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Five Questions With Finnair's CEO

CNBC.com
Wednesday, 20 Apr 2011 | 9:28 PM ET

Recently chosen as the airline with the best airport lounge out of 600 around the world, Finnair is hoping to attract more travelers from Asia to Europe. The airline has more than 250 flights a month to 10 Asia-Pacific destinations via Helsinki. Trying to maintain an edge over stiff competition from other airlines flying to Asia, Finnair CEO and President Mika Vehvilainen tells CNBC why passengers should choose to fly through its capital.

Finnair CEO and President Mika Vehviläinen
CNBC.com
Finnair CEO and President Mika Vehviläinen

Q. You previously worked for Nokia Siemens Network, what was the change like from working in the telecom industry to leading an airline?

In fact, there has been a surprising number of similarities; both industries are going through major structural changes, consolidation and technical further developments. Therefore I have been able to exploit many of those lessons gained as the COO of Nokia Siemens Networks. At the same time, the
fact that I am a relative outsider to the industry means that I have been able to bring some fresh thinking to the company. In addition, telecoms as well as airline industries are businesses that everybody has emotional ties to. I would say that the major difference has been that when I used to be a premium customer of airlines (travelling close to 200 days a year) I now run an airline and travel slightly less.

Q. What's it like to work for a majority government-owned carrier?

I don't think there is major difference in working for a majority state owned company vs. working for a privately held or publicly listed company where major shareholders are non-governmental bodies. The government recognizes that Finnair is a listed company and follows the normal governance rules of a listed company. I have felt that the company has a mandate to do what is best for its long-term business.

Q. You are fighting stiff competition from hubs such as London, Dubai, Qatar and others when it comes to transporting passengers between Europe and Asia. Why should passengers opt to fly through Helsinki?

It is clear that we don't compete against direct routes to metropolises, but we are a strong player when people want to fly to cities which do not have direct connections. In this, we want to be the most desired airline in Europe. I also think that geography works for us in this case as, from Asia, we are actually on the way to Europe. Our airport is also a huge plus and
for fast connections we have short transit times. For those who stay longer in Helsinki airport, we have an excellent lounge and spa that was just voted the best in the world. Onboard, we invest significantly in service for the whole customer journey, including naturally the cabin service. We also look to employ local air hostesses so that we can assist those who wish to
receive service in their own language.

Q. What's the most irritating thing for you about long-haul flying?

I always look for peace of mind and relaxation. Interruptions irritate me at certain times.

Q. What's the best investment you've ever made?

The companies that I have been involved in have made many good and interesting investments on business. For me personally, the best investment has been my summer cottage which I bought when I was living overseas. The cottage is about a 40-minute ride from Helsinki in a place called Kirkonummi. The place is close to the sea and has beautiful scenery. It has brought me lots of joy and peace of mind.

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