Emma Honkanen, Investment Manager at Evli's alternative fund investment team, does not compromise on work-life balance and believes that long-term success comes from setting boundaries. In this interview, she talks about the growing significance of ESG, the challenges of the industry, and a lesson she learned back in Uni.
Emma's journey in investment management began way back in high school, or maybe even before that. As far as she can remember, investments interested her so, it was no surprise when she built a strong academic background in finance. Graduating from Aalto School of Business, Emma gained experience through internships in investment banking and corporate finance before joining eQ, an asset management company in Finland. In 2021, she joined Evli's fund of funds team, contributing to the expansion of their alternative investment platform. If you’re wondering what "fund of funds" actually means, rest assured, you're not alone.
“Through fund of funds we offer our investors access to the unlisted markets such us private equity, unlisted infrastructure or private debt. Our funds of funds team invests in several underlying funds that in turn will invest in several unlisted companies. This way we create diversified portfolios of unlisted companies that you can not access through stock exchange.”, Emma clarifies.
Joining Evli was a decision that came with ease for Emma, given the unique circumstances surrounding it. Firstly, open positions in the industry are rare, especially in Finland, and secondly, Emma had some crucial inside knowledge about the team due to her tight-knit network.
“It was an interesting situation as they were building the team and it turned out I already knew many of the team members. The investor circles in Finland are small, so I knew that the team was very high quality,” Emma reminisces.
It’s all about Analysis – or is it?
Emma's role at Evli involves analyzing fund investment opportunities and managing funds of funds that provide access to unlisted companies. She evaluates fund strategies, track records, team composition, and ESG factors to build diversified global portfolios for investors. Additionally, Emma takes on the responsibility of overseeing ESG efforts within her team, driving conversations with managers to improve their sustainability practices.
Recognizing the growing importance of ESG and sustainability in the investment industry, Emma highlights the strategic priority Evli places on these factors.
“In this industry, analysis is the big word. Another one is ESG, since ESG and sustainability is already a really big thing, and it is going to be even bigger in the future. At Evli, we integrate ESG into our whole investment process and monitor the ESG practices of our target funds after the investment has been made.”
Building a network within the industry has been instrumental in Emma's career trajectory. Attending conferences, participating in industry events, and meeting fund managers and investors have helped her establish connections and stay up-to-date with the latest trends.
“I try to maintain a clear separation between work and free time. To me, it’s not a merit to answer emails late at night.”
“Well, in Finland, I would say there are around 20 to 30 people doing alternative fund investments globally, so the investment community is quite small and also close-knit, which makes exchanging knowledge and experiences easier within the community.”
Emma also emphasizes the importance of continuous learning. The learning-curve at work has been steep.
With the alternative investment industry experiencing substantial growth in recent years, the landscape is constantly evolving. According to Emma, this sometimes leads to situations where relevant frameworks or tools are not available. In addition, the availability of data poses challenges in the industry, as the data of non-public companies is not publicly available.
“This is where you need to be curious and creative in order to come up with a solution. In this role you will always keep learning, and sometimes you must act as an expert in fields that are not in your core competencies.”
Emma keeps a balanced life by participating in sports. She particularly enjoys playing beach volleyball at Hietsu during the summer.
For Emma, the most fulfilling aspect of her work lies in the role she plays in allocating capital to funds that contribute to the growth and development of companies in a sustainable and responsible way. This sense of purpose and the ability to make a positive impact keep her motivated. However, unlike many, she does not spend too much time thinking about motivation.
“I think motivation comes automatically when you have an inspiring workplace and the right people around you, so I don't worry about that. However, I have noticed that getting a good night’s sleep has the biggest impact on my focus and motivation”, Emma says.
“With careful planning, things don’t come as a surprise. We don’t really have situations where it’s like hey, this thing needs to be done by tomorrow morning.”
As sleep is one of the last things Emma wishes to compromise on, it comes as no surprise that maintaining a work-life balance is crucial for her. She appreciates the flexibility her role offers and is a fan of careful planning when it comes to her work and team.
“In our team we really try to look forward to the next six or even twelve months. With careful planning, things don’t come as a surprise. We don’t really have situations where it’s like hey, this thing needs to be done by tomorrow morning”, Emma says.
Reflecting on her career, Emma has learned the value of prioritizing her well-being and not sacrificing it for work. If she’s being honest, that is a lesson she learned in university.
“There was a time when I was studying so intensively, I really didn’t take good care of myself, I didn’t do enough sports, get regular night's sleep or eat healthy. However, I have since learned not to pursue success at the cost of my well-being.”
That is a lesson Emma is happy to share with students and she highly recommends setting boundaries in order to achieve long-term success in one's career.
“I try to maintain a clear separation between work and free time. I avoid reading my emails after hours, as there are rarely things that truly can’t wait for tomorrow. I know some people think differently, but to me, it’s not a merit to answer emails late at night.”
As we are sharing authentic career tips, Emma has one more.
“In terms of career goal setting, I would leave some room for coincidence as I think sometimes the best opportunities come unexpectedly. So, avoid being too rigid with your original plans and make sure you have flexibility to seize an interesting opportunity when it comes your way.”
Text: Janita Suojanen & Vilma Paksuniemi
Original article published in Women's Career Society's blog.