The mul­ti­cul­tural work­place: Nanocomp

Multiculturalism has enabled Nanocomp to turn itself from a small uni­ver­sity ini­ti­at­ive into a global busi­ness. Vice pres­id­ent Matti Eronen tells TalentHub Joensuu how Nanocomp has learned to nav­ig­ate the com­plex­it­ies of both the inter­na­tional mar­ket and inter­na­tional work­force.

Nanocomp is a photon­ics man­u­fac­turer that pro­duces light guides, optical film com­pon­ents and man­age­ment films and offers related ser­vices for its cli­ents. Initially foun­ded in the University of Eastern Finland as an R&D ven­ture, the com­pany has grown out of its humble begin­nings to become a global busi­ness, while at the same time shift­ing its focus towards mass pro­duc­tion. Eronen has been with the com­pany since 2008. He is in charge of sales, mar­ket­ing, busi­ness devel­op­ment and qual­ity assur­ance among other things. 

“Before Nanocomp, I’ve been involved in very inter­na­tional and mul­ti­cul­tural busi­nesses. I once worked for Perlos and for PKC Group. Even back then, I worked quite a lot with Asian affil­i­ates and people in coun­tries where the factor­ies were loc­ated.”

East Asia is Nanocomp’s main for­eign mar­ket. The com­pany man­u­fac­tures and sells products across China, Japan and Taiwan. Outside East Asia, Nanocomp also does busi­ness in North America and Europe. The cur­rent level of suc­cess enjoyed by Nanocomp would not be pos­sible without inter­na­tional tal­ent, and even in the early stages before Eronen’s time with the com­pany, enter­ing the inter­na­tional mar­ket was para­mount for Nanocomp.

“There were prob­ably all kinds of scen­arios on the table. Even at the time we had to acknow­ledge that Finland is not the mar­ket for com­pon­ent man­u­fac­tur­ing”, Eronen com­ments.

The very first inter­na­tional employ­ees were recruited very early on. The uni­ver­sity cam­pus proved to be an excel­lent hunt­ing ground for inter­na­tional recruits. 

“Even back then, before my time in the com­pany, we had interns and exchange stu­dents from Japan and China.”

Along with Chinese and Japanese people, Nanocomp has also employed Indian and Nepalese tal­ent in R&D. At the present, the com­pany employs three inter­na­tional work­ers in Finland — one Chinese, one Taiwanese and one Russian. In addi­tion to this Finland-based trio, the com­pany of course employs a pleth­ora of work­ers in tar­get coun­tries both in man­u­fac­tur­ing and as sales rep­res­ent­at­ives. 

Like in any other inter­na­tional busi­nesses, the cul­tures of the work­force mingle in mundane every­day situ­ations. Sometimes mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is a simple act of enjoy­ing dishes from dif­fer­ent coun­tries on your lunch break. Other times it’s a little less tan­gible, and some cul­tural dif­fer­ences require time to get used to. For Eronen, work­ing with inter­na­tional col­leagues has been easy, but he has also spot­ted dif­fer­ences in work­place dis­course as well as the employ­ees’ rev­er­ence towards man­age­ment.

“My team has for­eign­ers in it as well, and com­mu­nic­a­tion is dif­fer­ent with them. For instance, a Finn might bring up an idea spon­tan­eously, but with Asians you have to talk things through and things are brought to the table through ques­tions. In Asian coun­tries, man­agers receive a great deal of respect. In Finland, you could even walk right over your boss, but these people most cer­tainly will not. That sense of hier­archy is plainly vis­ible even here in Finland.”

Despite this and the fact that on occa­sion people at Nanocomp have to deal with inter­na­tional con­tacts who work very long hours under dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, the com­pany has chosen not to emu­late a for­eign work­ing cul­ture. 

While oper­at­ing abroad, the com­pany has to pay close rela­tions to cur­rent events such as the polit­ical cli­mate of China and take into account the com­plex inter­re­lated his­tor­ies of the coun­tries where it oper­ates. Sending Japanese salespeople into China, for example, would be out of the ques­tion, and rela­tions between China and Taiwan are strained to say the least. Fortunately, the rela­tions between com­pany employ­ees have been on good terms. 

“It does show”, tells Eronen, refer­ring to atti­tudes between dif­fer­ent nation­al­it­ies. “You have to put things in per­spect­ive in com­mu­nic­a­tion and team dynam­ics. Nevertheless, we try to treat every­one with respect and work together as a team.”

When a new inter­na­tional recruit joins the com­pany, the people at Nanocomp have taken the extra time to get people acquain­ted with Joensuu out­side of work in the form of short tours as well as trips to places such as Koli. Recruits some­times encounter hindrances with bur­eau­cracy. There is not much the com­pany can do on its own to help, Eronen admits. However, help is avail­able, and Nanocomp has taken advant­age of that to ensure its employ­ees can settle down com­fort­ably.

Take for example the time we recruited our Russian employee. Business Finland helped with pretty much all the bur­eau­cracy and get­ting the work per­mits in order. We don’t have the kind of organ­isa­tion that could help with those, so we were lucky to have Business Finland help us out.” 

Taking on inter­na­tional tal­ent has given Nanocomp the tools it needs to deal dir­ectly with inter­na­tional affil­i­ates. Meetings with cli­ents can be handled dir­ectly in Chinese, for instance, and mak­ing new pur­chases in tar­get coun­tries has also become easier. In pro­duc­tion, employ­ees have become more con­fid­ent in their use of for­eign lan­guages, mainly English. Recently the com­pany even offered its employ­ees a course in basic Mandarin. 

In short, the main bene­fit of inter­na­tional tal­ent is that Nanocomp is able to more flex­ibly tackle for­eign mar­kets on their terms. Moreover, in the field of photon­ics, that inter­na­tional tal­ent may be the only expert­ise avail­able to busi­nesses.

“On the other hand, we couldn’t in fact find tal­ent in Finland, so we have to look else­where. I can’t say for cer­tain that we will, but should we hire more people to work with our cli­ents, it may be smarter for us to hire people who speak Asian lan­guages or come from Asian coun­tries, and employ them spe­cific­ally here in Finland.”

Text: Lauri Vuori Pictures: Ari Tauslahti