New Asia Sales Director admits Saturday's cargo-only flight to Seoul was an emotional moment

Pasi Nopanen re-joined Finnair as Sales Director Asia just before Finnair reduced capacity by 90% because of COVID-19. He reflects on his first three weeks from home and what he expects once the world gets back to normal.

What have the first weeks been like in the job given the impacts of COVID-19? 

It has been interesting and challenging, but at the same time it has been great to see how the ‘One Finnair’ spirit can be seen and felt in the organisation. One of the reasons I wanted to re-join Finnair was the culture and the way of collaborating – and it seems that during these exceptional times it has only got stronger. I am so happy and proud to be part of this team.

shanghai skyline

Working from home has been quite easy for me as it's something I've done quite a lot in earlier roles. It also helps that my daughters are already adults, so home schooling is not an issue for us. The modern tools available make it quite easy and effective. The only problem I find is that I do not get enough exercise because there's no longer a need to walk to and from the train station.

Saturday saw Finnair's first cargo-only flight. How do you feel about these flights?

I feel privileged to work with the cargo-only flights that are an essential factor in making good for people and businesses – in Finland and abroad. It has felt counterintuitive that during this extremely exceptional time we have been more busy than ever in cargo sales. There is a lot of demand and many requests for cargo capacity currently and we are doing our best to answer those needs.

Our customers and partners e.g. our GSAs [Global Sales Agents], as well as Finnair teams both in Finland and abroad have put so much effort into these. And we can see the results already. I have to admit that last Saturday when the first cargo-only flight took off to Seoul it was a bit of an emotional moment for me.

We are working relentlessly on these cargo-only flights and we are expecting to see more of them in the coming weeks. Japan and South Korea seem to be interesting due to high demand both directions. China is also an interesting market due to a lot of medical equipment manufacturing that is in extremely high demand in Europe at the moment.

Coronavirus aside, what are the challenges and opportunities for Finnair Cargo in Asia?

Finnair Cargo is strong in Asia, but at the same time we are a niche player. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. We are at the mercy of market powers but do not have the economy of scale to mitigate and deviate the risks. Also we do not currently operate freighters that can be used to support our network in a flexible way; like now in this extreme situation with coronavirus.

At the same time our size is our opportunity and strength and this is where we need to focus. Relatively speaking, we are a small player but we are flexible and we can focus on special things that competitors can't match. We can be closer to the customer, adapt ourselves and our solutions faster and better to customers’ needs. Our product development is a good example of this. 

You've been away from Finnair since 2015, so why did you decide to re-join Finnair Cargo now?

When this opportunity knocked on the door it was actually quite an easy decision to make. I worked previously with Finnair during 1994–2001 and 2014–2015 and the experience from those years is very positive. I like, especially, the open and transparent culture with a casual twist. I find it easy to identify myself in the company values. My absolute favourite is simplicity – an attribute that one can really value after working in organisations that are complex and bureaucratic.

Finnair Cargo is filled with talented people, so it is great to join this team of professionals. I feel honoured. Sometimes you need to go far to see close – Finnair Cargo is a good company and a really good place to work.

Asia as a region has been an important part of my work during the past 15 years. I have never lived there before but have done an extensive amount of duty travelling. I have always found it easy to work in Asia, the way of working, the people… and the food! Asia is also important for the logistics industry in general, not just Finnair Cargo. I'm excited about having the opportunity to move to such a fantastic and interesting region and work hands-on. 

I also came back for our loyal and valuable customers. To work in this environment and culture with the clientele Finnair Cargo has; that is the recipe for success. I am so happy and excited to be back!

What have you done since last working at Finnair and what have you learnt?

I went to see the same industry from a different angle. I was with Etihad Cargo in Abu Dhabi responsible for the global key account management. I re-joined Finnair Cargo from Qatar Airways Cargo where I was based in Doha responsible for global sales and special products. Between these positions I was two years with Business Finland helping Finnish companies go international as well as attracting foreign investments and tourists to Finland.

I have had a broad exposure to the global air freight business including freighter operations. I have been able to build my network further among the biggest freight forwarders as well as a wide variety of industry experts.

I have also seen the challenges faced by companies growing at a very fast pace and how to handle those situations. To be quite honest, I have also learnt how some things should not be done.

What do you expect has changed since you were last at Finnair Cargo?

There were a lot of interesting things on the drawing board when I left 2015 – and now they are reality; COOL – one of the most elite facilities in the industry that is the backbone of our operational excellence, as well as the implementation of SkyChain system enabling advanced operations for our customers.

Finnair Cargo COOL Terminal

A350 fleet renewal is well on the way to ensuring reliable and sustainable operations. I'm looking forward to making the best out of these exceptional tools and assets and with our state-of-the-art people too!

What most excites you about working in Shanghai?

Finnair Cargo has a good reputation in Asia. We have a good position in our key markets and the work we have been doing there oscillates between successful and very successful. We are seen as reliable, trustworthy and an honest partner. When something is agreed with us, it will be delivered. I also hope we are seen as easy to work with. These elements eventually will make Finnair Cargo the first choice for our customers.

I am looking forward to continuing this work with our great Asia team and even taken it to a higher level. I will be very hands-on because our continuous success can only be secured via our customers. So, I anticipate being active on the market, meeting customers, partners and authorities. I'm also excited about working with our team, aiming to provide good leadership ensuring that we have the tools and capabilities to continue on this path of success. It is not me – it is 'we'!

How do you unwind from work?

Days tend to be long and, as we see, the market situation (even without coronavirus) keeps us busy. Work-life balance is important to me and it is one of the main learnings from the past years. I will be relocating to Shanghai with my beautiful and fantastic wife, Krista – whom I actually met at Finnair in 1997. Spending free time with her is one of the best stress reliefs I can have and we will travel a lot together in Asia.

Music is also an important part of my life; both listening and playing. My main instrument is bass guitar so I am hoping to find a nice hard rock or heavy metal band in Shanghai. In Finland I am playing in a rock band with Paavo Virkkunen [ex-Finnair, now head of Visit Finland] on guitar and vocals, and Jone Mölsä [Communication Director of Finnish President] on drums. Rock!

Sport is a very important element of taking care both of physical and mental health and I like to go running with some unregular participation in half marathons! I'm trying my best to make it in under two hours and my record so far is 2:01 from Levi a few years back. My latest interest is mountain biking. My long term goal was to buy a fatbike and finally I did it earlier this year so now I'm spending most of my Saturdays (Krista is working most Saturdays) in the forests of Martinlaakso in Vantaa.