The Messukeskus Expo and Convention Center in Helsinki came alive for 2 days in early October, as the impressive Nordic Business Forum hit town with 5,700 executives attending from over 30 countries. Added to these were up to 10,000 global viewers via live-streaming.
The speaker list for previous annual Nordic Business Forum events, with themes such as Impact, Leadership and Growth, is an impressive collection of international leaders and pioneers including Al Gore, Sir Richard Branson, Jimmy Wales, Jack Welch, Malcolm Gladwell and Arianna Huffington.
This years speaker line-up was no exception with a crafted mix of world-renowned marketers, entrepreneurs and business leaders, with insight based around Digitisation, Marketing and Culture.
With the lofty goal for Nordic Business Forum to become the most significant business seminar in the world by 2021, this year’s event had flawless large-scale production execution and a feast of powerful visuals, cultural experiences and a very friendly supporting crew of uniformed volunteers.
The event continues to climb the ladder of international business events, whilst the headquarters and the heart remain firmly in Jyväsklyä.
From Humble Beginnings to Centre Stage
The Forum was founded in Jyväskylä, Central Finland (three hours drive north from Helsinki) by Hans-Peter Siefen and Jyri Lindén during winter 2008. The first four events were held there, but Helsinki beckoned with larger facilities and this was now the third annual event in the Finnish capital.
That is not to say that things are leaving the town. It is the homebase for the famous and unbelievably fast Rally of Finland – a must attend event for motorsport fans each July and part of the International WRC scene for years. One of the few times that the beautiful Finnish countryside is disturbed.
Jyväskylä City took the opportunity at this years Forum to launch The Central Finland Wellness Expertise Cluster, a one billion euro investment in future wellbeing solutions. Those efforts are supported by public-private partnerships and 16 key organisations including Research Institute for Olympic Sports and the locally headquartered international sports tech company FirstBeat Technologies.
Behind the hype of VR, digitalization
The Nordic Business Forum event has grown to become a huge networking and matchmaking experience, but it was the large double-sided main stage that provided the focal point for the Forum’s program.
Scott Galloway kicked off by highlighting the changing landscape in the world of brands and the mass shifting of advertising budgets to video and social media content. The first (of many) mentions on the main stage about Google and Facebook, highlighted the immense strength of the internet giants who now lead the digital advertising space and out-gun traditional advertising organisations by miles.
Galloway also concluded that: a logical next step is for more consumers to pay a small amount to avoid (poor) advertising, that in-store experiences still really matter (think Apple) and that niche businesses are thriving such as local brew companies.
Peter Diamandis continued on stage and talked about the exponential growth of technology and the coming business opportunities for Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). There has been a lot of hype for these topics but Diamandis raised the interesting (and somewhat scary) point that in a couple of steps, the technology will be at a level where the human eye will not be able to distinguish virtual, from reality, experiences. That made me think of Total Recall, starring none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger a former Nordic Business Forum speaker.
Day trade attention
Gary Vaynerchuk kept the audience entertained with an energetic session towards the end of the first day. Well known for his social media insights, rants and cool phrases like “ I day trade attention” for him, it’s all about bringing value to people and working damn hard. VaynerMedia digital marketing agency in a few years has grown into a 100 million dollar revenue company and he’s just getting going. A talented story-teller, he has no fear to test new ideas based on hard data research, on understanding people’s behaviours and his general intuition.
Dick Costolo, former Twitter CEO 2010-2015, gave insights about the huge growth of the company during his tenure, but also the importance to challenge and question the status quo within an organisation – why has it taken too long to learn something? Only during the moderator question time was there a hint of his current passion and coming health and fitness service Chorus, which aims to disrupt the idea of exercising alone. On that vein he commented on the development of smarter wearables where the optical reading capabilities are moving to more advanced red light technologies which will be used to accurately monitor many more physiological signals in the future, thus potentially becoming personal medical devices.
Vineet Nayar talked about putting employees first and customers second and his long career in making that happen at HCL Technologies, India. His belief that management must be accountable to their employees, to be open and to accept (and correct) faults, was put to the test when he implemented an online questionnaire appraisal of his performance to be rated by employees. Needless to say, he survived that many years and his unconventional management style helped massively grow the business. Nayar summarized his intention to create inspiring organisations, with employees who are empowered and who take pride in the organisation.
Lifestyle bloggers Seth Godin on tackling uncertainty
Seth Godin, the well known marketing guru, leading blogger and prolific author of 18 books including Tribes and Purple Cow, gave his insights to a full and attentive audience. His approach is to take the current uncertainty and fast moving markets as an “opportunity of a lifetime”. To lead by doing something new and brave. He continued by saying that the previous mass markets with one size for all, are gone. Marketing needs to be well tailored and remarkable – literally worth people making a remark about.
Godin was among several of the speakers to endorse the idea of openly sharing knowledge to earn trust and to be bold, to avoid excuses and reasons not to try new ideas – “experts are wrong all the time” he told. The general message was to take calculated risks, rather than the risk of doing nothing.
Passion and hard work
Tony Hawk spoke about finding success through passion and in reinventing brands. A professional skateboarder since his early teens, he spoke about his passion for skateboarding and the related business opportunities. It’s not been an easy ride off the board – in the early years he signed poor endorsement deals, his image was misused and only later he fully realized the importance of protecting his image and the need to take more personal control. In the 1990’s he had to believe in the revival of skateboarding which, as it turns out, was correct as yet another generation brings the sport to another level, partly driven by Hawks’ well known computer games.
The fact that earlier this year, the 48 year old repeated his originally groundbreaking 900° air spin on the 17th anniversary, merely shows his attitude to working hard and getting things done.
In the presence of the skateboard legend and perhaps a first for an international business event, the Nordic Business Forum ended with Business skate for good – a charity competition organized by local company Tapaus and Nordic based agency DDB.
Quite a practical way to apply the general ‘no fear’ message which repeated several times throughout the two days – take charge of the situation and own it! It’s the same for the boardroom or for boardsports.