The Face of Finland in Georgia

SGR's John Saunders honored with Finnish knighthood

For the past 20 years, SGR partner John Saunders has been “the Face of Finland in Georgia.” Since 1996, John has served as Honorary Consul of Finland for the State of Georgia. Recently, the government of Finland bestowed upon John the title of Knight, First Class, of the Order of the Lion of Finland, for his extensive work on behalf of the Nordic country. As Honorary Consul, John represents all matters relative to Finland in Georgia including consularization of documents using the official seal, assisting Finnish citizens in distress, handling travel concerns between Georgia and Finland, organizing visits of Finnish politicians, businesspeople, academicians, artists, athletes and government officials, verifying the identity of Finnish persons doing business in Georgia, and assisting Finnish companies with potential office locations and the sale of their products in the state. In addition, he delivers several presentations each year on topics related to Finland.

Honoring his consular work in promoting Finnish interests in the fields of commercial, scientific and cultural exchange, John’s knighthood was presented by Ambassador Jukka Pietikainen, Consul General of Finland, at the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce’s 98th Independence Day celebration in Atlanta on December 5, 2015, the day prior to Finnish Independence Day.

When presenting the honor, Ambassador Pietikainen said, “This highly esteemed decoration has been bestowed upon you for your relentless work. Your efforts to serve Finland here in the State of Georgia are exemplary. I must say I can’t imagine having a better person to represent our country here or anywhere else for that matter.”

John began representing Finnish companies in connection with their activities in the U.S. in 1978. One of John’s first clients was Finnish company and communications giant Nokia, with whom John worked to establish corporate offices in Atlanta. For John, the Nokia relationship led to regular trips to Finland, exposure to the country’s business practices and additional clients along the way. As John recalls, “In the early days, when we would describe our Finnish practice to colleagues in the U.S., the response most often heard was, ‘Did you say Finland?’ Now that Finnish companies are at the forefront of leading industries, no one asks that question anymore.”

SGR’s Finnish practice has expanded over the years and, today, SGR represents approximately 20 Finland-based companies in connection with their U.S. activities. Georgia enjoys a high concentration of Finnish-related commerce. Finnish technology and equipment are utilized by many paper mills in Georgia, which leads the nation in the production of pulpwood used in the paper industry. And Finnish companies continue to seek business opportunities in the Southeast to expand their operations and take advantage of the healthy business climate. One such company, Oilon, a Finnish family-owned energy and environmental technology company, recently opened its first North American corporate office in Georgia due to the new location’s proximity to a significant customer and the industry knowledge the area offers. John was honored to attend the ribbon cutting for the 32,000-square foot headquarters in June in Thomasville to show his support and dedication to his client and to Finland.

John has authored several articles related to Finnish business in the United States. As one of the most active Honorary Consuls of Finland in the United States, John has shown deep commitment to Finland and to the Nordic region in general through his other civic activities. He has hosted four (three former and one sitting) prime ministers of Finland during their visits to Atlanta. He is a past president and currently serves as secretary and a director of the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast.

In addition to his Finnish practice, John is the head of one of SGR’s Corporate practices, and a member of the firm’s Investment Management and Investment Advisory Practice and the Air Transport Industry Group. John is humbled by the high honor and recognition, stating, “I am honored and privileged by this decoration. I have enjoyed serving and look forward to continuing to serve the Finnish community and promoting Finnish culture and industry.”

ABOUT THE KNIGHTHOOD:

The Order of the Lion of Finland, one of three official orders, was introduced on September 11, 1942, to complement the Order of the White Rose of Finland and to facilitate the awarding of honors for military and civilian merit. The Order of the Lion is among the highest honors the government of Finland can bestow upon a non-Finnish citizen. The president of Finland wears the Star of the Order of the Lion of Finland and is Grand Master of the Order. Knight, First Class, is one of seven classes of the Order of the Lion of Finland.