Susanna Rahkamo is still an innovator

Former European champion keeps her edge

Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko of Finland performing their free dance during the 1995 World Figure Skating Championships.
Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko of Finland performing their free dance during the 1995 World Figure Skating Championships. (Getty Images)


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By Lois Elfman, special to
(09/18/2008) - As ice dancers, Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko from Finland, made their way up the competitive ranks they became known as innovators. At a time where their sport was largely known for its "protocol judging," they managed to climb from 20th place at the 1987 World Figure Skating Championships to the silver medal in 1995 (winning gold at Europeans).

They did it by presenting creative programs, which they further expanded during a five-year professional career. At the ISU Congress earlier this year, the Congress ratified a new compulsory dance called the Finnstep, based on the quickstep original dance Rahkamo and Kokko performed during their final competitive season.

So it seems fitting that eight years after skating their final performances, Rahkamo is still immersed in the world of originality as a business consultant. She is a leadership consultant with a firm called Pertec, leading workshops in creativity and innovation.

"We have a group of 10 consultants and we concentrate on leadership at every level-leadership team, management team building, changing management, strategy and so on," says Rahkamo, who attended university and earned her degree while competing and skating professionally. "What I'm doing is consulting on how to lead innovation and creativity."

On her company bio it notes, "She is an expert in self-leadership as well as managing creativity.... As a consultant she has helped companies in building enriching environments by working with personal development and self-leadership. The companies have gotten long lasting benefits from more motivated and energetic personnel."

She works with companies of all sizes, from mobile communications giant Nokia (the company whose name Kokko wore on his costume at '95 worlds), largest corporation in Finland, to small travel agencies.

Rahkamo, 43, and Kokko, 42, have been married since 1995 and are the parents of two children, Max, 7, and Camila, 5. She says Camila has recently begun skating lessons, but it's mostly at her grandmother's urging. The kids have forced their intensely driven parents to relax just a little bit.

"On holiday, we went to Legoland in Denmark," Rahkamo says. "We had only four days for the trip. When we had quite a bit to do, our kids said, 'Why do we have such a hurry on doing everything?' Then we were thinking maybe we should slow down a bit with them. But have schedules too. That's how this family works."

Rahkamo exercises by running and fuels her creative juices as an inspirational speaker. If she didn't do that, she says she might miss performing on the ice. Kokko, who is the country manager of Google Finland, utilizes cycling and alpine skiing as his outlet. They don't ever skate together, as Kokko's lingering back problems preclude that.

Despite a hectic professional life and family time, four years ago Rahkamo agreed to be president of the Finnish Figure Skating Association. "During my time as a skater I was criticizing the federation that they didn't really concentrate on skating and skaters," she explains. "If the former competitors are not getting involved, who will do it? Who will change things? I don't see that people who haven't been in it could do it."

She says she's gained new respect for judges and admires their devotion to the sport. On the other hand, attending an ISU Congress is a bit of culture shock. As someone who consults with companies as her profession, she has found the system a bit outdated.

While she admires the ability of skaters, most notably ice dancers, to move up the ranks thanks to the international judging system, she also has criticisms. "You get no credit doing something innovative, something different. That's why people are not pushing themselves to do original things, because why would you do it. If you win with kind of sure things, you don't take risks on an area where you won't get any credit," she says.

"I must say this change in the system made it possible for countries like Finland to really move forward," she adds. "You get credit for the skating and not for the name. During our time, to compete against a big country like the Soviet Union was hard, because they had all the lobby in the world. In this system you get points for what you do. The bad thing is it kills the creativity. This is a problem that needs to be solved in the future, because otherwise we lose the audience."