Ellen Huan-Niemi is a Senior Research Scientist at the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), specialising in agricultural and trade policy. Most recently Ellen has studied the trade agreement between the US and the EU (TTIP).
Determination and pursuing her passion of tackling complex issues have led Malaysian Ellen Huan-Niemi to where she stands today, a leading agriculture and trade policy research expert in Finland. She has had an interesting career path spanning from brand management and marketing in the cosmetics industry to the academic world, analysing
implications of global trade policies.
From studies in Arkansas to early stages of a career in business
Ellen Huan-Niemi first moved to Finland after having met her Finnish husband Jyrki during her studies at the University of Arkansas in the late eighties. Her twinning undergraduate degree was between Petaling Jaya, Malaysia and Arkansas, United States.
Coming to Finland with no Finnish language skills and a bachelor’s degree in business, Ellen faced the gloomy situation of the early nineties, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. She had a job interview with Nokia, but the company was unable to hire her due to the loss of the Russian market. So she decided to continue studying and completed an MBA at the Helsinki School of Economics.
After graduation Ellen was still unable to find a job and decided to go back to Malaysia, where she spent the next two and a half years working in the cosmetics business as brand manager for Nina Ricci and later as a marketing manager for another cosmetics company. At the end of the nineties, following the Asian currency crash and recession, she however lost her job. At this time she became pregnant, making it a suitable time
for the family to move back to Finland.
Specialising in research
Ellen’s research career began in Finland after deciding to return back to working life after her maternity leave. She had struggled to find a job, which would allow her to stay in Finland with her young son. Employers were eager to send her to Singapore due to her market expertise, which was not an option for Ellen and her family.
Ellen was then offered a two month contract at the Finnish Agriculture Research Centre (MTTL) to work on a report, which she was happy to accept. After proving her skills, her contract was renewed several times on a temporary basis and after two years she was granted a permanent position as a researcher. Permanent positions are rare in research, but she secured one after gaining one of the best research studies of the year and becoming a top expert on the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) policies, specifically concerning agricultural trade.
Ellen has used her strength of grasping intricate details of complicated topics as well as understanding the bigger picture in developing her expertise. One example of this was her specialisation on the EU’s sugar policy. A high point in her career was being selected in 2004 to present her opinions on the consequences of the EU’s sugar policy at a public hearing at the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee.
Having lived in Finland for over twenty years, Ellen has adjusted well in the country. Finding her career niche and learning the language have helped. Especially professionally understanding Finnish has been critical as ninety percent of the discussions are held in Finnish, and she has tackled the tricky terminology such as ‘vapaakauppasopimus’ (free trade agreement) or ‘geenimuunneltu’ (genetically modified).
Embrace tough assignments
Throughout her career Ellen has learnt that the key to moving forward is not giving up when faced with obstacles as well as the ability to keep learning and developing. Despite her initial struggles, she was determined to build a career to meet her skills and potential.
Having achieved her expert status by taking on the most complex topics most people shy away from, such as the EU’s sugar policy, Ellen relates to PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi who said to ‘embrace tough assignments’ to be noticed at work since ‘nobody notices when you do an easy job well’.
Ellen’s advice is to never give up or take the easiest way out, but pursue your chosen