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7 Questions with Susanna Rantanen
7 Questions with Susanna Rantanen
Name: Susanna Rantanen
Current title: Co-founder & CEO
Current organisation: Employee Experience Agency Emine Ltd
Top 10 Employer Branding Agencies in Europe -owner.
Vanguard of modern employer branding and talent marketing.
Podcaster, keynote & employer brand consultant & coach for modern growth companies.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
Managing your time between all of your many responsibility areas. As the founder-CEO when the business is based on your personal expertise, you're not just an admin CEO, but also the consultant everyone prefers to do their projects and the internal coach sharing your knowledge and expertise with your team.
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I founded another business developing software back in early 2010. Before I got investors to join, I was forced to sell my own expertise as a consultant to finance it. My husband joined me in the startup in late 2011. Towards the end of 2012 we realized half of the revenue came from the consulting business not really connected to the software business, we decided to found a separate business for the consultation part. I later sold the software and we continued with the consultation business with my husband.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I wake up a few hours before the world and get my more creative flow on when others sleep. As a mother, I've always worked a lot from home because I wanted to be there for our son when he comes home from school. We get him to school, then continue with work.
A few years ago I burned myself out with overwork and started to make significant changes to my life. My working days now flow at a specific pace of work, exercise, nutrition, work, studying, work.
I start early, at about 6 am and finish by 4 pm. Sometimes I finish earlier if my mind and body call for it. The rest of the day is family time, chores and self-care. I go to bed early, at about 10 pm, because I get up early. I've learned to really pay attention to what my body needs. Luckily, my husband has always carried family responsibilities and duties really well. He's a very modern man and I'm lucky to have the husband and business partner he is. I don't think I would still be sane without him!
I'm super strict with my time management. It took a lot to learn to say no to many things and requests, even fun, that takes up time and messes with the creative flow causing me anxiety. Sometimes I'm embarrassed to respond to a request: "I'd love to, but I cannot fit it in my schedule until 5 weeks from now."
Running an SME requires consistency, focus and great time management, I've learned. Especially, if you are the driving force behind the business, the brand and the services you offer.
But I love my work, I love the people I get to work with and my husband and I make the best entrepreneur-team I could imagine.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
This is not that recent because I've been in a leadership position for a very long time, but it is an evergreen lesson:
Every problem, challenge and trouble between a leader and their team can be traced back to the mirror.
If you have a problem with any of your team members, self-reflection is the key. The leader tends to be the weakest link in the team they lead.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
It would be Straight from the Gut by late Jack Welch.
I don't even know what on earth made me pick up that book around 2002-2003 when I started my HR career!
It was summer and we were at our lake house where we spent summers. I literally spent a couple of weeks deep in that book, writing tons of notes and mind maps and just really digesting every single word.
I was a fairly recent graduate, early in my career and in my second job, but first HR and managerial position. Everything in that book hit me. It was like a firecracker popping it away and penetrating through my senses.
Even though the world has changed since the book was written and some of the leadership ideas may no longer stand, I was impacted by a system and how systems can be built to influence human behaviour.
I still build systems to influence behaviour.
Several years later, when I was already an entrepreneur, I met Jack and his wife Suzy and was able to tell him of his great influence on me and my career. Suzy and I still keep in touch. It's one of those stories in life that came with a purpose for me as a person, for my career and my entrepreneurship.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
I take time to study courses that inspire me and learn from people who inspire me in ways they have built their businesses and how they lead. With social media, it's so easy to follow other entrepreneurs online. And some of them are very open about how they lead and especially their own transformation stories. You can learn great lead overtime just by paying attention to the snippets they share about their lives. For example, Donald Miller of Business Made Simple ( THAT book you should definitely get and read!) and Sarah Blakely of Spanx are great sources of inspiration for me.
But you know, the most important learning avenue for me is my team. I can't even begin to tell how much every single person I've ever had the honour to be a BossLady for has learned me.
I've always had great relationships with my employees and when you build and nurture relationships, you are bound to get into conversations where you just learn so much. And not just about being a leader but also about being a human. My team has always been my greatest teacher about leadership and I'm pretty humble about it. It's a service position to build people, self-confidence and contribute to a better life for the people you work with.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
Godness, there are so many meaningful stories!
Here's one that has been very meaningful to me in my own healing from burning out.
I used to believe a leader needs to remain in control and keep a straight face even when crashing. That somehow, your team would not be able to survive if their leader became weak.
But my team really showed me how strong they are and how they will lift me if I fall because we are all in this together.
At least in my experience as a small business owner, my team has always been dedicated and committed to my husband and me in their hearts. They don't break if you feel less; instead, they become empowered to lift you.
But it takes empathy, much self-reflection, strong values and a specific culture to build and earn that ultimate trust.