH happened, he answered “I don’t know”. It wasn’t that he didn’t know. Mr. Katainen wanted to make a point that, sometimes, good things happen without government - or exactly because of that. Since those days, SLUSH has become such a huge success that many governments around the world have begged Mr. Peter Vesterbacka, the founder of SLUSH to give his blessing to launch SLUSH of their own.
This point was illustrated last week on FACC’s trade promotion mission to Taiwan.
Mr. Vesterbacka told the representatives of Taiwanese government the story of how Singapore got their SLUSH. The Singaporean government officials first had to commit to a rule of, if being asked whether the event entrant was working for the government, he or she would be denied access at the gate. The Taiwanese officials were, of course, shocked by the story. However, when Mr. Vesterbacka told the same story about the Prime Minister Katainen, the Taiwanese officials experienced enlightenment.
FACC’s phenomenal success is a result of the same ideology that created SLUSH: Foster a big idea and pass it to the next generation.
Young people will make anything happen. They are not afraid of losing something that they don’t have. If they make a mistake they will learn and try again. Giving ownership and empowering the next generation carries real results. Sustainable development follows only from challenging and rethinking the establishment - everyday. FACC might not give birth to unicorns like SLUSH does. However, FACC might help the unicorns to find new opportunities in the twilight zone between the old and new ways of doing business.
Just like SLUSH exists not for itself but for startups, FACC exists for its members, not for itself and at very least for high paid executives.
There are many organizations that have lost their true north, becoming merely vehicles of generating wealth and fame for their highly-paid executives. One core principle at FACC is that its leadership is working without compensation. We must invest the proceeds we generate from our members in the next generation, create opportunities for the young people instead of generating wealth to those who already have it. Just like at SLUSH, the relentless work of young Finnish talent has been powerful and yielded astonishing results.
I would like to thank with all my heart Ms. Annemarie Hjorth and Mr. Marko Salonen for all their hard work and effort in building the new FACC. There are numerous other bright and able young professionals, out of which I would also like to recognize Ms. Mari Tomunen for her contributions in building FACC. There are numerous others joining the movement, and we should welcome them with great gratitude.
It took SLUSH nearly 10 years to grow to its current glory. We are all eager to see what FACC is a few years from now.
There are $10 billion dollars’ worth of opportunities ahead of us in the near term.
In 2021, Finland will make one of the most important political and economic decisions of the past 25 years. The parliament is going to resolve the provider of the new fleet of fighter planes. The decision is not only economically important, the fleet and affiliation that comes with it will be essential for safeguarding the independence of Republic of Finland.
The American suppliers are very eager to win the contract. Thus, these companies have a strong interest to do business with the Finnish enterprises, and to cultivate goodwill within the Finnish parliament.
The other low hanging fruit resides with United Nations, an organization that Finland contributes considerable amount of money every year. The UN procurement activity towards the Finnish companies has been on a downward spiral and plummeted 70% in just three years. We need to take a new approach to pursue a larger share of the UN’s $17 billion annual procurement budget. Today Finland is behind all of its peer group countries in getting its share of the money flowing the other way. 
The industrial cooperation and UN procurement programs are just some of the opportunities that are in our backyard waiting to be extracted.
Leveling the Playing Field
On the policy side, it is important that we maintain our efforts for leveling the playing field, enforcing that the rules apply to all parties. This is now on the agenda of Minister of Foreign Trade Mr. Kai Mykkänen. Helsingin Sanomat quoted him wanting to withdraw all privileges from countries who do not honor especially labor conditions. 
Even though it might seem impossible to compete without breaking the rules and competition is getting the unfair benefit by cutting the corners, we should believe it is of mandatory importance to comply with the laws and regulations, both foreign and domestic. In the long run, staying on the right side of the law will pay off. The non-political approach FACC combined with the principle of diligently honoring regulation has garnered FACC the trust of US government.
The great attestation of the above is that the United States government has awarded FACC with the most significant benefits that any government could grant us: a more than generous allocation of H1-B visas relative to our size. Further, the support of the US Embassy in Finland has been essential to us and I would like to express special gratitude to the Ambassador and his staff.
It would require me to write a small book to list all the stakeholders who have extended their support.
On behalf of FACC, I would like to thank all our patrons, especially those represented on our board for their generous financial support.
I would like to thank Mr. Risto E.J. Penttilä and Mr. Timo Vuori from the Finnish Central Chamber of Commerce who have been of utmost support, as well as Mr. Jyri Häkämies of Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) for his assistance in facilitating FACC’s collaboration with various government branches regarding the industrial cooperation. EK and Mr. Häkämies have also been an inspiration in for the initiative of promoting the largest Finnish companies to work with growth companies. 
Finally, I would like to thank the board members for the support and encouragement I have personally received during these years. It has been a privilege to serve this magnificent organization. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for having had this opportunity to work for you for the past years.
I wish the best of success to my successor Ms. Kati Kaivonen as she resumes the position of chairman and president of FACC.
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