In this episode, we talk with Jeff Jenkins, Senior Manager in National Office Accounting Consultations at Deloitte in their Finland office. Jeff shares his experiences and how he got to this point. He touches on work culture in Finland, and what the Finnish culture means for his family.
Guest: Jeff Jenkins grew up in Spokane, Washington before his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Accounting at BYU. He started with Deloitte in the Bay Area before taking on his current opportunity in Finland.
Patrick: Hey listeners! Welcome back to Cultural Conversations. This is Patrick McMullin with IHub. Today we are talking to Jeff Jenkins, Senior Manager at Deloitte in Finland. Jeff will talk to us about his experience working in the Finnish culture and how the journey has been for him and his family.
Meg: Thank you for being here. First could you give us a little background on yourself, where you’re from, your education?
Jeff: Yeah, of course. Born in Spokane, Washington, which is the east side of the state. Spokane is the big city on the east side. I grew up there and then I went to college at BYU in UT. Did an undergrad accounting degree and a master’s degree there. I was recruited from the accounting program straight into the big four accounting firms. I started out at Deloitte in their San Jose office which was about 800 people. I was in the audit practice. So that all the technology companies; small, medium, and large, all the way from startups to large public companies. I worked on Roku which I thought was cool. We had LinkedIn. Did that for 6 years and then I felt like I needed something different. Maybe a break from just regular audits. And so I ended up doing what we call a management development program in Deloitte. And I went to our national office and in San Francisco when I did technical accounting. When people had a technical accounting question they would call us and then we would try and help them figure out the answer. And from there…that was all internal, right? If the team had a question in the field they would call us. We’d help them. About halfway into that program I decided to start doing some advisory work. So I split my time half national office for just internal teams and then half advisory work directly with a client that wasn’t being audited by us. Did that for 2 years, and I ended up extending for a third year because I liked it. And as I was wrapping up my third year I was actually teaching a training at Deloitte University at this training that we had in Dallas. And I got a call from a partner I’d worked with in San Jose and he asked me if I had any interest in moving to Finland and I said, “Uh…good question. I don’t know anything about Finland. So you’ll have to tell me more about that.” So long story short, I ended up spending some time thinking about it. And here we are today and I live in Finland. But what more do you want to know? That’s sort of where I grew up to how I am here now. But yeah, I’ll stop there.
Meg: Before we go into more questions about your career path. I’m curious, this is a fun question we like to ask people. What is something someone would be surprised to learn about you?
Jeff: Something someone would be surprised to learn about me? During high school and college I was in various punk rock bands and recorded various albums. Not sure I put off a punk rock vibe, but, that’s probably not what people would expect to know.
Meg: Is your band recorded online?
Jeff: You know they were at one point. There was an old site called PureVolume or something where small bands could post their music. But I doubt that was…we were pretty old school. We sold our CD’s at school and just played whatever show. It was pretty old school.
Meg: Man, that is cool! A punk rock band! I like it!
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. Fun!
Meg: So you mentioned that your friend in San Jose just called you up one day and asked if you wanted to work in Finland. Before that did you have any interest in working internationally? Or was it just out of the blue?
Jeff: I had been interested. Deloitte has quite a few programs where you can work abroad for anywhere from six months to three years. There was one particular program I had been interested in when I became a manager, so I was maybe five years into my time at Deloitte. Four or five years. At the time it would have meant going to London, where I am right now. But at the time the program was a bit different than it had been previously, it was less enticing to me, which is why I chose to do the managing position at the national office instead of the global program. People knew I was interested in that– I had been telling people that for a number of years, but that one didn’t work out. So people kinda knew I had an interest.
Meg: So it was in there in the backroom a little bit.
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah.
Meg: Competitive at all trying to get those international opportunities?
Jeff: It can be! Mine was a little non-traditional because someone asked me. You can obviously just apply as well, then there is more of a competition. It’s competitive in an aspect too where there are multiple candidates for only so many couple spots. In my case as well it was if I wanted it I could have it. Which was nice.
Meg: Do you think that there’s anything specific you did in your career before that helped prepare you to have that door open?
Jeff: Yeah I think that a lot of the people who go in (because of the unique career) Accounting and big floor auditing, especially people who go into it and don’t have a plan for what they want to do get burnt out because you can’t see the end goal. Things get hard and you get done with it and want to move on. We always went into it easy (it was a joint decision with my wife) . We always went into it thinking let’s work as if we wanted to “make partner”. That’s sort’ve the big step in accounting firms. Not that day one I thought I would be a partner, but we were like let’s work as if I want to be here forever and eventually partner, and if it doesn’t work out then we’ll go somewhere else and do something else and I can feel like I did my best and if it does work out to stay then great! I will have put myself in the best position I could have possibly put myself in. And I think that mindset helped do good work along the way. To the point where people thought maybe I could be a good option for other experiences that are a little bit outside of your standard work in one office, do all those type roles. So that was probably one, and then the second was probably expressing an interest and being open to different things that work and I think by the partners that I had worked with knew I was flexible and open to different things. Learning to be someone adventurous in my career I guess I would say.
Meg: Super interesting! I do like what you said your first point was. I’ve actually heard that from a few people. A lot of people see places as a stepping stone, and that puts them back in their career because they don’t go all in.
Jeff: I mean, everyone’s different right? Some people are really successful using different jobs as stepping stones, I think I just realized that even if I was going to do that I would want to do my best at each stepping stone on the way because that would open up the broadest horizons if that makes sense.
Meg: Yeah, like dedicate yourself to each step.
Meg: So, tell me about what it was like, the transition to Finland
Jeff: Yeah, the transition to finland. Well we were coming from california where it was like 60 or 70 degrees to where it was the beginning of winter in Finland. I don’t know if you’ve looked at a map of Finland but it is very far north. You don’t know anybody and on top of that the culture is such that people aren’t actively gonna try to know you so that was a hurdle and just the logistics of getting, you know, our family and all of our stuff from one place to another. And I guess i would also say figuring out what it also looks like to do a good job and produce quality work in a foreign country on a new job.
Meg: How has the language barrier been?
Jeff: I would say easy and hard at the same time. I would say easy because Finnish is a language not spoken by anyone outside of fInland and the Fins know that and so they’re all pretty good at English. But I would say to truly integrate into Finnish culture and any culture you need to speak the language on some level and FInnish is a really hard language to learn. They say the second hardest language in the world or the first hardest language in the world to learn. I would say hard in that regard.
Meg: I can imagine. So you mentioned in general the people seem to be a little more reserved, are they like that in the workplace as well?
Jeff: Yeah, the work culture is different. For instance, leisure time is a big thing here. People are motivated by different things but the social interaction is also different. I will say, I dont drink personally but people loosen up a lot at work when they drink a little bit. But there is a social gathering after work and your colleagues have a couple drinks and they’re much more social. Its fairly interesting but at work it can be less social than in the US. People that i’ve worked with lucky i think know that and know that we’re new so they try i think a little harder but overall it is less social.
Meg: Interesting, and while you have been there have you had any miscommunications just because cultures perceive things differently, behavior, or ways of communication?
Jeff: Yeah, so a couple things. Finnish culture is not into sharing personal details. Personal details about your life are considered very private. YOu would share them with a friend but not with an acquaintance or someone you don’t know that well. SO i asked one of my colleagues how she met her husband and that was viewed as a very personal question to the point where she was a little embarrassed that I had asked that question. I would also say FInnnish people are very good followers, like if there are rules they are going to follow them. The like order and right lines. I am not really like that at all and so theres lots of cases where I kind of run up against the culture in that regard and theres a set way to do things and i want to do something different. So thats a daily basis thing for me.
Meg: Yeah challenging the dorms a little bit there?
Jeff: Yeah, yeah.
Meg: So I’m curious, for you what’s been the most interesting part about your international rotation?
Jeff: The most interesting part so far? Hm. You know I think one would be the personal travels, my family and I try to travel once a month or once every other month and try to see something different or new. Like we spent Christmas in Germany and France and Amsterdam just to see what it’s like there. We took a fairy over to Estonia one weekend just to see what that’s like. We’re gonna try to go to Morroco in the near future. So that’s super interesting and one of the big reasons I said yes to this. The other interesting thing is that I seeing how different cultures interact and how they’re motivated at work and how they approach work. My current team is composed of Finnish people, American, British team members, Indians, some Philipinos, some people from Hungary, some people from eastern Europe. So you have a lot of different cultures coming together and a lot of different styles coming together, and you ultimately have to be a team, so it’s interesting to figure out what pushes that person’s buttons, what motivates this person. Which things are cultural, which things are individual? That’s been super interesting to me at least. Sometimes frustrating but ultimately very interesting.
Meg: A big learning experience I can imagine.
Meg: But frustrating at times too I’m sure.
Meg: So do you have any advice for someone whos considering working abroad? Either someone who is about to go abroad or a student who wants to prepare to go abroad?
Jeff: Yeah, remind me, are you in the business school in general or are you in the accounting program or in marketing or another program? Remind me I can’t remember.
Meg: I’m in accounting. Mm-hm.
Jeff: Oh cool, so I would say a couple of things. I think the Marriott school has a pretty good study abroad program. When I was there they had it where you just went to London, now I think it’s much more expansive and you go multiple places and do multiple things. I would say getting involved in stuff like that sort of helps demystified and make it less scary to have this idea of going to a different country and maybe working there and interacting with the people. Its kind of like anything right- the more you do something the less you are afraid of doing it again because you know you did it before. And maybe it went bad or maybe it went fine or whatever but you know you survived it. So I would say, to get involved if you think you’re interested or even if you don’t think you’re interested but you’re not sure. I think just get involved in things that will expose you to international experiences, as early as you can just so you can sort of feel out what you like and what you don’t like. Because you’re probably going to come across many different flavors of international business. And it’s helpful to know what flavors you may like and what flavors you may not. The other thing I’d say is at least in the accounting world is try to do your best work along the way, even in those first years when it can feel like drudgery and it can be a little more boring because you’re the lowest person on the team and you might be making copies some of the time or getting people lunch some of the time. Try to have a good attitude and just do the best you can do because the initial impression you build of yourself at a company, those are hard to change. For good or bad. And those impressions can help propel you into other opportunities years later that you never would have had if you had done a different path, maybe you would have never been considered for those opportunities otherwise.