Interview with #HRU’s Aki Kakko: Innovation and Building a Global HR Community

Last week we published an exclusive HRchat podcast interview with #HRU Founder Aki Kakko. Now read the edited transcription..

Bill Banham: Tell me a bit about your early career up to founding HRU.

Aki Kakko: I have been always entrepreneur so actually I have never really been employed by others. I don’t know the exact reason for it but, from the young age, I have always found it quite interesting and as well as a better platform for me to have my own companies and basically do things that I like through those companies. First part of my career was actually in restaurant businesses, so I had restaurants in Finland where I’m from till up to 2009 so I was doing very different thing than what I’m currently working on in the field of HR. But of course, in the restaurant businesses as well, we hired a lot of people and HR was present there, but it was not the sole focus of mine.

After 2009, I was kind of thinking, “What next? What should I do?” I kind of left the restaurant world by selling all the restaurants that I was involved. I was looking at what to do, what would be kind of next challenge for me. And, I got actually accidentally involved in a recording agency. And kind of started to look at the recording agency world, world could be developed by just applying lets little bit more modern technologies and basically from the recording agency we spin off two companies and basically that provided the platform for me to kind of find myself in developing different recruitment and HR related services. And as well become more internationally focused because before that I was very much doing things only in Finland. But, the recruitment provided a bit more scalable platform that’s available beyond Finnish target.

Aki Kakko

Aki Kakko, #HRU

Bill Banham: So you moved into the world of Recruitment by accident? If so, I’d love to hear a bit about that story.

Aki Kakko: Yeah, well, it was actually through a strike. So there was a strike in harbors that happens every two years in Finland. And my friend was basically owning one of those harbors. I had a locker room discussion with him about it and then we ended up to do something about it like it was pretty much blackmail situation. Finland is like a island, everything goes and comes either by plane or by sea so … What we did basically was set up a place we could direct with people to open those harbors during the strike.

We got quite a lot of positive feedback and actually we were able to operate those harbors during the strike and actually break the strike. And after that we were contacted by a lot of people that “Hey, what you do is something interesting. You should apply things that you did, acting very quickly, recruit other people and mobilize people. So we believe if you want to work with us, let’s do something together.” So we basically set up a recruitment agency because we didn’t know anything about what else we could do and basically from the recruitment agency then further develop other services and other businesses by learning how the state is and what could be done differently.

Bill Banham: Okay, so very that much fits with your entrepreneurial nature then that businesses and new ideas are coming out of necessity and then you’re running with them and making a big success of them. So, congratulations. Now tell me a little bit about HRU and how it’s changing the way HR and talent pros learn and collaborate.

Aki Kakko: I came across unconferences in HR by attending Bill Boorman’s Tru events. I think it was 2010 when I was starting to look at what kind of events are there. Where should I look like to get more of those ideas that are not yet mainstream. So I went to this event and like the former there it was purely around recruitment themes, which was then my focus as well so it provided very nice way of meeting a lot of people who was relevant to me. And I eventually went more and more at these events in different countries and then partner up with Bill actually to kind of scale the TRU platform as well.

And we did it about, I would say, two and a half years together. TRU brand globally did a lot of events in Asia and as well in Europe together with Bill and the local organizers. But then for me, I saw the limitations as well in the way that it was running it was more like open source model where I was sitting as well at an event, to be always a little bit different location by location and purely recruitment focused, wasn’t really any more interesting for me because of other businesses that I was developing as well so we end up to separate our paths and I started to built HRU to be focused more on the HR side of the things and Bill continued with TRU events.

So basically I joined existing concept and then develop it further and from that we eventually then spin off the HRU that is currently my focus.

Listen to the HRchat Podcast Interview with Aki Kakko

Bill Banham: And you’re also the founder of Candarine, which claims to help organizations to transform their talent attraction processes from push to pull – these wonderful marketing terms. Push to pull. And continually strengthen their employment brand. I’d love to learn more about this strategy and this approach. I’m a big believer in HR people, modern HR people, also marketers to a certain extent. So please tell me more about this.

Aki Kakko: Candarine is as well one of those companies that we spun off from the recruitment agency and what we realized is that the way that we basically market was old-fashioned and still is in many companies. It’s very focused on job advertisement. So, basically, creating a job advertisement and trying to get people to apply while we know that the best people are not currently necessarily looking so we have to think of other ways to connect with them and often other way is in company sourcing so basically looking at – based on qualification – who we should talk to. Finding them from LinkedIn or any other channels and then reaching out cold.

Check out the new WorkingTech podcast, in partnership with The HR Gazette

While what we do in Candarine is basically helping companies to use similar ways than as you would do as a marketer building interesting content to attract those people towards you. Not only shop advertisement, but mainly expertise content that basically you can extend their contact details so basically instead of going cold to people who are not even aware of you, you can have warm leads to your sourcing and recruit new people to talk with. Not to people who would not apply, but the ones that are kind of between being interested and kind of curious about you and what you do. Not necessarily about employment opportunities. So be like this kind of marketing machine in the companies is what we do day-in, day-out.

Bill Banham: What does an average work week look like for Aki Kakko? If there such a thing, Aki?

Aki Kakko: Yeah. Given that we do about 50 events every year under HRU brand and as well now in Candarine we do a lot of training. So onsite with clients it probably average week consists at least one or two travels. So either it’s within the Europe or it’s somewhere like US or in Asia. But anyway, it’s pretty often that it contains travel and then meeting clients face to face. Training their team or talking with them in HRU events. So that’s probably it.

And then, of course, trying to catch up with everything else when I’m connected. So whenever the Wi-Fi is available that becomes my office.

Bill Banham:  I’m keen to understand a bit about what you look for in your employees when you’re bringing on new team members. So far in this interview you’ve been almost a little bit blasé about how straightforward it is when you get an idea from a necessity and run with it and create a whole business and you’ve just mentioned how you’ve got nigh on 50 events going on around the world. And it all was born out of your natural entrepreneurial spirit. How do you go about finding people for your organizations, who work for you, who have that same sort of mindset. “Okay, here’s the challenge and we’re just gonna get on and do it.” What do you look for?

Aki Kakko: Well I think the whole concept of employment and how it has been past defined is a bit flawed in a way because I work with many people project-based and people are not necessarily there for career. Often, as well, the people we work with are quite young and they kind of look different opportunities and stepping stones in their careers. So some people are there for longer period of time and some people are there for certain project only.

Same as with HRU. We try to partner up with local companies and local people. So basically provide them a platform instead of us doing all those events because then basically we can empower them to be the evangelists locally and be our face there and kind of the event organizer.

Of course, less people that’s kind of like typical event operations. So you have to not only look at the people but, as well, the type of work that they need to do and maybe rethink, “Okay, how do you structure, not only by hiring people, but also using lot of contractors and lot of freelancers and ways that people actually want to be employed today.”

Bill Banham: Tell me your top two or three things that you love about your working week and your job. You mentioned, for example, you’re creating lots of new events. You’re giving partners the opportunity to empower themselves and help spread the word. You’re traveling all over the world. Maybe I’m getting at some of these things, but in your own words what are the top two or three things that you love about your job?

Aki Kakko: Before, when I was traveling quite a lot, like first two years, it was mostly like learning or experience on, like, what is different. Like what is different in different locations, how people are doing things differently. But now it’s more like what is the same because actually I would say 80%, maybe even more, things what we do is basically same and we should focus maybe little bit more on those things and try to find the common ground and connect people as well because of those common interests instead of only what separates us. So, in a way, learning about new culture has been really big plus in my current work and ability to do that in a quite free way. So if we have a lead that somebody wants to organize an event like we just got in South Korea, I can freely look at it as well from the perspective of my personal learning. It doesn’t need to be on, let’s say, that kind of typical corporate goals and targets.

Bill Banham: The HRU event format is designed for individual interaction and a high level of engagement and for those reasons you cap the number of attendees to just 120. Can you explain a bit more about why it’s so important to keep those numbers so small? I’m sure you must’ve been presented with lots of opportunities from partners and sponsors to make the events much bigger and it must’ve been very tempting. 

Aki Kakko: There is sort of events that you can call to various thousands of people, but at the end of the day how many of those people you can actually meet? How many you can actually have a meaningful discussion? And how many you can really build a connection within those events? Probably it’s much smaller number than 120 that we allow to be the maximum attending number in our events.

But overall we run those kinds of sessions in the events that we keep the number of people within the same session always to be less than 30 because then again it keeps it to be lots more discussional. People are much more encouraged to ask questions and feel that they are as well welcome to ask them. So, whenever you have a bigger crowd than 30 it easily becomes a presentation, that’s what we want to avoid because we feel that the value and why people join our events is because of the atmosphere. It’s a place where you can ask any kind of question and not be criticized even if it’s not necessarily agreed upon by everybody.

So, like, keeping it friendly and so that it kind of is learning environment instead of typical kind of conference environment is our aim and people like that kind of event. They get much more from it as well from the connection perspective.

Bill Banham: And one of those events, coming up pretty soon is HRU Seattle and The HR Gazette is a media partner. Tell us a bit about HRU Seattle. What’s going on there, what are the hopes for the day and the expected outcomes?

Aki Kakko: Seattle is one of our US events. So we have two currently for the first part of the year. We have Seattle in March, in end of March. And then we have third of May in San Diego so both this side of US. But anyway, the theme of the event is HR recruitment technology so the whole day is around how do you use in different parts of the HR and recruitment process technology more effectively. So we are looking at to have as many case-related discussions and things that have been tested by companies and then discuss about those so that we will be able to say – not only the current practice, but as well what kind of things people have maybe tried, but they didn’t work and what we can learn from those successes. And we, of course, hope that as many people from the Seattle region will join us there to have the dialogue and learn from others and build those connections there. So looking forward to that event.

Bill Banham: And am I right in saying that the event is free to attend? People just have to apply and then they’re vetted and accepted?

Aki Kakko: Yeah. So given that we are limited with the number of people that we can have, we have application process for attendants, but it’s free to attend so one just has to apply and then we look at if your application is suited for the event. So sometimes, for example, we try to avoid the situation where there will be too many, let’s say, service providers, so that it will be relevant as well for the corporate people. So we want to hear a little bit about your reasons why you come there and then based on that we will select the best possible group of people for the event.

Bill Banham: Other than the HRU events what other events are you attending in the next six to 12 months and why?

Aki Kakko: Well, actually given the number of our own events, I don’t have my plans really set yet. I’m looking to do something more maybe in Asia. So looking at a couple events there in Malaysia and potentially in Hong Kong, so … So, other event plans are being as well influenced by our own event calendar that, of course, as well, is still moving around a bit because of our event partners are changing dates and so on, so forth. So, yeah. Cannot mention any event by name now beyond our own.

Bill Banham: Before we wrap up for this particular show can you tell our audience how they can learn a bit more about you and getting contact and learn more about HRU and other things that you’re getting up to.

Aki Kakko: Sure. So, HRU you can find us from I’m as well active online whether it’s Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook, you can connect me one of those channels. My name is Aki Kakko so you can probably see it from the post that is here to find me from there. Any channel please just connect and I’m happy to discuss anything HR, recruitment.


Listen to the HRchat Podcast Interview with Aki Kakko'

Author: Editor

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