Viveka Kaitila, class of 1985, interviewed by Henrique
The following interview is part of a new project which aims to help Senior pupils. Henrique E, Humanities and Social Sciences Prefect at our school, is interviewing Old Pauleans about careers and professional life. This conversation with Old Paulean Viveka Kaitila, class of 1985, was performed online in June 2023.
Ms Viveka Kaitila is the CEO of General Electric Brazil, leading a great company with wiseness. Being from a Finnish family, Ms Kaitila came to St. Paul's to be educated in an international school. After the Paulean classrooms, she went to Brown University and started building her bright career. Read the interview to know her journey.
At what moment in your life did you start to seriously think about careers?
So, when I was a teenager, I would say early teens, around 13 or 14, I started thinking about careers. Just because I was connected to things and what I thought back then is not what I ended up doing. But I thought of being a doctor because I loved biology and being connected to it. I was really drawn to that and I would read a lot about it. So, I thought that would be one of my careers in the future. But then, when I started talking to people and realizing how emotionally challenging it is, I thought it wouldn't be the right fit for my personality.
So, I started thinking more about careers that involved math, engineering, and a variety of things that I found interesting. I had no clear idea of what I would do with that, but I knew it was my passion. I ended up applying for engineering at university, although I later changed my path. But I knew that was the direction I wanted to pursue, even though I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do.
It was only in university that I started seriously considering the types of careers I could have and what would come later on.
What type of access to career guidance and education did you have as a Paulean?
So, I think during that time because I left St. Paul's when I was in Form 5, I wasn't there for the last year, which is really important for starting to think about careers, universities, and everything else. I went to another school because when I was there, they didn't have Form 6 yet. They introduced it after I left. So, I continued to Grade 12, and that's when I talked a little bit about careers. But mostly, it involved talking to my father, talking to other people my parents knew, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
In university, I also talked to other students later on and tried to figure out potential areas or career paths I could pursue. However, I didn't have any direct coaching or guidance in terms of thinking about specific career paths. I received guidance regarding universities I could consider and the areas of study within the university, but those are two different things. You can study one thing and have a career in something different. In some cases, like medicine, there are specific paths, but, otherwise, career choices can change over time.
Where did you do your undergraduate degree and in which subject?
So, I went to Brown University in Providence, RI. When I joined, I was accepted into the engineering program, which is what I initially thought I would like to pursue. However, after the first year, I started having doubts about whether that was the right path for me.
During the second year, I realized that my connection with applied math, which was part of the engineering curriculum, was something I found much more interesting. At the end of the second year, I made the decision to switch to applied math economics, which was possible due to the flexibility of the program. This combination provided a rational way of thinking and applying math, along with an understanding of economics and strategic thinking.
I took courses on strategic markets, microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics. I felt a strong connection with these subjects, and I believed that together they would provide me with a broad range of future career opportunities. I thought they would allow me to choose and adapt my career path along the way.
In what way did university prepare you for post-qualification jobs?
University prepares you for both qualification jobs, right? I think it serves as a foundation, you know, like a base. The college provides you with information, just like St. Paul's. What's incredible about St. Paul's is that it teaches you how to think, how to solve problems, how to work together, and how to be part of a community. Alongside the actual content you learn, these soft skills are critical and important. This aspect of schooling prepares you for anything in the future because it teaches you how to deal with different situations, adapt, search for jobs, and, most importantly, learn how to learn. I believe that's what truly matters.
Brown University also had a similar impact on me. In addition to St. Paul's, Brown helped me prepare by teaching me how to learn. It allowed me to start a new job and progress from there. It prepares you not only with knowledge but also with a way of thinking and the ability to learn. It also helps you adjust to a new environment when you enter university, starting from scratch, and then navigate the process of job hunting. It's a continuous journey of adaptation and connecting with diverse people.
However, real growth happens through the experience of your job and the leaders you encounter. It's what makes you better every day as you continue to learn and develop yourself. A school is a place where you learn how to learn.
Talk to me about your initial job experiences - what went well and what challenges did you have to face - how did you overcome these?
You always have challenges, you always have opportunities, and I look at challenges as opportunities to learn.
So, my first formal job was in a bank, a Brazilian bank called Banco Real, which is now part of Santander. I worked there for two years. It was a very different culture because I had always studied in British schools or American universities, so it was a shift to a more Brazilian culture. I had to adapt to that, which I think was very good. It was a challenge in the beginning, but I had to adapt. Then I moved on to Bank of America. There were a lot of challenges there too, with pressure and new projects. I had to accelerate my learning and work in teams. Starting off as a person with less experience and working with more experienced individuals was great in terms of exposure and everything else. There was also a lot of diversity, which helped because I had role models to look up to. There were many women leaders there, so that also inspired me and showed that there was a path there for me as well.
Then I made a complete change and moved to GE, an industrial company. It was a very different environment, an engineering company with different ways of working compared to financial services. There, I faced several challenges. The environment was ever-changing, and the company itself was always evolving. I've been with GE for 25 years, and it's always a different company. It's constantly working to improve and become more focused. Because of that, there are many changes, and sometimes the areas I was working in disappeared, and I had to seek new job opportunities within the company. Leadership changes also occurred, requiring me to adapt and work with new leaders. Even in the same area, sometimes I had to do things I had never done before and learn how to do them. I had to bring teams together and collaborate with others to achieve those goals.
I view these challenges as amazing learning experiences, whether they are difficult or not. That's how you keep growing as a professional. If everything was easy and the same every day, you would become stagnant. Challenges expose you to new things, so I don't see them as negative. I see them as positive opportunities for growth.
Building on your thoughts, what advice would you give younger pupils?
Times are moving so fast, and the way we work is evolving. If we look at our company today, for example, there are many leaders who have global roles based in countries like Brazil. They are not limited by their location. I believe everything we have learned in the past few years has accelerated this flexibility that current and future generations have, especially in terms of being able to work from anywhere.
Another point I would probably address, even for future generations, is that there will be less emphasis on traditional jobs and more focus on the capabilities individuals possess to create value and impact across multiple companies. In my case, for example, I have been with one company for 25 years, but I think it will be challenging for that to happen in the future. Many people now consider how their capabilities can bring value to various companies, leading them to become consultants, service providers, and maximise their time by offering their valuable skills. This trend will likely extend to many different areas, not just limited to what we see today. However, at the core, it remains important to work on what makes you passionate and connected, and continuously stay current by studying and being prepared for change throughout your life.
That's the message I would give because things will change so rapidly that it's crucial to be prepared and adaptable. It becomes a part of your journey. So, I think that's what I would say. But in the end, it doesn't change that much.
What are the challenges facing generations Z and Alpha in terms of being successful, fulfilled, productive and happy in the current job climate?
To feel fulfilled, productive, and happy in the current job climate, it's important to consider the biggest challenges. Generosity is a notable trait of your generation. You have to learn how to deal with frustration and use it as a learning experience when things don't progress as quickly or as expected. Being resilient and persevering through difficulties is crucial. While it's understandable that your generation often seeks quick results and swift job changes, sometimes it's necessary to give things more time. Deal with the frustration and learn from it. This way, when you become a leader in the future, you'll know how to handle such situations differently. Every experience holds importance, and resilience is a valuable quality for your generation.
Going deeper into subjects is essential. In today's world, social media and everything else can be quite superficial. Lifelong learning is crucial because it keeps you up to date with ongoing changes and provides you with an advantage. By continually learning, you can enhance your skills and knowledge, making you better at what you do. This is particularly important to counterbalance the superficial nature of social media, where information is fast but lacks depth.
When you're in meetings or engaging with others, it's essential to be fully present and attentive. Unlike the multitasking nature of social media, being focused allows for genuine connections and better memory retention. Take the time to truly listen and engage, as it creates more meaningful experiences.
How can these generations best prepare for careers which have yet to exist?
It's important to observe current trends, stay connected, and continue studying and reading. By staying current, you can identify emerging trends and future career opportunities. It's possible to have multiple careers in the future, but it requires ongoing learning and staying up to date.
Looking back 10 years, the focus on diversity may not have been as structured as it is now. Jobs like Chief Diversity Officers and positions focused on mental health may not have existed. The pandemic has brought attention to these areas and the overall well-being of employees. For example, our company has a program called Help Ahead, which addresses employee health. Going forward, there will be new jobs and functions that we can't predict yet, driven by future trends. AI, collaboration, and diversity will play significant roles in shaping the culture and creating new job opportunities.
All of this ties back to lifelong learning. I recently completed a course on corporate governance, showing the importance of continuous learning. Everyone must continue learning; otherwise, you risk stagnation in a rapidly changing environment.
What is the key to success nowadays?
It's a hard question, as the definition of success varies. What success means to me may be different from what it means to you, and even my perspective on success has evolved over time. When I was younger, I never imagined I would be in the position I am in today. Back then, success meant doing each job to the best of my abilities, closing deals with integrity, learning and growing in my career. I didn't have a specific target or goal in mind. Success was about continuous improvement and making a positive impact.
I believe the key to success is understanding what is truly important to you at a given phase of life. This may change and adapt over time. Celebrating small victories, such as promotions, closing significant deals, or making a difference in the community, contributes to a sense of success. Ultimately, success is connected to what we value and how we bring impact and value to others. It is a personal and subjective measure, different for each individual.
I agree that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for success. Consider volunteers or individuals working in NGOs. Success for them may be determined by the number of people they assist or the communities they work with. Similarly, doctors and lawyers have their own markers of success. However, what everyone shares is the dedication to working hard and giving their best effort to achieve the best possible outcomes. Maybe that is the definition of success.
Meet the interviewer:
Henrique E, Humanities and Social Sciences Prefect – Class of 2024
I am the humanities and social sciences prefects, which includes subjects like history, geography, economics, global politics, and a few others. Generally, I am focusing on creating more opportunities for people who are interested in the humanities as something to pursue in the future. Currently, I am working on some projects for careers week. I am also working on an assembly about the Ukraine-Russia scenario.