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Sari Hörkkö was a young child when Finland – along with Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – became part of a two-year, European Union-funded project to investigate approaches to lifelong learning and it’s implementation in those countries. Just 35 years later, lifelong learning is ingrained in Finnish education policy and, by no coincidence, in Hörkkö’s commitment to following her own educational trajectory.

Today, Hörkkö is Vice President, Communications, with UPM-Kymmene Corporation’s Energy and Pulp Business Group, and – in parallel – immersed in an intense, 20-month Executive Master’s program in southern Switzerland.

– In Finland, the idea of lifelong learning is firmly implanted in many communications professionals’ minds, and I personally enjoy learning. Companies here support professional training and our open university system supports continuing education, she said.

– But when I began looking for an Executive Master’s Program focused specifically on strategic communications, there was nothing available in Finland.

Hörkkö, who already holds Master of Arts and Bachelor of Business Administration degrees, could have opted for an Executive MBA and studied closer to home, but she was determined to find a program that would serve her well across her career arc.

– UPM is headquartered in Finland, but has global operations, so the international communications focus is important to me. In Finland, there are so many people who study in parallel to their careers, and there are many alternatives that are flexible and affordable, except in the area of executive level communications with an international focus, she said.

Hörkkö’s search for the right postgraduate program led her to Università della Svizzera italiana’s Executive Master of Science in Communication Management (EMScom) program.

– It’s a three-hour flight to Milan, then a one-hour bus ride to Lugano, every other month for one week of classes, as well as pre-reading in advance of class sessions, the lectures, classroom discussions, and studying for examinations. I’m working 100 percent and UPM is supporting me with the time away from work. But I’m also investing a lot personally in terms of resources and time. Doing this while working full-time makes for a very intense pace, Hörkko said.

Hörkkö is convinced that for all of its demands, pursuing an Executive Master’s in Communications Management is worth it.

Very valuable, she said, is the opportunity to learn from faculty members actively involved in consulting and research.

– Professors who work as consultants and maintain close relationships with the business world bring a lot to us in terms of real-life challenges and solutions, she said.

– We are dealing with Harvard Business School cases, which means digesting a lot of information, grabbing the essential facts and making recommendations. I’m learning models and frameworks that I can apply directly to my work with UPM, said Hörkkö.

– Moreover, my classmates represent a wide variety of nationalities and global organizations, so the exchange of experiences is especially fruitful. It takes stamina to do what I’m doing, but the reward is that I’m challenging myself and gaining knowledge, tools and strategies that make a contribution to my company, she said.

Sari Hörkko, 43, is Vice President, Communications, with UPM-Kymmene Corporation’s Energy and Pulp Business Group. Source: Executive MScom Program, USI Università della Svizzera italiana.

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