December 2016

Robert Åström, CEO of Raisoft: Challenges can be resolved in a positive way

- I've always sought challenges. I even cycled around Rödsö (a village in Kokkola) by myself when I was 5 years old. There was always a mother somewhere offering food to a familiar little boy, laughs Åström.

At first, Robert dreamed about becoming a veterinarian but his mild allergies made him change his plans. He was also interested in psychology and all kinds of technology. That is why he chose to study IT, which was a new and interesting field at the time, at Åbo Akademi in 1982. He graduated with a Master of Arts in Data Processing. Almost everyone he went to university with ended up working for Nokia – but Åström founded Datatower, which is still in business, with Rune Hassel.

- My current job includes all the elements I was interested in when I was younger. There is technology, health care and even psychology, he summarises.

Robert's wife studied French in Turku and wanted to move overseas. Robert was immediately ready for the adventure and they decided on Canada, where you can get along in both French and English. However, it was challenging to get a work permit, even though they received several job offers.

- After trying for approximately a year, my wife was granted a 4-month study and internship permit so I said, "let's go now!" Two weeks after we arrived in Canada, I also received a work permit.

The family ended up spending approximately five years, 1991-1996, across the Atlantic. Canada welcomed two people and said farewell to four, as the couple's son was born in 1992 and daughter in 1994.

- In Canada, I worked for a couple of years in health care IT and another couple of years in training and human resources. For the last year, I was already running my own business. Then we decided to return to Finland. Even Rune was asking whether I'm coming back or staying.

After returning to Finland, Åström maintained a remote working relationship with Canada through Datatower and pondered about the future. His ties to Canada started to fade as time and distance kept growing. The family was growing as well: another daughter was born in 1998.

There's an idea there...

- At the end of the 1990s, Magnus Björkgren from the Chydenius Institute told me about interRAI and I started to think about its potential. The number of elderly people is growing, which poses a variety of challenges. How can everything be handled well? The domain was completely new, as no IT solutions existed at that time.

Thus, Raisoft was born. At first, it was a project-based idea, after which the company was founded in 2000.

- The past 16 years have been exciting and time has passed by quickly.

Åström mentions that work has always been approached with the same principle he decided on with Rune when they founded Datatower: "Vi säger som det är så vi behöver inte komma ihåg vad vi ljuger" – we say it like it is, so we won't have to remember any lies.

- Honesty and openness are very important. I've always told our employees that explanations are unnecessary, we all make mistakes sometimes. When we mess up, we own up to it and fix it as soon as possible.

- Life has taught us that doing things with love is the strongest weapon you can possess. It always wins and I strive for it every day. At work, at home and in any other aspect of life. The same method works with family, clients, employees and competitors alike.

Important principles

- I value all kinds of work equally. I once resigned from a job when I heard that the CEO didn't treat a cleaner well. I said I don't tolerate such behaviour and left.

16 years of leading a growing expert company and as the father of a large family – the youngest sons were born in 2001 and 2005 – have taught a lot and solidified Robert´s existing principles.

- Being busy is a relative concept. You can always find something even more important. I realised this in 2001, when I was in a rush and I drove past my parents' house on my way home. There were two ambulances on their yard and all of a sudden, I was in no rush to go anywhere anymore. Luckily my father lived another ten years.

- Stress is born out of thinking you're invincible so you tend to add too many things on your plate. One person cannot do the work of two people. Especially in the IT field, the heap of unfinished work keeps getting bigger. That is okay - I would be worried if my employees didn't have any unfinished work.

- We don't have problems but we have plenty of challenges. And it always pays off to resolve challenges in a positive way. Sometimes, you need to ponder the right approach for a few days. I've told our employees that they have to present a better way to handle something if they say a solution is bad. Merely saying "this is bad" doesn't improve anything.

- The courage to brainstorm and express even silly ideas out loud. Sometimes it's the craziest thoughts that conceal a seed of brilliance.

- My most important principle is KVÖT – kärlek, visdom, ödmjukhet & tålamod, or love, wisdom, humbleness and patience. I hope I'll always be able to hold onto this approach.

Family is number one and trust is 100 %

For Robert Åström, family always comes first and life outside of work is important. In addition to five children, the family includes two cats and a dog.

- Nelson, our Australian Shepherd, is the only living creature who has ever been allowed to get between us in bed. Usually he gets hot in 15 minutes, laughs Robert.

- I play the baritone in the brass band of the church and we also have a family band, where the children occasionally let me play the harmonica. Soccer, GBK, is also important to me. At times, I've been quite busy during the Kokkola Cup. All of our children used to play and I coached and was also responsible for the results service. On the busiest day, I attended 15 matches.

Finally, Robert Åström states the most important thing.

- I trust my employees 100 %. And in this company, family always comes first, the company comes second. We do not work overtime and always view each person as a whole. When everything is well with your family and loved ones, you can focus on work.