Starting out at a new job is difficult for many of us – especially when you have to get to know too many new people in a short period of time. That’s what happened to me when I found myself, quite surprisingly, in a corner office at the Kaivokatu headquarters one Monday in August 2008.

Text: Heikki Allonen, CEO of Patria, 2008 – 2016 Photos: Heikki Allonen, Risto Paloposki

Heikki Allonen
Heikki Allonen

Things were hectic and there was no time left to get to know the actual job and organisation. In the early stages, we powered ahead in a situation that changed from day to day.

However, a few things made it easier to figure out who was who. In the defence sector, customers wear uniforms, almost without exception. You can see their branch of defence and insignia from afar – and if those don’t ring a bell, you can read the name tag on their chest. You can’t go wrong with that. To make things even simpler, the Finnish Defence Forces publishes an up-to-date portrait gallery of its organisation and generals, which is standard issue to each employee who has customer responsibility, to be kept in their desk drawer.

Within our own organisation, putting names to faces isn’t so simple. Very soon, I started feeling that “everyone knows the monkey, but the monkey doesn’t know anyone”. We have dozens of locations and many more faces you have to know by name and position – and you may have to recall background information about them, too. The worst moments are those situations in which something doesn’t fit the picture.

A brain physiologist once told me that you recognise another person on the basis of nine facial reference points. This might be why we recognise another Finn at an international airport from so far away. But it doesn’t always work. That’s what happened to me at the 2013 IDEX exhibition in the United Arab Emirates. A major share of Patria's operations in the early 2010s consisted of export marketing abroad, and the Middle East – the UAE in particular – was a priority region. During these trips and exhibitions, we almost always showcased the Patria AMV 8X8. Kari Neulaniemi and his team drove this desert camo-painted vehicle with astonishing skill in tests and demonstrations. They were dressed in well-fitting and smartly ironed combat uniforms.

One evening, we attended a reception at the local ABU Dhabi Officers Club, which is actually a massive luxury complex. There we could meet people like the crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to mingle and talk with the heads of the attending official delegations (usually the Minister of Defence). After an impressive programme, the rest of the evening was more informal. When I was talking in a clearly Finnish group, I started getting the nagging feeling that one of the guys in the group looked familiar – some time later I realised that it was “Neulis,” Kari Neulaniemi, whom I’d never seen wearing a suit and tie before. I was embarrassed – after all, we’d spent so much time together at the exhibition stand!

Why am I sharing this story?

To explain, I’ll tell anotherSome time after that incident, Patria's management was called up for refresher courses in Upinniemi. Everyone would go, of course – including yours truly, who still had a few more days of refresher training to complete so I wouldn’t miss my last chance to be promoted in the reserves. Upinniemi was also familiar to me from my youth, as a good friend of mine lived there. When I had free time during the refresher training, I walked around looking at all the old places – and then noticed a Patria AMV on the parade field with other equipment.