From competitive ballroom dancing in the national team to contemplating bullet wounds, Adele Kurki had tried it all before landing a job at Wärtsilä. Now, she is continuously inspired by digital marketing and her team – and she keeps a journal about life’s little successes.
This is the 9th edition of People with Purpose, a series that showcases Wärtsilä employees and what inspires them, as well as opening the door to Wärtsilä’s Helsinki Campus. Now, it is Adele’s time to share her story in her own words.
I grew up in Espoo, a city in the Finnish capital region. It is a very suburban life: there’s a forest and the sea nearby and my loved ones are close. My family also has a place in Italy, where I’d spend most of my childhood’s summers. I used to travel around in Europe every chance I got – I would just pop the backpack on my back and off I went.
Looking back, I am astounded by the budgets I used to travel on and the conditions I endured. I used to sleep on all kinds of park benches just to afford one more week of travel. Luckily, it was easy to return to Italy and my mom’s cooking once I ran out of money.
To fund my travels, I have done a little bit of everything. I have taught dance and coached group fitness classes. Working for a gym, I used to import some trial classes of new sports from Sweden to Finland and was among one of the first to teach hot yoga in Finland.
I also started my own company, through which I offered secretarial services and sports classes, to name a few. I was also doing secretarial services to different offices. Owning my own company, I really had to learn everything – from taxes to billing – but it was really rewarding to learn those skills and find out that I can manage.
Sports have always been an important part of my life. My twin brother and I used to take part in competitive ballroom dancing. If you know the show ‘Dancing with the Stars’, that’s the style of dancing we used to do. We were in the national team and, during those years, we gained quite a bit of international experience and some success as well.
After working at the gym, I thought about becoming a sports professional – I even applied to study Sports Science at university, but I never made it to the entrance exam. I knew I had this brainpower and interest in marketing that steered me towards business studies. However, sports have still stayed in my life as a hobby and I have different sports for different seasons: skiing and skating in the winter and cycling, jogging, tennis and beach volley in the summer.
I worked for an insurance company for a while, which was quite challenging. Working with challenging insurance claim cases, I learned that people do the strangest things. But after a while wondering if a bullet leaves this or that kind of a wound on a person, I was ready for new challenges and knew I wanted to develop myself on an educational level. That’s when I started studying at Vaasa University.
I studied international business, and for a while, I balanced both the insurance company job and university before I moved on to being a full-time student. That probably lasted for a week, before I started hoarding student association activities on my plate. During my studies, I took courses in International Business, Asian Studies and Digital Marketing. It was quite the overachievement: I got too excited with my studies and ended up having hundreds of study credits more than I needed. That’s a trait I have; I am always so excited and curious about everything that I really need to pay attention to prioritisation – and I have been also developing my ability to say no, too!
During my university years, I went on an exchange to Shanghai University where I read Asian Studies. I’ve always been interested in different people and cultures, so China was an interesting experience for me to explore – business-wise but also personally since the culture is so different to the one in which I grew up. At the time, I still spoke Chinese and sitting in Chinese lecture halls trying to make it through the courses was certainly an intense experience.
After the exchange, I travelled around China and Asia. The language was necessary at times, going around the countryside and getting to know people. I must have been good entertainment for the locals, though – a relatively tall ginger woman wandering around in small towns carrying two backpacks, one on the front and one on the back.
I got married this summer. We had been together for about ten years and had known each other since primary school. We were in the same school and his mother was my primary school teacher. As a teenager, I went to his home for the first time as a girlfriend – it was humiliating! His mother knew all about my embarrassing hair and makeup experiments and of course, she had to pull out old school photos!
We live in Espoo, close to where I grew up. It’s a very family-centric life: my husband’s aunt sometimes pops by in the middle of the workday to drop off a freshly baked loaf of bread or my mother-in-law wanders across the street to fix a table. Every day, when there’s not a global pandemic going around, I would hop on my bike and cycle to the campus in Helsinki, which connects to Espoo by a bridge.
I started at Wärtsilä towards the end of my studies as a summer trainee. Later, I landed the position in digital marketing that I currently hold. My team had to adapt very quickly to the COVID situation, adopting new platforms and ways of working into everyday use. As a team, I am very proud of how quickly we adapted to the situation and the amount of knowledge and skill that the team holds. Last year, I was speaking at a massive US marketing convention on how we have handled the COVID situation. That was a huge milestone for me personally, of course, but also for the team since my line manager and I were the only ones from Finland speaking there. This year, two other members from my team will join us at the convention.
My job is very global, meaning I constantly collaborate with people from across Europe, the USA and Asia. I feel that all of my international experience has really prepared me for my current position at Wärtsilä; it has given me language skills and the ability to communicate with people from differing backgrounds. Every day, I am in international surroundings, so adapting my behaviour to the context and group I am with has been useful. I can also read between the lines a bit, sometimes what is said out loud is different from the actual meaning.
This type of “home internationality” has been an extremely interesting combination for me; working in an international community and then cycling back home where my relatives and in-laws live close by. I have these two entirely different worlds, connected by a bridge.
I find inspiration in everyone. That’s an idea that I have taught myself: every human has something interesting or unique about them. Every once in a while, you encounter people that you don’t see eye to eye with but even they have skills, views or something about them that is unique. Even though some things must be handled alone, I am very team-centric – be it at work, with family or in the sporting arena. My biggest values are transparency and honesty – even when it comes to mistakes. Communicating what didn’t work will also help the team move forward and develop.
I have a full-steam-ahead approach to life. I am easily excited and curious, and I constantly have a self-development project ongoing. Work is very important, as it’s a form of self-development and a source of inspiration for me. I feel my positivity and energy can be inspiring to others – I keep a folder in my email about successes and good feedback, so I have that to look back to when things get challenging.
One of the important attitudes I have is to take on tasks that are a little more challenging than I think I can do. Then, I learn the skills and tools needed and, if it doesn’t work, we at least know what not to do! But when people listen to me and trust my expertise, that gives me a lot of confidence.
It’s important to dream – every day I write down my dreams and aspirations into a little golden journal. If there’s one thing I could teach others, it would be not to hold yourself back. You’d be surprised at what you can do when you don’t set yourself limits.