Photographer: Ville Tulkki – Editor: Sems Erik
It has recently come to our attention that the majority of success stories and excellence originate in the Finnish capital and its suburbs. This was by chance, which made us think about the change of destination, prompting a wider scope of research. We were intrigued by a prominent Arab entrepreneur appearing in a number of recent Finnish publications, networks, and newspapers.
As the owner of one of Europe’s largest luxury shopping centers for the wealthy, Mohamad Darwich is a one-of-kind businessman with Syrian origins in Lappeenranta. He exceeded the limit of his investments with 55 million euros in turnover of Atma Trade Oy in 2013 (incl. Laplandia Market). This is due to several factors, including the location of the place and the presence of famous international brands that are exclusive only to commercial centers in that area, such as Armani, Hugo Boss, Michael Kors, Versace, and many others.
Prior to the global Russian crisis, Finland was more well-liked in European business circles because Russians and their neighbors wanted to purchase from Finland and were afraid of a Finnish threat.
Between the challenges and discrimination, Mohamad emerged as a professional with his brilliant experience. He became an example of successful localization within the Finnish community, allowing him to be the first to keep up with the latest developments and inspiring many of his entrepreneurial endeavors.
The most notable aspect of his biography and career is that he is a businessman, who rose from being the owner of a second-hand clothing store to becoming the owner of one of Finland’s most famous stores.
He was born in Damascus, Syria in 1967. His father was an officer in the army, and his mother was a home keeper. He completed his primary and high school education in Syria, along with the possibility of being granted a scholarship to study Civil engineering in St.Petersburg, Russia. He married a Finnish lady, making it the primary reason to relocate to the city of Imatra in 1992.
The start of my working life
I was nearly unemployed for 2 years due to my unproficient Finnish language skills and a bad labor situation in Finland at that time, especially for foreigners. I looked for job opportunities everywhere, until I found a trainee job in Kotka at a secondhand shop. I worked there for 3 months and gained experience on how such a business works. Then I talked with a Finnish friend that had carpentry skills and brought up a proposal to open a company together and build a similar secondhand shop in the city of Lappeenranta. In 1994, I started my first secondhand shop in Finland. The company was very successful, and we expanded it to other cities, such as Kuopio and Tampere.
In 1999, I sold my business in Lappeenranta and moved to Helsinki, where I ventured into another business selling gifts and flowers. That was unfortunately not a success, so I moved back to Lappeenranta and started a new secondhand shop once again.
In 2004, I began selling new items in my shop for Russian tourists. After the business expanded very rapidly, we moved to a new location with the intent to sell only new items for the tourists. We were eventually rewarded with the most successful company in southeast Finland in 2007.
In 2008, we built our own 4000 sq. m shop named Laplandia Market near the Finnish-Russian border. Thanks to the huge success from Laplandia Market, our turnover jumped from 3.5 million euros to 55 million euros in 2013.
Being different is not bad
Because of my business-type personality, I enjoy making new things, taking risks, and doing something different. I cannot imagine myself doing routine work without taking in any perspectives. With that being said, it is a difficult feat to find a good and rewarding job, especially for foreigners in Finland, unless you are a highly qualified specialist in some important, needed segments.
The Grande Orchidee
The idea of Grand Orchidee was born during the peak of business between Russia and Finland in 2013. The idea was to attract Russian wealthy buyers to buy branded clothes and accessories from Finland instead of Italy. We had a joint team of Russian and Finnish buyers, who handled the purchases and organized the shop. A Russian designer also tailored it into the most attractive shop for Russian buyers. Not only did Russian buyers find it extremely appealing, but the vast 3000 sq. m shopping center also became one of Europe’s most beautiful and luxurious buildings packed with world-famous and well-known fashion brands.
Switching to Interior decor products & challenges
After problems developed with the Russian economy in 2014, the GO business declined, leading to its shutdown in 2016. Following the shutdown, the building was rented to another company until the COVID-19 outbreak started. This company could not survive the pandemic, so the building remained empty for almost 2.5 years.
Due to the global “bad business” in the field of fashion and expensive brands, we decided to redirect our focus on interior decor products. The building itself fits this kind of business, making it the best solution. The competition in this field is not as tough as it is in the fashion business.
The idea is to bring a new approach to the interior decor business by offering clients, whether it’s through the shop or on the internet, a huge variety of affordable interior decor products in a very nice atmosphere.
There were so many challenges, such as learning how to build a huge center from scratch and how to organize everything. It also was important to find the right people willing to work for you.
We are always there for everyone!
From personal experience, I know it’s not easy to find a job in Finland – or at least a good one – especially if you are a foreigner. I always strive to give an opportunity to everyone regardless of where they came from. In fact, we’ve had 18 different nationalities at one point. Some of them succeeded very well in their careers, and became managers or administrators with very good salaries and experiences.
A call for success
First of all, I have lived in Finland for over 30 years and respect this society. I try to be grateful for the opportunity that I found here, as there’s a chance I may not have found it in my own country. As more time passes, Finland has become more of my home country than my original one in Syria. While I am proud of my Syrian culture, I have also learned many good things in Finland that modified my personality and view of life.
My first advice is to do what you are good at. Do not ever do something just because somebody else did it successfully. If you don’t have basic skills for that business, you will not enjoy what you are doing. My favorite saying is: if you cannot paste, don’t copy.
Also, do not be very optimistic when you start a business. Always be ready for the worst-case scenario, and have a plan to deal with it. In my opinion, the best business is the one where you start it little by little in order to get more experience, building a safer environment to handle and fix it as needed. Do not put all of your eggs in one basket. Always try to have something in case the business fails. Try to do something new, something different, and be ready to take some risks from time to time.
Many people are aware that there are ups and downs in the world of business that are frequently related to the economies all over the world. This was especially true following the pandemic era, which prompted us to improve and concentrate our sales strategies in order to keep up with all of the global innovations in marketing and electronic commerce, which have supplanted traditional commercial centers. I believe that the future is for internet trades anyway.