Can a banker run an airline? Finnair is about to find out.

Author: Gerard O' Dwyer

High-flying 44-year-old Nordic banker Topi Manner is set to take the helm at Finnair in January 2019. The Finnish national-flag carrier’s new CEO is currently head of personal banking at Nordea, Scandinavia’s biggest financial-services group.

As if to remind Manner of the new glass-bowl corporate world he is entering, the timing of Manner’s appointment overlapped with the arrest and dismissal of a Finnair flight captain at Helsinki’s Vantaa international airport. The airline pilot had reported for duty with a blood-alcohol level three times over the legal limit.

The incident at Vantaa, which precipitated a public reinforcement of the airline’s zero-tolerance policy on alcohol use by pilots, is a pertinent reminder to the longtime career banker of the special image and consumer-focused skill set that will be needed to lead one of Europe’s last remaining publicly traded, state-controlled airlines.

“Finnair is an iconic, ever-changing Finnish company with a significant national role. This was a job opportunity that I simply could not refuse,” said Manner.

Manner replaces Pekka Vauramo, who has been president and CEO of Finnair since 2013. Vauramo is set to become CEO at Finnish industrial-machinery giant Metso Group, a role that he will begin in November 2018. As an interim solution, Finnair’s CFO Pekka Vähähyyppä is stepping into the breach and will serve as the airline’s acting CEO until Manner’s arrival in January.

He will arrive to take the helm of a Nordic airline in transition. Like all European airlines, Finnair’s business is hugely influenced by advances in digital technologies, at both the commercial-operations and the customer-service ends of the spectrum.

Manner brings a broad range of digital expertise to Finnair, having led a series of high-profile digital and artificial-intelligence customer-service transformation projects at Nordea during his 21-year tenure with the bank. This range of experience involved leading advanced-technology projects across Nordea’s corporate- and private-banking spheres. It included the development and introduction of customer-service “robots” and machine-learning innovations.

The new CEO’s strong banking-tech credentials will find a ready home within Finnair’s increasingly digitized operating orbit.