Recently a study done by the Oresund Institute and published in Finland by Amcham Finland visualize that Stockholm/Sweden is the front runner in attracting the Nordic headquarters for many Fortune 500 companies. Denmark comes in second with Finland and Norway loosing out.

What might be the reason other than that Sweden is roughly twice the size and its economy is doing better? It can´t be education (judging from PISA results Sweden and Denmark are doing rather poorly), it can´t be easy access to Europe, as both Sweden and Denmark carry with them significant currency exchange inconveniences.

Could it be the culture?

Often Europe, from a typical non European point of view is considered to be “European” and it has its “European Culture”. The Nordics are Scandinavia and all you need to know is that the women are beautiful and have blond hair, men like to talk about kids, coffee and the outdoors and that alcohol is expensive.

Let´s forget for one moment that Finland is not technically part of Scandinavia. Let´s look at the people that make up these rather homogeneous cultures (foreign born percentages range from 5.6% in Finland, 8,5% in Denmark, 13,9% in Norway and 16% in Sweden)

Let´s make one point clear – there is NO Nordic Culture, and there is no European Culture.

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Within the Nordics you have on one hand the traditional trade nations, Sweden and Denmark, characterized by a rather low Uncertainty Avoidance. On the other end you have relative production focused countries such as Iceland and Norway (Fish) and Finland (Wood), characterized by a higher score on Uncertainty Avoidance.

Combine the relatively low uncertainty avoidance and higher indulgence of both Sweden and Denmark and you´ll have an environment where foreigners from Indulgent societies (e.g. US, UK) are more likely to enjoy life and companies don´t get bogged down in an unnecessary swamp of regulations and where in any case the attitudes towards regulations are more pragmatic.

What does Finland have to do to attract the Nordic/European headquarters of more foreign companies despite being such a gloomy place? Perhaps it could start by focusing its attention to countries which have more in common with the Finnish culture, such as Germany, Japan or South Korean and stop its obsession with the US. Typical organisations from Germany, Japan or South Korea are more used to deal with strictly following complex regulations and its people being used to a more low-key style of life. The biggest challenge with companies from Germany/Japan/South Korean might lie in Finland´s short term orientation / black-and-white attitude which leaves little space for a more pragmatic attitude to problems.

This could be handled with expectation management. Be frank about this element of life in Finland. When you come to Finland get used to regulations. Get used to a more low-key style of life. Enjoy the simplicity this brings you. You (typically) do not need to second guess intentions. Aim to bring professionals in their mid-career who will enjoy the relative simplicity Finland brings with and the well-balanced work-life attitude.

What sets the Finns apart from their closest Nordic neighbours? Compared to the Danes and the Swedes the Finns are culturally closer to Japan, German and South Korea when it comes to attitudes towards regulations and a focus on product quality. Compared to the Norwegians – Finns are a bit more achievement oriented which again, relatively speaking, puts them closer to the Germans, South Koreans and Japanese. Plus the Finns have moomins and a better education.

So, do you want have engineering professionals and perfection– come to Finland. Do you want to party hard and enjoy a more pragmatic attitude to life and business? Perhaps it is wiser to stay/go to Sweden.

Key insights

Recently a study done by the Oresund Institute and published in Finland by Amcham Finland visualize that Stockholm/Sweden is the front runner in attracting the Nordic headquarters for many Fortune 500 companies. Denmark comes in second with Finland and Norway loosing out.