Leaders have to live with their decisions – both the good and the bad

In his youth, Alexander Bargum was not looking for a plum position in the family business. To begin with, he embarked on a career of his own as a lawyer.

For the last 125 years, the Bargum family has been running a business known as Algol, which originally served as a supplier of chemicals, metals and building material to Finnish industry.

Over time, Algol has grown into a conglomerate of five to six subsidiaries active in 11 countries which, in addition to chemical imports, offers a wide variety of technological solutions and services to meet the needs of industry and healthcare.

In his youth, Alexander Bargum, the current managing director of the group, was not planning to take the reins of the family business. Far from it.

“I specifically didn’t want to get an education that would directly lead to a job here,” Bargum says.

“I'm sure many others whose families are involved in business also wish to prove to themselves and others that they’re not guaranteed a career without any effort.”

As his stance made education in economics and business administration out of the question, the young upper secondary school graduate turned his gaze towards the University of Helsinki. With his grades from the Finnish matriculation examination, Bargum was accepted directly to study mathematics at the University, in addition to which he passed muster for economics in the entrance examination. The year after, he was admitted to the Faculty of Law.

“I decided to focus on law largely because legal studies so clearly lead to a profession.”

Independent study

University studies met Bargum’s expectations. Studying at the Faculty of Law in the 1990s was mostly based on independent work. Books were read and examinations taken.

Such independence fit Bargum well. He studied rigorously but also had time for student association activities. Thanks to a flexible study schedule, he also worked alongside his studies.

“I worked at the same place, Hannes Snellman Attorneys, in different positions throughout my student years. After graduating, it was natural to carry on at the firm for the next decade in business law, the last three as a partner.”

“These days, it’s rare for people to establish a career by way of such short periods of employment. Traineeships in law firms and university studies are nowadays implemented in a much more systematic manner.”

A few years ago, Bargum had the opportunity to return to the University, serving as a mentor in a group mentoring project.

“It was extremely interesting to meet today’s students and to recognise familiar traits in their hopes and ambitions. The world and the University keep changing; people not so much.”

Bearing responsibility for the family business

Eventually, Alexander Bargum’s legal career was replaced by a position in the family business.

“For a family business to retain its identity, changes of generation are unavoidable. In 2009 we weighed up different options with a very open mind with my father Magnus. We came to the conclusion that it would indeed be great to have one or more members of the family actively working at the company.”

After a bout of training and external assessments, Alexander assumed the position of the group’s managing director in 2012.

“Here I am and the company is still standing, so I guess the switch went well enough.”

As managing director, Bargum’s duty is to manage the group as a whole, establish its strategy for the long term and consider its priorities. He has already succeeded in narrowing down Algol’s branches of activity and investing, through acquisitions, in new kinds of operations.

Whereas lawyers work on projects, managing a business group entails continuous and persevering development.

“As a lawyer, you may occasionally get to have a significant say in things, but what I like in my current work is that I get to and also have to make all of the big decisions by myself.”

“You have to be able to live with your decisions, in both good and bad: you always see the results, which is very educational.”

Having a law degree has provided a perfect background for managerial duties.

“What you choose as your study subject quite strongly influences your identity for the rest of your life. Still, it would be good to see a more permissive attitude in Finland enabling quite different careers regardless of the degree you have,” Bargum muses.

“There are many positions in general management and organisation which would only be enriched by people with a range of expertise. Had I studied mathematics, or, say, theology or psychology, my current duties would be well within my capabilities. I would only have a slightly different approach to my work.”

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