Dr. Pekka Mattila of Aalto University: “Leadership is all about taking people to places where they hadn’t dare to go alone, and always with a purpose”

Kate Mowbray
Authority Magazine
Published in
5 min readApr 27, 2021


“I believe leadership is all about taking people to places where they hadn’t dare to go alone, and always with a purpose. To me it boils down to three pursuits: commitment to authenticity, commitment to consistency and commitment to fairness.”

Dr. Pekka Mattila is the Group Managing Director of Aalto University Executive Education in Finland, and serves as a Professor of Practice at the Aalto University School of Business. He works frequently with European, Asian, African, and North American executive audiences on themes ranging from strategic management and agility, strategy co-creation, business model innovation, and executive leadership to top team dynamics, change management, organizational culture, and strategic marketing.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career path has led me in many directions, and over the years I have had the opportunity to visit and teach at prestigious universities and business schools all over the world.

Aside from the academic activities, I have also had a varied and extensive business career, serving as the Chairman of the Board or as a Member of the Board at a number of innovative companies within the media, construction, technology, payments, lighting, as well as food and beverage industries. I am also on the Board of Directors for the Finnish National Gallery, the largest art museum conglomerate in Finland.

This career path of mine has been due to two things — lots of preparation combined with happy accidents. I think this applies to quite a few leaders.

Can you share the most interesting story that has happened to you since you began working within your company or organization?

There is no one single story. At the micro level it must be about personal growth of an average-performing team member becoming star, at the macro level it has to be about the repositioning of the whole organization and getting people onboard.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

We measure impact quite rigorously both in short- and long-term. One of the three levels is societal: how do we help industries and ecosystems to develop, grow and transform. For example, we have a substantial footprint in the field of strategic and tactical healthcare management.

Ultimately though, our activities are guided by the impact that our programs have on participants, the organizations they represent, the academic community and society as a whole. We offer programs that have an impact on an individual’s work, leadership, thinking, business, and thus society. We believe that we give people the opportunity to expand on their skills and in turn how to make a positive change on the world.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

At Aalto we are committed to equal opportunities, diversity, and inclusion. There is not a particular story or individual that comes to mind with this question, but due to our commitments to diversity, some of the most memorable episodes are the ones when our service design and program design have made it possible for adults of single-parent families and those from less privileged backgrounds to join our community. Education should be inclusive and fair, yet merit-based, regardless of your background or your situation.

Dr. Pekka Mattila

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address one of the problems you and your organisation are trying to solve?

Yes — there are certainly things the community, society, and politicians can do to help address the various problems we are trying to solve as an educational institution. These include actively incentivizing lifelong learning and competence development both from the individual and the organizational perspectives, taking a proactive role to also support white collar people in-between jobs to recalibrate and reskill themselves, and embracing international competition in the industry with fair rules in terms of taxes and regulation.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To manage change and to be a successful leader, it’s not enough to know how to lead successful projects with clear start and end points, flow charts, and checklists. You need to understand how a community of people functions.

Thriving organizations are built around three dimensions, design, strategy, and culture, which are, in turn, linked by agility, resilience, and purpose. Together, these six variables form a framework for developing the organization for long-term growth and success. The leader is the glue who holds it all together and serves as the transmitter between the organization’s internal and external environment.

More personally though, I believe leadership is all about taking people to places where they hadn’t dare to go alone, and always with a purpose. To me it boils down to three pursuits: commitment to authenticity, commitment to consistency and commitment to fairness.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Believe in stuff people tell to you

2. Never believe the stuff people tell to you

3. Seek insight from the frontline: customers and colleagues equally

4. Details matter as they build culture in good and bad

5. Be selfish at times

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I’m a member of the board of the UN Women Finland, so it has to be: making schools and education — up to the highest levels — equally accessible to every girl in the world. Girls’ education should be at the forefront of all governmental agendas, and I am passionate that girl’s education is valued and accessible at all stages.

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Flattery is all right so long as you don’t inhale” by Adlai Stevenson.

Sense of privilege and superiority are looming dangers for most executives.

Thank you for these excellent insights!



Kate Mowbray
Authority Magazine

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