Nordic leadership – Juha Ristolainen

Juha is the engineering lead at Transferwise.

Juha is a Computer Science graduate who has spent the past 20 years working in IT and the last 30 programming.  

He spent the first decade of his career building a consultancy in Finland which in time brought him to the UK and Germany. In this period Juha learned most of his programming and project management skills. 

Ever since then he’s been doing more management and CTO type roles in different companies. His varied career has seen him work in startups, become a member of a few corporate innovation units and now he’s an engineering lead at Transfer Wise which is a London based Fintech unicorn. But he’d call it a double unicorn because it’s actually profitable.      

At TransferWise Juha leads 6 teams that are focused around the companies business customers. Transferwise was traditionally a consumer-focused company but in the last few years, they’ve started focusing on what their business customers would need. Juha’s team is working on all the features necessary for business customers like cross border payments and cross-currency payments.   


There’s no time for bureaucracy

Startup culture doesn’t allow for red tape and bureaucracy. There isn’t time for office politics because things need to get done. When you’re a small team and every person’s work matters to the bottom line of the business you just have to grit your teeth and crack on. Large corporations on the other hand love bureaucracy, horizontal structures, and value opacity. 

If you prefer the startup work culture but find yourself in a big business Juha shared his tips for keeping sane when surrounded by red tape.        

‘I’ve done my time working in big corporations. When it comes to big businesses people are a lot more concerned with hierarchy, titles and politics. 

In these situations what I’ve found helps me finding a good partner or a sponsor basically. You want to partner with somebody who already knows what you can do and deliver. This means you have an office confidant you can be direct and honest with.’ – Juha Ristolainen


Show Notes:

00.50 Juha’s story 

02.57 The mission of Transferwise

04.45 Programmer gonna program   

06.13 Looking to your mentors for leadership advice

08.38 There’s no time for bureaucracy in a startup

10.16 Do employees have too much power?

12.28 Make sure your approach to recruitment is disciplined 

14.04 Don’t build features for the sake of features 

15.40 Developing your own skills  

18.40 Building a career for yourself          

20.35 If we’re not enjoying work why are you there?

23.05 Advice to your younger self