Sailing solo is not everyone’s cup of tea

Although a keen sailor and a devoted follower of the Golden Globe Race, Wärtsilä's CEO Jaakko Eskola is not one for solo-sailing. He explains why.

Although a keen sailor and a devoted follower of the Golden Globe Race, Wärtsilä's CEO Jaakko Eskola is not one for solo-sailing. He explains why.

“For me, the sea has always had a strong element of connection. When I think of the competitors in the Golden Globe Race defying the waves in their quest to sail non-stop unassisted around the world, I find it fascinating that one can travel around the world without leaving the boat once,” says Jaakko Eskola, Wärtsilä’s CEO.

Eskola’s first sailing experience dates back to his family boat when he was a child. But it wasn’t before he joined his military service in the Finnish navy and started hanging out with people who sailed a lot that he really caught the sailing bug.

Currently, his sailing activities are mostly restricted to a rubber boat he sits in as he watches his two children compete with their Optimist Dinghies.

“Last summer we were in Sweden for yet another race, and as I sat in the rubber boat, I was once again reminded of what is so great about this sport,” recalls Eskola.

“As my 12-year old daughter cast off, she was on her own, the sole decision-maker on her boat.  She had to make decisions about everything by herself: whether to take a turn or not, what should be her competition tactics, and make predictions on the winds. Independent decision-making – taking charge of whatever situation you find yourself in – is a life skill I think will come in very handy throughout life. Despite my earlier experience as a sailing instructor I never meddle with my children’s decisions in competitions for this very reason,” he says.  

Eskola has competed in countless races, usually at the helm of the boat. Even though the captain is the one with the final word, he believes there is a lot of teamwork behind every decision.

“What I love the most about sailing is the teamwork, and I guess that is why embarking on a solo sailing trip has never crossed my mind,” he points out. “I tremendously enjoy the feeling of being a part of a team where everybody excels in their own tasks, and there is no hierarchy as everyone on board is completely dependent on each other. It is a very democratic space. Still, as captain you have to make decisions, otherwise you risk finding yourself adrift,” he adds.

What’s common between sailing and running a company?

Eskola applies the same principle in his job as the CEO.

“This teamwork aspect is what I love the most about my work too. I love people! Whether it's for a sailing race or for work, I always strive to find people smarter than me when I get to pick my team. In a team, whether on board or in a company, it is important to create a feeling of trust and mutual respect. You also have to remain calm whatever the circumstances. If you don't behave, you are going to have a hard team finding a crew for the next race. It's the same at work: people don't have to work with me, and if I fail creating a nice atmosphere, my team will abandon the ship.”

And that, Eskola says, would be a catastrophe.

“Not only because I'd have a hard time making it safely into harbour, but also because I really love hanging out with people. So no, solo-sailing is not my thing!” he concludes.

Written by
Lena Barner-Rasmussen