Appointed as Professor of International Sales at the turn of the year, Saara Julkunen’s career has led her from early childhood education to a retail entrepreneur, and from there to academia where she now works as a researcher and head of school.
“I have my roots in social work. My dream profession was a kindergarten teacher and, indeed, I worked as one for six years in Kuopio in the 1990s. After that, my husband and I decided to become retail entrepreneurs within the K group. We started from a small corner store in Neulamäki, after which we run a supermarket in Petonen. Our longest time as entrepreneurs was in a hypermarket in Kolmisoppi in the first decade of the 2000s,” Julkunen explains, looking back on the early days of her career.
Coincidence has also given a right kind of push. When the Julkunen’s started running the hypermarket, the family’s youngest child was just ten days old. This meant having to organise work so that childcare was possible. Later, this work arrangement made it possible for Saara Julkunen to do her doctoral research alongside work, and to take the next step in her career.
“I was very familiar with sales management; after all, I had done it as a retail entrepreneur both at the C2B and B2B interfaces. Working for the K group was a crash course in sales, and in my doctoral research, I was able to delve even deeper into channel collaboration. I obtained my doctoral degree in business studies in 2010, and I was invited to take up a teaching position in sales management at the Business School.”
The most recent turn in Julkunen’s career took place at the beginning of 2022, when she was appointed as full Professor in International Sales at the University of Eastern Finland. She has been working as the Head of the Business School since 2017.
International sales are based on opportunities for collaboration
Business is often seen as a tough sector that is all about making profit. Saara Julkunen, however, sees international sales and sales management differently: above all, it is about relations.
“International sales are, to a great deal, based on collaboration and enabling it. When successful, it generates profit, but that is more of a consequence than the sole objective,” Julkunen says.
Julkunen has been involved in the education and cooperation network for sales management ever since it was established at the University of Eastern Finland in 2010. The launch of a study programme in sales management was supported by an ESF funded project, as well as by companies operating in the Noth Savo region and committed to the programme.
The ESF project grew into the English-taught Master’s Degree Programme in International Business and Sales Management (IBS), which was launched in 2014. Nowadays, the programme is among the university’s most popular Master’s degree programmes. Currently, the Business School is piloting major subject studies in international retail trade, which are also available for the Bachelor’s degree.
Collaboration with the business sector comes naturally in business studies. While some fields might struggle to find visiting lecturers from companies, the Business School has no shortage.
“Business studies cannot exist without society and the business sector. We exist for each other. The university is beneficial to the business sector, and vice versa. For example, strategic retail management is one of our most popular courses, and the business sector is strongly involved in its implementation on both the Joensuu and Kuopio campuses. In addition, our study module in digital commerce, for example, was created at the initiative of the business sector, in collaboration between universities and the Finnish Commerce Federation,” Julkunen points out.
Business studies continues to be popular among young people
Traditionally, business studies is one of the most popular programmes of the University of Eastern Finland. Approximately 3,000–4,000 applicants from all over the country apply for admission via the joint application system each spring. Head of Business School Saara Julkunen understands the popularity.
“Business studies offers an opportunity to pursue a multitude of careers. Young people see business studies as a versatile and international career option. Studies are built from the outset in collaboration with the business sector, so there are plenty of opportunities for internships and other forms of collaboration.”
Business graduates’ career paths show that these studies are also appreciated in working life. For example, the recently appointed CEO of Cooperative PeeÄssä Mikko Junttila is an alumnus of the University of Eastern Finland. In addition, OP Group’s former Director General Reijo Karhinen, who has a long career in the financial sector, works as a professor of practice at the Business School.
The Business School has made persistent investments in international student exchange. In addition to the Master’s Degree Programme in International Business and Sales Management, the international Master’s Degree Programme in Tourism Marketing and Management is also popular.
“The application period to our English-taught Master’s degree programmes closes in January, and it will be interesting to see from where we attract applicants this time. Traditionally, we’ve received many applications from Africa, Asia and Russia.”
The Business School is also a sought-after partner globally. Next February, for instance, will witness the launch of a programme in international business, to which Japanese partners have invited business students from the University of Eastern Finland. The Business School offers courses in digitalisation together with Spanish and Italian partners, and collaboration in international business has long been built with Russia.
Internationality and multidisciplinarity at the forefront of development
The future of research in business studies is characterised by a multidisciplinary approach stemming from the university’s strategy. Business scholars are involved in the new research communities of the University of Eastern Finland, exploring, e.g., the possibilities of a sustainable resource society, the bioeconomy, and neuro-innovation.
The AACBS accreditation granted by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, which is an important guarantee of the quality of education in the international context, stands at the core of assessment of the education, research and overall impact of business studies at the University of Eastern Finland.
“We want to improve as an international actor and to become more and more involved in international communities of influence in research,” Julkunen says.
Working as the Head of the Business School fills Julkunen’s calendar, but she also manages to find time for research.
“I focus on research and research work as a member of various international research teams, and I supervise postgraduate research in the team of international sales, which currently has six doctoral students. I hope research will now be my forever job,” Julkunen says, returning to her career path.
- Professor of International Sales, University of Eastern Finland, 1 Jan 2022–.
- Doctor of Economics and Business Administration, University of Eastern Finland, 2010.
- Master of Social Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, 1999.
- Head of the Business School, University of Eastern Finland, 2017–.
- Associate Professor (Tenure Track), University of Eastern Finland, 2018–2021.
- Deputy Head of the Business School, University of Eastern Finland, 2011– 2017.
- Assistant Professor (Tenure Track), University of Eastern Finland, 2014– 2018.
- University Lecturer, University of Eastern Finland, 2011– 2013.
For further information, please contact:
Professor Saara Julkunen, University of Eastern Finland, email@example.com, tel. +358 40 355 3365