Real Careers: Nina Aunula

Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Nina Aunula of Finland.

Nina Aunula is Executive Assistant, Legal, Corporate Affairs and Compliance at her company. She serves as Executive Chairman of IMA, International Management Assistants. Here’s a look at her world.

Well rested and well informed

Depending on the workload and upcoming meetings, I always try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep and begin work by 9:00. Before that, I need around 90 minutes to get ready. That involves a huge cup of coffee and the newspaper in printed format.

During the pandemic, I am working a few days per week from home and a few from the office. My commute is some 50 minutes by public transit, yet quite often I run part of the way to the office. Those days, it takes some 75 minutes to get to the office. Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I listen to music during my commute only when I run, and then it is mostly mixed music from the 80s or albums from Dream Theater, Elton John or Queen, to name a few of my favourites.

At the office (independent of pandemic times)

Primary Responsibilities: I work in a global, listed company and my main tasks are to assist the Corporate General Counsel, the Board of Directors and the Leadership Team. I prepare annual plans and agendas for the aforementioned bodies, handle the material distribution for the meetings, arrange and often join the site visits to ensure all is running smoothly. I also handle the insider affairs management. In Europe, this is best known as Insider Notification and Project Management – issues related to EU Market Abuse Regulation, Insider Dealings, no trading during Closed Windows, and compliance with the Financial Supervisory Authority.

Morning Routines: There is no typical day, as often I have lists ready of what to do first but end up reacting to [urgent] ad hoc enquiries or situations, which I actually enjoy doing. I am first and foremost, however, following my emails and those of my manager throughout the day, no matter what the situation.

How long is your work day? Do you sometimes/often work past a traditional close of business, during your commute, or from home during your “off” hours? All of the above, but I have good fringe benefits and feel adequately compensated.  In typical times, I tend to work between nine and twelve hours in the office itself.

Always remember, your attitude (and your emotional intelligence) are your most powerful tools!

Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? At the office, I have an adjustable desk. It’s a stand (not sit) desk, and I’ve been using it since 2014. It’s done wonders for my lower back issues! All employees in the head office have adjustable desks as well as employer-sponsored access to fitness programs.

What might be a typical lunch? We have a good canteen in the building, with healthy choices and warm meals as well as salads available. In addition, they sell porridge and smoothies etc. at the cafeteria, which is nice. I am missing them very much these days, when we only can use take-away service providers. The canteen is temporarily closed and 95% of the work force has been working remotely due to COVID-19.

Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role?  No.

Inside the career

What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? I need to juggle several equally important/urgent tasks so that everything is finalized on time, simultaneously.

What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy that the sky is the limit! I have been able to take on tasks I enjoy, and have a broad portfolio of individual responsibilities which my manager lets me handle with only minor monitoring or input.

 I have a broad portfolio of individual responsibilities which my manager lets me handle with only minor monitoring or input

On saying “No”

I don’t say “no”, actually, as the requests are almost always related to my responsibilities. When not, I show colleagues how to do it themselves next time or point them in the right direction. I assist whenever I can, however.

Nina’s world

Map of worldI was born in Vasa and now live in the metropolitan area in Southern Finland. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I love the suburbs with forests, parks and gardens, but need to be close to the city in order to thrive.

How long have you been in this career? It’s been some 30 years. What was your first such role? I was an Assistant at the Information Unit of the Prime Minister’s Office.

 My Chairmanship of IMA which is very rewarding! I am proud to have been elected to that position of trust and to work with such a great team!

How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? I have been with the company for 15 years, but my current role was always the one I coveted. I luckily ended up working in this position seven years ago!

How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I  spend time on exercise, support groups and volunteer work as well as IMA work, meetings and events.

How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I do this with running, spinning classes, body combat, reading, and eating ice cream. Also, I am sooooo much slower when unwinding; I can take three hours just to read the newspaper and drink coffee.

Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? Travelling on a train or bus in Africa – my very favourite one was a local train from Lusaka to Dar Es Salaam. This took 48 hours and was a fantastic adventure to undertake alone; my husband was not among the target group for this particular mode of travel. Ideally, we do something together with the whole family. For example, that would be renting a house for the holidays in Slovenia, Spain or Italy.

A benefit of participation in IMA: I am less hesitant to embark on new and unknown territory these days; I know my limits, but also how to stretch them

Education and professional development 

I do not have an extensive education but the one I do have, in travel management from an international school, was very good. My education included living and working in Stockholm, Brighton and München. In all honesty, I was too much of a party girl those days to know that I should have studied more!

Peer and Professional Associations: I’m a member of IMA, International Management Assistants. I have a seat on the World Administrators Summit/Alliance Advisory Council, and a seat on Executive Secretary Magazine’s Editorial Board. How has your participation in IMA helped you? It has made me step outside my comfort zone and stay there, forever broadening it. Thus, I am less hesitant to embark on new and unknown territory these days; I know my limits, but also how to stretch them.

On job interviews: Listen, and take everyone in the room equally into account

What other leadership roles have you held in IMA in addition to your current role chairing IMA globally? I chaired IMA Finland for four years, before being elected Chairman of the IMA Global Association in October 2019. How have your IMA leadership roles impacted you and your career? I have come a long way, from being a loner work-wise to learning how to be a team player. My participation in IMA has helped me find ways to interact and cooperate in difficult situations. Applying for and securing leadership roles has had very positive impacts, in that I take my development and career in my own hands!

What are the primary means of communication for IMA members? We have conferences and Training Days (twice yearly) as well our Annual General Meeting, and we communicate through newsletters, videos and social media.

Networking, inspiration and achievements

Let’s talk about the positive benefits your networking has had on your career, and/or for your employer. I often know who to contact in cases involving external stakeholders or can have the information at hand quite quickly. I find all interactions with my peer group very beneficial and helpful, professionally and also on a personal level!

Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. I’m proud of getting an in-depth understanding of the European Market Abuse Regulation and keeping relevant stakeholders à jour on its contents and effects on the Insider legislation in a Finnish listed company. Yes, really! Who would have thought I would be interested in that? – and yet, I found it fascinating and learning about it turned out to be easier than I thought!

And, of course my Chairmanship of IMA which is very rewarding! I am proud to have been elected to that position of trust and to work with such a great team!

Inspirational reads? I’ve been inspired by Brené Brown’s books and videos. Nelson Mandela is also a great source of inspiration.

Role models or mentors? In addition to Ms. Brown and Mr. Mandela, and closer to my daily work, there is my current manager. He gives me major responsibilities with minor or no monitoring. He always takes the time to listen to all team members, staying calm and collected no matter what and has a brilliant helicopter overview of any given situation.

Have you received any awards or recognition within this career? Yes; I’m recognised through participation in an annual bonus scheme, and have received an additional performance-based additional reward. I receive (general) recognition of overtime, salary increases, and some verbal acknowledgements when due. I feel lucky that my company has treated me very fairly in this respect as well. It also provides me the opportunity to travel for IMA and attend preparatory meetings and conferences on company time, which is very much appreciated.

What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I try to know and understand as much as possible. I ask questions on best practices and just throw myself in at the deep end; it is less painful that way.

What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? In no particular order: I want to be better versed on social media and all related modes of communication, and to be a faster typist (!). Wanting to be a better leader and team player is a given, of course, and a constant source of development. Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? To be working with what I am working on today, but to be a lot better and more knowledgeable.

The digital age

What are your preferred forms of social media? LinkedIn What apps do you make use of in your professional life? MS Teams, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp (for Group chats) and  Zoom

Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Yes, and the impacts for me are all positive.

Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital (relying on portals and/or PDFs of meeting materials), or paper-based? Do you continue to produce hard copy meeting packages for participants? A

Does your organisation make use of an intranet/SharePoint or other web portals? Yes, we rely on internal SharePoint sites as well as a secure, external portal for Board materials. In IMA, we use Teams / SharePoint.

What positive impact(s) do you think AI, digital assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the assistant of 2025? They will free up time by taking care of routine and time-consuming work. What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? I recommend always familiarizing oneself with new tools;  fearlessly use them and participate in training and webinars whenever possible.

Travel planning

Travel or travel planning recommendations? Make preliminary bookings as soon as possible, especially for travel involving a larger group of people. Often, certain key personnel can not be on the same flights or same mode of transfer and that needs to be taken into account as well.

Always book extra rooms that can be cancelled if unneeded, for accommodation and meetings. Keep all possible key personnel informed as early as possible.

Lessons learned

You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. Make the look and feel of your CV new and fresh. Captivate the reader in the first five sentences of your application, and include a professionally taken photograph in the application.

Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Listen, and take everyone in the room equally into account. Talk in a calm and collected way, but also to be yourself.

What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? One should first observe the processes a few months before suggesting radical changes. No one doubts your expertise and the reason you were hired; you do not have to try to prove yourself.

What advice might you offer a new parent returning to the workplace? Ease back into the job, and be merciful to yourself. Read up on the company’s internal website; check articles and tools, and ask questions. Also, it’s good to remember that many colleagues have had or currently have young children, and know what you are going through.

What are a couple of suggestions you’d offer that new assistant on the block, in terms of how to build effective business relationships within the office? Contact people proactively, listen to them, and ask questions unrelated to work every now and then. Always remember, your attitude (and your emotional intelligence) are your most powerful tools!

Your most effective time management strategy? I use lined, coloured Post-it Notes.

What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Learn how s/he would like you to manage their day. What are the most important expectations? What are the dos and the don’ts. Do they want ad hoc updates or a regular, scheduled catch-up?

Always familiarize oneself with new tools;  fearlessly use them and participate in training and webinars whenever possible

Working through a pandemic

Earlier in the pandemic, you were working primarily (but not entirely at the office). As of November, you’ve been working both at home and in the office. Have you experienced any challenges working from home?  At home, the only challenge is getting things right ergonomically. As mentioned, I have an adjustable desk at the office and am accustomed to standing throughout the day. What would be your ideal work scenario once we settle in to new norms? Would you prefer to be back in the office, at home, or engaged in a hybrid approach? I’d like to return to regular office days, with the possibility of working from home every now and then.

How would you rate your productivity when working remotely? Has your productivity increased or decreased, or does it depend on the day? At different points during the year, the volume of work increased before returning to stable levels, and my productivity stayed the same.

How many professional development-focused webinars do you estimate you’ve attended during the COVID-19 pandemic? Quite a few! Do you enjoy learning via webinars, and/or are you very much looking forward to the next occasion you can attend an in-person conference or learning event? I enjoy both, but the reactions from a physical crowd makes the experience more interactive and thus rewarding.

What’s been your biggest career lesson/takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic? I’ve been learning to be more useful utilizing new digital tools that can be synchronized across all your devices – and applying some of these tools in working with my manager.

What’s been your biggest life lesson/takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic? Strangely enough, the connection with my inner core has been easier to hold on to and build upon in most of my dealings with the “outside world”.

There’s also the realization of how important it is for managers and team leaders  to check in on their employees, asking how they are doing, and not only work-wise. As well, though nothing can compete with live interaction, it’s good to take on board and listen to the experience, views and ideas colleagues and friends have to offer.


… and now, a note from Shelagh. Here are some links to ideas, people and/or resources mentioned above.

Shelagh showcases Real Careers, in which assistants from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience.

We’ve made virtual trips to 25 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Finland, Germany,  Ghana, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates , the United States of America and Wales.

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