Visiiri followed President Keijo Hämäläinen for a day

The beginning of autumn is very busy for Tampere University President Keijo Hämäläinen. Visiiri followed the President for one workday.

Original text: Maria Muilu

Pictures: Arttu Timonen

Translation: Kiia Saarenpää

Artikkeli on luettavissa myös suomeksi.

University President is a little bit like the President of Finland.

Everybody knows that he is a Very Important Person who does some Very Important Things. And yet nobody even knows what the President of the University actually does all day.

This analogy was brought to you by our editorial intern while we were discussing this article at Visiiri’s office. Tampere University President Keijo Hämäläinen started his five-year period as the President this June.

The duties of the President are recorded in the administrative guidelines of the Tampere University. The list includes 11 items in which the duties of the President have been recorded as such as ’responsible for the implementation and further development of the university’s strategy’ and ’responsible for the financial, efficient and effective management of the university’s tasks’.

But what do these things mean in practice? What is the typical working day for a President, what does he do?

We decided to take a look and find out.

WE’VE arranged a meeting at the city centre campus in the lobby of the Main building at 9:00. Keijo Hämäläinen and the management assistant Johanna Harju descend the stairs to us precisely on time.

As the day goes on, it becomes very clear that punctuality in this work is absolutely essential.

The President’s office is located on the second floor of the E-wing of the Main building. More specifically, the office is not only used by the President, but also by the provost and vice presidents.

The rest of the office desks are empty in the morning. The Vice President for Research Tapio Visakorpi, the Vice President for Education Marja Sutela and the Provost Jarmo Takala are somewhere else this time in the morning.

For starters, we take a look at the schedule for the day. Hämäläinen shows us his calendar from his computer screen. The computer is from Apple, and President tells us that he had to crawl under the desk to set up his keyboard.

The calendar has bars after bars denoting different events.

At 8: Start of the day
At 9: Prepare for the day and a discussion with Visiiri at the office
At 10: An interview for Kauppalehti
At 11: Lunch
At 12: Meeting with the Dean in Hervanta
At 13: Meeting with the communications and marketing team in Hervanta
At 15: Meeting at the city centre campus
At 16: Zoom meeting with the city of Tampere and Tampere Chamber of Commerce
At 17: ”The first workday of the day” ends

I ask if this is a so-called typical working day, or if there even is one in the President’s job at all.

”In June, right before Midsummer, there was a small patch of routine work. The calendar is quite full at this moment now that we are getting back into the routine, and the recruitment of vice presidents and deans is ongoing”, says Hämäläinen.

He points out that the President is practically working 24 hours a day. Hämäläinen tells us that he was answering emails at 8:30 in the morning since he wasn’t able to answer them due to an event that was held yesterday evening.

JOHANNA Harju knocks on the door and brings us coffee on a tray.

”Oh, you brought the coffee to us! You shouldn’t have”, Hämäläinen says jokingly.

He assures us that this kind of table service is not normally a part of President’s everyday routine.

Setting up the calendar for the autumn has required a lot of precision. The schedule had been set largely according to the rhythm of the University of Jyväskylä, and getting into the working pace of Tampere University has caused some changes. When for example the meeting for the management group is on Tuesday instead of Monday almost everything must be rescheduled.

”My assistant essentially has to play Tetris with all the matters on the calendar. She’s trying to work out the schedule for Thursday as we speak.”

The management assistant Johanna Harju and Tampere University President Keijo Hämäläinen.

Luckily the Tetris block reserved for Visiiri found its place today. Hämäläinen says that he is happy about this: very few actually know what the President does all day.

”First you might have really challenging co-operation negotiations, after which you go to open a conference and then boast about how great the university is. After this you might call someone who has lost their spouse and give your condolences, then you’ll go and cheer the students on. It takes guts to do all that”, he describes.

Paintings with calm, abstract colors and shapes are hanging on the walls of the office. I ask, if Hämäläinen brought these painting with him from Jyväskylä or if the paintings came with the office.

The President doesn’t answer but instead asks me what I think about the paintings. I give a diplomatic answer: the paintings fit into the office world.

”These came with the office, and I am going to replace them when I have the time.”

AFTER we are done with the coffee, it’s time to leave the office.

The morning repeats itself: another pair of reporters and photographers are waiting for the President in the lobby of the Main building. Only this time these people are not from Visiiri but from a competing media called Kauppalehti.

The interview is held at Café & Aula Toivo, also known as Yläkuppila. The reporter asks familiar sounding questions: what plans the President has for the development of the university, what is different in Tampere when compared to Jyväskylä and so on.

Hämäläinen talks a lot and for a long time. His speech is saturated with topics like changes in organisational culture, the four fields of leadership and the potential of the Tampere University. I wonder if the long monologues are a strategy to keep the conversation in the topics that are pleasant for the President.

After the interview, the President moves to the side to be photographed and in the meantime, I have a little chat with the fellow journalist. They tell me that they are making a feature story of Hämäläinen. The new President is sought-after in the eyes of the media.

The photographer for Kauppalehti sends the President to the backyard of the main building, among the wildly rampant plantings.

”I hope there aren’t any ticks in here, I’m glad I have long legged pants”, Hämäläinen shouts from the bushes.

He listens to the photographer’s instructions with a practised hand.

Shortly before 11 in the morning, we say goodbye to our fellow journalists and move back to the office. Soon it’s lunch time.

TODAY we are having lunch at Juvenes. There’s salmon soup on the menu, and the smell of dill floats from the cafeteria all the way to the staircase.

Hämäläinen has not yet been able to test out all the campus cafeterias. Having lunch, just like any other matter on the Presidents calendar, is scheduled with utmost precision. Lunches are scheduled according to the meetings.

”My assistant makes sure that I get to eat and have a cup of coffee. I rarely have time to eat at the cafeterias.”

At the lunch table we discuss among other things about Kalervo Kummola and fishing.

Hämäläinen has already met with Mayor Kummola.

”Everybody who knows Kale (Kummola), says that he is just absolutely nice and civilized. If it is in the interest of Tampere that Kalervo Kummola is the mayor, it is in the interest of the university as well.”

When Hämäläinen started his work in Tampere, the ice hockey world championships were going on in the city.

”All these different groups invited me to their boxes to watch the matches. It was a great opportunity to establish a social network. I didn’t really see a single match though; I spend the whole time sitting in the box talking to people.”

I already know from the earlier interview I had with him that Hämäläinen is not keen on ice hockey. He admits he has never watched a hockey game from the stands. However, showing yourself in the box is part of the visibility work.

”If the President of the University is nowhere to be seen, it makes it seem like the whole university is not part of the society.”

The Presidents job seems to be a constant stream of meeting people in different contexts. Soon we too must leave for Hervanta to meet more people.

How was the salmon soup from Juvenes?

”There was quite a lot of dill. By cafeteria standards, it’s just fine.”

Hämäläinen fishes and he says that he knows what good quality fish and good quality fish soup is like.

In his opinion, neither of these should include dill.

AFTER lunch we return to the office for a while. While we were away, a new face has appeared: Vice President Tapio Visakorpi greets us behind his desk.

In the elementary school world, the Presidents room is the place where you are sent to be reprimanded if you behave badly. What would you have to do in university to be send to the President’s office?

”Well, I’m being reprimanded by the President here every day”, Visakorpi banters.

Hämäläinen ponders for a while. One would at least have to make an appointment to be able to have a talk with the President.

At half past eleven we start to make our way to Hervanta. We walk past the assistant Harju’s desk, and she gives directions to Hämäläinen on the locations of the meeting rooms. She gives him a paper map of the campus.

Hämäläinen’s car is waiting at the parking lot of the campus. He has been thinking about buying an electric car.

”Experts say it’s ecological to drive your diesel car until it stops working before getting a new car.”

During the drive I am interested to hear about the pressure that the President of the University might be under. The former President Mari Walls received a lot of criticisms, even in the national media. (Note from the editorial office: Visiiri tried to contact Mari Walls to get an interview for this magazine, but Walls canceled the scheduled interview due to scheduling reasons.)

”No matter how good you are at management, no matter how nice you are, at some point you will always make a decision that is undesirable for someone.

Tampere University President Keijo Hämäläinen

As a President, you have to solve difficult issues: Hämäläinen says that usually when issues are presented to the President, all other avenues have already been explored.

”Every time the President has to make a decision between different options, there’s no good solution left anymore. This community is smart and very capable of finding solutions at all levels. Because of this, it seems like the President only makes negative decisions and then gets a lot of lash back.”

He says that some of the feedback has been especially harsh.

”No matter how good you are at management, no matter how nice you are, no matter what you do, at some point you will always make a decision that is undesirable for someone. The most important thing is that when you get feedback, you keep in mind that the human experience behind the feedback is genuine, and you have to have empathy.”

However, criticism is important, and Hämäläinen wants to keep critical people close to him.

”If I’m not able to convince those colleagues that are closest to me, how will I ever convince the community?”

We finally make a turn to underground car park of the Hervanta campus, and we get to hear something interesting about the President’s daily transportation. At the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Helsinki the President has a car, a chauffeur, and a named parking space, all in courtesy of the workplace. At Tampere University, the President gets none of these perks.

”Here the terms of employment are such that you yourself drive at your own expense to another campus and you yourself pay the monthly fee of the parking space with your own money.”

Hämäläinen remarks that in this case Tampere is the exception.

”The schedules are very tight, and you have to be at the meeting precisely on time, and then the President spends all their time trying to find a parking space while 50 people are waiting for an important decision. It makes you think if your time is spent wisely at that point. The parking space or the car are not status symbols but tools to make scheduling smoother.”

TODAY in Hervanta the President has two consecutive meetings after each other. First, we visit the Dean Martti Kauranen at his office, but we are not allowed to stand by him and Hämäläinen’s one-on-one meeting.

Dean Martti Kauranen and Keijo Hämäläinen.

After the meeting with the Dean, we make our way from Konetalo to the Main building to the Communications and Marketing Unit’s meeting. On our way we happen to pass by Anniina Honkasaari, who is theChair of the Student Union of Tampere University (TREY), and Hämäläinen greets her.

”It’s nice to see you.”

Hämäläinen said in an interview with Visiiri last Spring that he would make regular meetings with the student union management and the university management, and that the student union Chair would always have President’s secret direct number.

Honkasaari confirms that she does indeed have a direct secret number from where to contact Hämäläinen. Hämäläinen and Honkasaari have met twice, and the third meeting is at the end of the month.

We take the lift to the conference floor. There are about 15 people present, some are attending via remote access. Hämäläinen gives a supportive speech to the team on the importance of communication and marketing in the university world. He talks about the importance of impressions and branding and how the scientific community needs communication to help strengthen the impact of research. The other participants listen attentively to him, ask questions, and laugh a couple of times at Hämäläinen’s funny remarks.

All in all, the meeting takes about hour and a half. After that, we start to make our way towards the city centre campus.

There is an elementary school in connection with the Hervanta campus, and children of primary school age flock to the yard as we walk back towards the parking garage. Hämäläinen ponders how excited the children are about getting back to school and what could be done to create similar kind of enthusiasm in the university setting. The new students are excited to start their studies but what about the students who are starting their sixth academic year?

”It’s true that the teaching, groups and experiences in the university should be made inspiring to everyone.”

We have 26 minutes to make it from Hervanta to the city centre campus for the next meeting. It’s 3:30, and Hämäläinen has been talking nonstop all day.

”My voice does get tired. President’s job is social to the maximum, I am never alone.”

As we drive on, Hämäläinen lists various governments, foundations, working groups and other matters that involve: the President’s Council, the working groups of the Ministry of Education and Culture, Sitra’s Board of Directors… It takes about five minutes to get through the list of different groups and meetings.

He is practically always working, but says he is strict about his weekends. He often goes to the cottage in Viitasaari and spends time with his grandchildren.

Suddenly Hämäläinen stops talking.

”I must have gone past the right junction”, he grunts.

There’s a journalist from Oulu who does not know how to drive in the passenger seat, so their advice is of little use, but fortunately the navigator and the photographer on the backseat get the car back on track. The scenic route only costs us a couple of minutes.

THE MEETING starting at 15 is held behind closed doors. I am curious for more details about the meeting, but Hämäläinen says vaguely that the meeting was about matters to do with the cooperation of the university community and things to do with the staff.

When Hämäläinen returns from his mysterious meeting, we move on to the last meeting of the day. The meeting is attended by the University, the City of Tampere and Tampere Chamber of Commerce, and the topic is the planning of the Tampere Conversations event. The meeting is held remotely, so we make our way back into the President’s office. Visakorpi is gone, we get a moment of peace and quiet.

According to Hämäläinen, he has received 30 e-mails since this morning.

”That’s actually not that much since most people are still on vacation.”

Hämäläinen is having some technical problems attending the remote meeting.

”30 seconds to go”, he says punctually.

In the end, he’s late only for about a minute.

The meeting should end at five, but it proceeds slowly and eventually lasts till about ten minutes past five. Hämäläinen is probably not that happy when things are not done on time.

When the meeting ends, we move on to Johanna Harju’s workstation.  A couple of things still need work.

We are ready for some kind of closing remark or even to escort the President to his car, but Hämäläinen thanks us and says goodbye kindly.

There are still some emails that need answering.