A long-time friend to Amcham Finland and Amchampion of the Year nominee, Michael Student is Counsel in the Corporate Department of Sullivan & Worcester’s New York City office located on Broadway at Times Square. His first trip to Finland was in 1987, and he has represented many Finnish companies in the U.S. since then.
It was with a twinkle in his eye that Michael shook off the year’s first snow from his long coat when arriving for a visit to talk about the business and political environment in the U.S., what Finns need to keep in mind when doing business there and what makes New York City such a special place to live and work.
A benefit of 35 years of legal experience is perspective. “With each new U.S. president, policies and politics change to a certain extent. Currently the news headlines can be concerning, and certainly with two feuding and nuclear-armed leaders everything could change in a second. But barring that, in my experience, people in the U.S are still doing business as usual,” says Michael.
When asked about what mental hurdles Finns might face when entering the U.S. market, Michael points out that cultural differences mean that what works in Finland might not work in the U.S.
“Finns are generally honest and modest, and don’t like to say unprovable statements like ‘our product is the best,’ whereas in the U.S. it is expected,” says Michael. Also, you need persistence bordering on pestering to contact the right person at a customer company, calling upwards of a dozen times. This can feel forward to a Finn.
“Finns are also not natural skeptics like we are in the U.S. because they expect that if they’re honest, others are too. If a deal sounds too good to be true or if it’s not rational business behavior, it pays to view it with a critical eye.”
In understanding the Finnish mentality, Michael refers to Väinö Linna’s Under the North Startrilogy, which allowed him to better understand the ‘I can do it on my own’ mentality that marks Finnish behavior sometimes.
“When you do business in the U.S., talk to people. Ask for advice and help. It’s worth it to outsource a lot of services, especially if making a mistake at the beginning cannot be undone later—in legal or tax issues, for example.”
Michael points out that even if he gets no business out of it, he is always happy to help and give advice to people who ask for it.
Formerly, more Finnish companies entering the U.S. would go straight to the West Coast, according to Michael. Since Bloomberg’s terms as mayor, New York City has become a more attractive destination for young tech companies wanting access to accelerators and the center of the media and entertainment industry. Amcham Finland’s New York City office and Launchpad USA program have also helped, and specialize in allowing inbound companies to access a network of partners for outsourcing and assistance.
What is it that makes New York City so special for Michael Student?
“If I go outside my office on Times Square and stand for 10 minutes, I can see every variety of human you can imagine: nationality, age, size, preference, you name it. They all belong. Everyone has a home there, because we all came from somewhere else,” says Michael.
The U.S. is a huge market and a wonderful relationship exists between it and Finland. The recipe for success is to “plan, work hard, lose sleep, do everything you can and other people will look at you afterwards and say, ‘wow! I want to do that too!’ Watching business success happen,” says Michael, “it’s magic!”