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"Speaking your customers' language means making them feel at home"

October 2010

Kaisa Pajusalo

Finnish bag designer and manufacturer Golla has grasped the meaning of multicultural richness when doing business, as borne out by the success of its language strategies.

Some SMEs have managed to turn their language strategies into gold. We met one of them at the "Languages and SMEs" conference on 23 and 24 September in Brussels. Golla sells bags for portable electronics. In its Helsinki headquarters alone, 30 employees speak 10 different languages. HR manager Kaisa Pajusalo says that, instead of using just English, the global company wants to use its customers' own languages. "It's easier to reach out to people that way, and they feel at home if we speak their language. Also, it's then easier to convince them and to make them understand our products," she explains with regard to the company's language policy.

Golla employs foreign native speakers and trains its employees abroad to help them to develop new language skills. The language strategy has also helped the firm to expand internationally, since some foreign employees have returned to their home countries to start a branch of the company there.

Organised by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Education and Culture, the event brought together policy-makers, academics and business people to discuss the role of languages in doing business. Most speakers stressed the cultural value of language skills in foreign markets. Among the most useful languages for businesses in Europe are English, German, Chinese and Spanish.

All the participants stressed how languages are an extraordinary asset for even small businesses operating in, or wishing to break into, the international market. Recent studies show that internationalisation has a positive impact on, for instance, exports and levels of innovation within SMEs.

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