Welcome to Season 4 of the Nordic Leaders Podcast! In this episode we interview André Noël Chaker, speaker, entrepreneur, executive and lawyer that came from Canada to Finland 30 years ago.
What we cover:
A fantastic and charismatic chat that blends wit, humour and wisdom with your favourite hosts David Goddard, Nick Vertigans, and Stefano Mosconi.
- André's beginnings and his move from Quebec to Finland
- (4:54) What Arnold Schwarzenegger taught him
- (6:09) How he turned a hobby into a profession (and got all these cool "gigs")
- (9:23) Trust as a key driver of value
- (14:06) The essence of great speaking
- (20:14) The secret of his success
- (22:05) His upcoming book "Speak or Die" and why he wrote it
- (25:14) Gratitude
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[Note: This was an automatic transcription, listen to the pod if something doesn’t make sense]
Stefano: Welcome everyone, we have today with us, André Noël Chaker, a Canadian lawyer, with a bit of Italian DNA. he lived for the past 30 years in Finland and he became a successful speaker in the local language. Hard to make it a bit more interesting than that, but we're going to try doing the pod.
André: Thank you for having me guys. It's great to be on this podcast.
Stefano: And we also have Nick on the other seat of the pod. Welcome, Nick.
Nick: Good morning.
Stefano: So let's go straight to business. You had some pretty big gigs in your career, just as a recap, just after moving to Finland, you held the position as secretary general of the international council of sports science.
Then you were part of the team trying to bring the Olympics to the Finland. Then you go to work as director of the entertainment division or the Finnish national lottery. And up until that point, correct me if I'm wrong, you were not even speaking for me.
André: Right. it was a work in progress.That's correct. For the first 10 years of my stay of the 10 of the 30. Yeah, it was, English, French, Italian, Spanish only. And then my fifth language came with my second wife actually, who, was actually the same wife I have today. That's 21 years ago. She's the only woman in the world. I know who after a very fancy marriage proposal on my knees with my past mother's ring in my hand and a guitar and the other, and I say, would you marry me?
She's probably the only person or the only woman in the world who would say something like, yes, but.
Stefano: So what was the condition?
André: From now on sweetheart for your own good, we will speak only Finnish to each other. This was the year 2001 or 2002. Yeah. And then 10 years later, I won the speaker of the year award in Finnish. Yeah, it's good when your wife says yes, but it's it's worth trying.
Stefano: I think it is!
André: So it paid off, it paid off tremendously. And, the latter jobs you mentioned in the list, would not have been possible without a good level of Finnish. The old slogan of the national lottery Was “Suomalainen voittaa aina”, which means, “a Finn always wins” and I was the only foreigner and a director of a fairly large part or the business, actually a small part of this, but it's still a large amount of money, the only foreigner in the house, basically, and, you're talking to the press, you're talking to ministers, you're talking to the board and you're doing this and finish, there's no other. That's the most nationalistic company in the country.
I remember waking up at four o'clock in the morning, terrified of my 10 minute speech in Finnish to the board going through over and over again, to make sure that it's, palatable. And, after 10 years of doing that, I'm in good shape now.
Stefano: And so you don't need anymore wake up at 4:00 in the morning?
André: For other reasons, I remember for one Nordic business forum, I didn't sleep all night when we, I had my personal hero, Jim Collins coming, and, the keynote was Arnold Schwartzenegger and I was so excited. I couldn't sleep. I just, I just say out loud and I had written the script. I knew it by heart and there were no language issues. It was just pure excitement. I just couldn't sleep.
Stefano: So that's your hobby, you also have been moderating Nordic business forum, which is a major conference here in the Nordics.
André: Yep. That's all. I was involved the first time in 2014, so three years after, and I had been a customer. And it, as you say, it was a hobby that then turned into a profession where I, I'm now a full-time public speaker now, and I'm an entrepreneur in public speaking with MySpeaker as its chairman and co-founder. We represent 2000 speakers in the Nordic region. From prime ministers to super CEOs, to, young startup entrepreneurs, wonderful people with wonderful stories and, a hobby turned into a profession. But yeah, it's five years as a moderator of that event. And, now seven years as a script writer.
When I was moderating, I was script writing.
Stefano: But, so we were wondering of course, for personal interest, how do you land all these fantastic gigs? What's special?
André: Yeah. As you can see, but you can't hear, it's not my good looks. You're right. It's not that, I think that it's a combination of things like a lot of things that will make you successful in life. One is that, there's a good foundation, I went to, a few elite schools in my life. I worked really hard as a French Canadian to get into English speaking the Gill law school, where I did a national program.
It's a prestigious school. It's Canada's Harvard, if you like. I was working in a law firm with our former prime minister of Canada and I was doing okay as a young kid and then I wanted to outdo myself and, as a French teacher, realize that the opportunities were, obviously south of the border, which is for us, New York state is 20 million people, just one state and 60% of our exports in Quebec, which is my province go over that border.
I, tried and succeeded in becoming a lawyer In New York state. So I had, the credibility of one of the capitals of the world as a New York lawyer. Because of my background, as you mentioned, I spoke at least three languages, fairly fluently in the French, Italian already. It wasn't a bad foundation. And then out of the blue, the phone rang, as you mentioned, my first job was, an international management job for an international scientific organization. And, and it was interesting, but it's also a good luck and a good match.
André: This was an interesting story where the phone call was not from a beautiful blonde woman from Finland asking me to come and see her and take and come and live here. It was a bald Finnish scientist who was head hunting. And yeah, I was headhunted and my first job was interesting because he was the one that you mentioned was the secretary general of the international council of sport science.
And, he had just been voted president of the global organization and the co the qualifications, the minimum qualifications were interesting and were luckily things that I had to offer one is that the person had to speak perfect French, perfect English, because the head off of the official head office was at the UNESCO building and our lobbying was done in Brussels Paris Lozan and Geneva. So that was, but that was pretty important. The other was that. That, the person had to be a lawyer. there was a lot of legal issues, contract making, also lobbying and advocate work if you like, for the cause of science and physical activity, young people.
And so there's an advocacy, contractual, even financial lobbying, aspect to it where we raised a lot of money for science around the world and so on. So they had higher for the past 30 years lawyers, but they were young lawyers because. The organization was an NGO with little money. So it had to be a young and cheap lawyer.
And they had found a young and cheap lawyer from Belgium. That person comes to Finland and then leaves nine months later because she can't take the winter. So that person needed to be winter resistant.
Stefano: So Canada.
André: I have no merit. Really. It's just a coincidence that this, it just happened. That I had spent a couple of summers here, on exchange programs, teaching languages and theater and music to young people years earlier. And somebody had remembered being recommended me to this professor. And he had hunted me into Canada.
I mean from Canada into Finland based on this criteria, that happened to be something that I could offer at that time. And then from there, to make my answer a little unduly long, I believe that the trick in the Nordics to get these gigs as you call them is to deviously under promise and over-deliver every time.
Stefano: You said deviously why deviously?
André: You could over promise and you can, I don't call it. It's not a white lie, but you try to be humble in what you plan to deliver, and then knowingly that you have a potential for, over delivering on your promise.
And that Delta gives you something that is, I believe the driver of Nordic success in general, which causes you to create a trust account with any future partner, employer, customer that piles up and delivers returns that are incredible. By doing that over always over-delivering maybe a little bit under promising.
I've created a trust foundation that is the driver of the Nordic miracle or the Finnish miracle that I talk about in my book is that we have, such a trust driven society here. It's incredible, the trust index, tells us that 98% of the people in Norway and Finland trust their institutions, whereas in the UK and Canada and in the US now it's like under a 60%, how many people trust their neighbor, with stuff, Finland is way over.
André: If you lose your wallet, 90-95% of the people believe that it'll come back to them in the UK used to be 80%. Now it's 60%.
Nick: Yeah. I saw you throw your wallet into the crowd, I think it was Fujitsu or something kickoff?
André: I use that prop a lot and you know what? It has come back to me full of money. A hundred percent of it.
Nick: Excellent. When it went out, did you have any money in when you throw it out to them?
André: Always, I'm all in man. I'm genuine. Not a lot. It's like I never carry more than a hundred euros of cash. I don't know about you guys. Whatever I need, it's never more than that, but, I could afford to lose it, but it's always coming back and that trust, is such a driver of success, personal success and community success and national successes here that, by doing that, over delivering every time, you create huge possibilities for yourself.
Nick: Yeah. I think it's a wonderful thing. And we, I used to work for Reuters in London and we had this customer service kind of mantra, which was exactly the same, under promise over deliver. But I think it speaks particularly well to us in the Nordic region.
Absolutely trust, safety, stability, that kind of humbleness that grace, that you refer to. Do you have an example where you've done that you've under promised initially you've, over-delivered come to the end of a project. How do you do that in practice?
André: It was very easy, I think I've been the underdog every single time.
But most people just hated the fact that I came through the door, what is he doing here? And what did he do? And I remember going to, two of the speaking, my first speaking agency and, the sales director says, “you're damaged goods, man. You're, you have an accent when you speak Finnish. I can never sell you. you're no, real speakers in this country are Valtonen who is a beautiful speaker. And he's a wonderful speaker who are fluid in the finish. You know, we, we deal with people who are. Native speakers of Finnish. You'll never be able to deliver really, sorry, go home.”
And, I turned out to be the next in the next 10 years, the most sold speaker in his company, right? It's like a thousand events paid events. These are, where people pay between three and 5,000 euros for you to show up and speak.
I want it to show him that he was wrong. That actually what Arnold Schwartzenegger told me as a personal secret, which is not much of a personal secret, but when he came to Finland, he says: “Andre, when you speak, do you have an accent?” And I said: “Yes, I have a very strong accent”. He said: “your accent is your greatest advantage!”
And, and how right he was. I have a terrible accent. How could you over-deliver. That's not the only thing that is important in, in, in public speaking performance, when you are authentic and you move people and you would inform them with stuff they never thought about and you make them hug each other and sing and scream and love the world.
André: And you can really get that kind of passion and enthusiasm and motivation going. That's what people pay money for. And, I, I over-delivered big time. On the speaking here. Even if I under promise that first. Oh yeah, I'll give it a try with my poor Finnish.
Nick: You've delivered too much. Andre you've delivered too much.
What's interesting about that is that way. the feedback you were given at the start, that this isn't gonna work, right? the Finnish language, isn't a silky smooth. It isn't as perfect as these other guys. And then I'm thinking, I wonder how that translates to the Finnish companies.
Nick: So I work a lot with Finnish software companies and they want to conquer the world and go abroad, but,and conquer new markets. And I think something that actually has been holding them back is this thought that they take with them that, okay. Perhaps my English as a Fin, as a Finnish CEO, as a Finnish part of the Finnish leadership team, if we try and conquer that the German market or the UK market, for example, that's going to hold me back because my English isn't great.
So maybe we'll, maybe we won't bother this year. Maybe we'll try again next year or so. And I wonder it's interesting. I just see a link with those two to four.
André: Yeah, I think you're right for some of the leadership. I think that's changing a lot for our young startup companies will, actually they go out there with a really thick Rally Englanti, and they're very proud of it.
And, and they go all in and they're so authentic and so original that they stand out from the crowd and that's wonderful. They're proud of it, they embrace it, which is what they should. If you're overly formalistic and look at language and public performances as a, a software program, and you identify an accident as a bug that needs to be erased.
And you feel that you were up at a competitive disadvantage because of that, you are making a huge error, but that's the way you see it because you a formalistic in your thinking and it, and then you'll probably do very well in, in a niche or another delivering perfect software. But you won't be a great marketer of new solutions.
Added to that is, is something related maybe to us too, to the three of us is also the trust that we need to put into finding the right people from the cultures to which you want to export to. So it is mind boggling for me that we have so little forerunner fin startup companies where you know that there's a new solution for cleaning water.
André: The biggest market is going to be, let's say, Nigeria, why don't we have a founder who's also Nigerian with a fin or, a suite or whatever, this kind of mix and understanding of how we can work together. Even at the foundation level of a company. Is something that is very poor at this time, at least in Finland.
And, what we've done, in, at MySpeaker is exactly that when we went to Sweden, we empowered the Swedish team with ownership, and they are Swedes from Sweden who know how to drive that business.
And to create that kind of trust and collaboration over cultural, lines. That way is so important. And there's some, something that, Finnish companies are not very good at doing.
Nick: what's the missing ingredient in that process? That connectivity collaboration.
André: I think it's a question of timing.
We do have as you mentioned, Unfortunately, at my advanced age, when you said that I've been here 30 years, which is correct, 28 is perhaps the right figure. and, 28 years ago, the percentage of people not born in Finland, living in Finland was 0.6%. now it's a whopping 4%.
So just because of that statistic, I think that we have, 10 or 20 years ahead of us, of that happening, where people grow up together of different ethnic backgrounds, go to university together. And then joined forces because they are friends and people they trust from their background, which is something that we have in Canada in, in, in obviously the US and which has not happened here.
André: So I, I think that there's a generational issue where the people you trust you go to school with, just happened to be at that time. People of the same ethnic background and linguistic background. So there's that going on? But, but I think there, there is, a communication issue, a cultural issue, thins have great strengths, but one of them is not being the cocktail king in, in a London event.
Right,. they, they don't traditionally don't mingle as quickly. Don't, get the contacts as quickly. Don't develop the trust as quickly. Once it's achieved though, they'll be the most loyal partners you'll ever have, but that is also a cultural issue there. Yeah. There are a few things going on there, but those are the top two that I see.
Nick: Thank you.
Stefano: So following into that. Let's assume that you are one of these 4% minority here in Finland, what would you tell to this foreigner in order to set for him or her to succeed here when you have no context? No, no, nothing around.
André: I remember that I had met by the age 23. I had met one fin in my life.
And that fin was somebody I met at, in Paris at, Canada house when I was studying at La Sorbonne. And I still know them today And, so I knew no one coming into this culture zero from zero, and it's one person at the time.
This I'll repeat the importance of, over-delivering the, telling people that you're authentic. You're the real deal. You are who you say you are and you'll do what you say you'll do those are critical and one person at a time, one deal at the time, one interview at the time, keeping that in mind every time is critical in Nordic countries in general.
A certain level of linguistic, proficiency will always help, take a long time. a, it's a different language, at least if you're in Finland and you have no roots. Or any contact to the culture as I had, it'll take time. It'll take dedication, but wherever you go, try to, try to succeed in Italy without Italian, or try to succeed in the UK without English.
So Finland is actually quite nice. To its foreigners, where you can manage several years, maybe till the end of your years in English, but to really give yourself an advantage in the Nordics, it really helps to speak Finnish and Swedish or whatever language, you know, your customers.
Departments are really working in when they're offline. If you can speak to their hearts, as well as through their minds, through their own native tongue in a way that is not perfect, but that is compelling. You will do very well. Yeah,
Stefano: Let's switch gears, maybe just a moment and then talk about your book. So you have recently written a book called “speak or die”, which is quite a big title there.
Tell us a bit more about the title and the book itself. why the title and,
André: yeah, the book coming out for the public, in beginning of next year, it's, available. On MySpeaker rhetoric, network for our, our, the beta testers of our robot and platform. And, it's it's the work of it's the work of four or five years now of research that, that is done at a fascinating time in the history of humanity, because,as you all know, huge.
Companies have now taken over many areas of our lives. One of the things that tech companies are fascinated about, and I've been massively investing in buying companies who have developed key technologies in this area is the development of the next generation robot. That will sound like a human being.
And also understand natural human beings in a similar way as human beings. So developing that next generation robot has demanded a massive amount of R&D research. And there's been more research in AI, voice AI vision in the past six years than in the past. Which has also developed a huge amount of broken myths in the field of communication, the stuff that people believed in blindly have now been broken, definitely by all of this new research.
However, nobody has thought of taking all of the data from this research for the benefit of humans. Human speakers. it's great that we're trying to develop all these robots. It's great. But how about using all of that knowledge to make humans better? And that is the philosophy of speaker di the art and science of speaking in the age of the imagination is the working title and speak or die comes from several things.
One is that if you don't speak with impact, And impact meaning, in a way that people will understand, remember, and act upon, your dreams will die. Your businesses will die. your potential as a human being will die. If you cannot communicate with any path, so it's speak or die. The other funny part of this of course, is the many standup comedians have said that,
Since the fear of public speaking is the number one or the number two fear in the world across cultures. it seems that most people would prefer to be in the casket when, and then giving the eulogy, at a,at funerals, which is a funny way of saying, yeah, it's an irrational fear that can only be won through understanding.
What makes you a more powerful, more self-confident speaker? And the only way that can happen is by. Speaking a little bit more and understanding how you can become more powerful, so you don't need to die. You just need to speak and understand how you can do that in a more effective way. So speak and don't die as it were.
even if it feels like dying for many people. and then of course the third level of this is that I'm speaking as a privilege,For 10% of the population of the world, it's a constitutional right for 90% of the world. It's something you can actually be persecuted for.
You can even be sentenced to death for speaking in some countries. and there's that element of a human right, to speaking, which is,one dimension of my book as well, which is close to my heart as a human rights person and, and a lawyer, which was interesting. So yeah, so that the speaker diet came from those things.
Stefano: Great, looking forward to reading it when it's out.
André: Yes,absolutely. Thank you.
Stefano: Nick do you want to ask some final uestions?
Nick: Thank you. what have you heard so far, Andre, when you, where you've replayed some of your life, some of your experiences, some of what you do. And now we've just been talking about the book, what do you hear when you replay all of that? I hear a lot of the same stories because I tend to use a lot of the similar stories, but they're very powerful, but perhaps what I hear the most from playing back, all of this stuff is this unbelievable gratitude. that I have for the chances I've been given and the luck that I've had and just the gratitude to everybody who's helped me.
André: My, the invest in all the things that I've done. And, I just hear the tone of voice of gratitude,of a happy older man. Who's. Who, I thought I would never get married. I thought I would be in New York working on wall street as a lawyer and, just, working myself silly and not being very healthy, probably dying a little bit young.
And, I see another story for which I am very, grateful.
Nick: that's a wonderful answer. Thank you. Thank you. And it is a wonderful story to hear. so please keep telling that story, even if you've heard it a few times.
André: Yeah, my wife can't hear it anymore. She's oh, no. The same story. You got to talk about Arnold.
Schwartzenegger again, I'm so tired of hearing it. Please. Don't say it anymore. That's really
Nick: impressive. Really important. One, particularly that one,
André: it's one of them, one of my gems and it's completely original. And so telling it's at so many levels that I love repeating it because it's.
Hearing to a lot of people who feel that they are defective or not perfect, or that they'll never make it because they're different. And so on it, I think it's a beautiful story to repeat.
Nick: Yeah. I think it is too. And I love it. Another lovely, a moment that sticks out for me in this conversation is, your wife hunting enough when she said yes, But, and I think there's somehow lovely that yeah, you need to learn, finish as quickly.
And then that led you onto talking about, How you can win hearts and minds. You can really forget how you worded it, but you couldn't really reach their hearts. Not just their minds. I speak in their own language, in their own tongue by showing them, listen, I respect this country.
I respect you. I'm going to learn your language. And,I'm going to give it 100%.
André: It's called tough love. Finns are very good at it. It's called tough love.
I wonder how that shapes somebody. Who has to you get straight into that growth mindset of having to learn and learn quickly from an early age. And I wonder how that shapes a person's development throughout their education schooling, university and their career as well, and how that makes people more open to, when, when a bold guy says to you, Hey, come and come to Finland, come and work your magic in Finland.
Nick: And you say, yeah. Okay. I wonder how that shapes those later decisions in life
André: in a huge manner. One of my heroes is a Marshall Mannherheim not because he's just a war hero and, and the president of Finland, but actually from his language perspective, this guy spoke Swedish and spoke French better than he spoke Finnish in the, in his early life and then from scratch, he decided that he would become, an officer in the Russian army and he knew no Russian. And he just said, I'm just have to learn Russia to the point where he's talking to the Russian emperor, in his court fluidly. And then after that, He said, okay, I'm going to, I'm going to have to make it independent.
So I have to invest in finish. You learned it late in life, right? And to a point where he's giving speeches as president of Finland in finish, but he learned late in life. So you have to force himself to learn French force himself, to learn Russian and then force himself to learn, finish at a point where he has to inspire others as a leader in that land. Very inspiring fellow also from a linguistic perspective.
Nick: Yeah. Incredible credible story. So, um, do you have any questions for us?
André: Yeah, I'd like to know. And I went through the, the list of pods. I'd like you to recommend three paws. I should listen to this summer. If you have to, if you had to pick three, what would they be?
Stefano: I can start with, I would say Alf Rehn is definitely a one to listen. Yes. Witty and, it. There is so much in there. That's one. I would also recommend, Satu Teerinkangas talking about agency. She's a professor at Turku university talking about agency and about change. very much.
Indeed. it's interesting one. what else? I would also maybe touch upon, Alexander Stubb as well. Recently we've interviewed him quite a nice spot as well. funny guy and they're very down to earth and, lots of knowledge in his head. So those are my three picks for the season three that you should listen to it.
André: Thank you. I will do that.
Nick: good answer. Stefano good answers. I would maybe add, there's loads. I would maybe add Robin Lindhal.
André: it is a good friend of mine.
Nick: Yeah. I thought you might know Robin. And, Robin's a lovely guy and he talks about sustainability in investing and how the trend is a global shift in the way that people want to invest their money.
And,comes from more of a big hearted place and it speaks. Yeah.
yeah. Yeah. It'd be great. Great story
André: Yeah. Yeah. He's a good guy. Wonderful. So I have a, I have my pods now for the summer.
Stefano: maybe I can also add one that is a, an old episode with, with,what is a violinist shop, maker or something violin maker.
Stefano: Yes. It's a beautiful episode. It's completely different than anything else we ever done. the name of the guy it's Guy How, and He builds and, avenues violence. Very beautiful episodes.
André: Okay. Thank you. have a great summer guys. Bye bye. Cheers. Bye-bye.