‘Can We Go Far Enough, Fast Enough?’

It’s a new, digital world. To help Ensto navigate it, the third generation of the Miettinen family has been added to the ownership group. Marjo Miettinen, Chairman of the Board of Ensto, discusses Ensto’s place in this future.

Ensto proceeded with a process of succession in ownership in April of this year. Can you tell us more about this?

Ensto Invest Oy now controls Ensto and there are ten owners in the group. The positive thing is that we have now eight new owners in Ensto Invest and a lot of new ideas. Ensto was the business the new generation wanted to ensure remained a family company. Of course, it’s important to point out that this process of readying the third generation for ownership was not something that happened overnight. The process was activated about five years ago.

And the Stairway to Success is part of that process?

Stairway to Success is one part of the process. I’ve always been mindful of the fact that it’s easy to give money or shares to the next generation, but it is not easy for them to take responsibility and lead — and these are things that are not easy to give up, either. [See illustration on next page] Stairway to Success is a result of a questionnaire and a halfday workshop facilitated by Rokmind consultants. The exercise was done in order to understand our (the owners) values and the way we think about the family business. This exercise was the beginning of an owners’ strategy that we will do together as a team.

Ensto values are great: trust capital, creativity and winning together. The third generation was already involved in formulating the company values, and therefore there was no need to make separate owners’ values. The best result from the workshop was that we together discovered that there were no major disagreements, and we all had rather similar ideas about the future. We all agree on trust, creativity, and that we want to develop Ensto as a family business together.

If you had to explain the illustration in just a few words, what is most important to take away from it?

Most of the discussion we had was about sustainability. The millennials have a very keen interest in this from the standpoints of climate change and social change. Climate change is of course understood, but I think our workshop was the first time that I myself have understood some of the social aspects of sustainability. We literally have four generations working together at Ensto, some people over 65, some under 20 years of age, and of course those in between. The younger people value different things. They are much more team oriented, and it’s critical to them that the team gives them positive energy. They’re moving to cities yet they value nature. They value travel and holidays – experiences and different cultures – above material things. They’re not interested in big houses. They don’t work eight a.m. to four p.m. like my generation. They’re digital natives used to working anytime anywhere.

But the core values are the same. We share a vision in Ensto as a company: “Better life. With electricity.” The owners’ vision is taken from that and it is “Better future. With family.” And that starts with a commitment to the family business.

Who are the new owners? And are you stepping back?

I remain an owner, and I will continue to be involved on the boards of Ensto Invest and Ensto for at least the next five years if the new owners agree with me. My sister, Taru Kokkomäki, also remains as an owner and board member. From the third generation there are eight new owners: Anna [Miettinen], Iida [Miettinen], Lari [Raitavuo], Samu [Raitavuo], Jenni [Raitavuo], Miikka [Valsta], Emilia [Valsta], and Matias [Oksanen]. They are all between the ages of 19 and 37. It’s important to note that Timo Miettinen's daughter Anna is also on the boards of both companies and also has been working in the company. Samu and Jenni are also working in the company and all of them have worked as summer trainees.

As an owner, and perhaps speaking for all the owners, what is it you are looking for out of the business? What are the types of conversations that you have about this subject with Ari Virtanen [CEO]?

I am happy, very happy with Ensto’s new strategy. The organizational restructuring into our three business units make sense, as well. But our transition from a manufacturing company to a real technology company will not be a fast one. We are still too product-oriented, and what we are facing just now is a big cultural change. We will need new and different types of competencies inside the company – software engineers, for example. But this is something every company in every country is facing just now.

We are committed to grow. But we haven’t assigned numbers to it. We have a great number of products and solutions in the company, and we must carefully examine them and make tough decisions keeping our strategy in mind. We’ve been very flat in terms of growth for many years, and I’d like to see some action! Of course, I must temper that by saying that for me as an owner it means profitable growth.

Ensto’s third generation should then be critical in guiding the transition to a technology company?

We see product advances like AI systems available in Ensto’s lighting business, for example, and we’re now beginning to understand what these changes mean for the whole of Ensto and what the impact is on every employee. This is why we have ongoing programs inside the company to develop our employees. The third generation of owners understands what’s going on in this area much better than my generation.

They were very active at the recent Ensto Invest board meeting. The third generation asks excellent questions. They come at problems from a different direction. They bring a way of thinking from the startup world and from totally different sectors. They are amazing networkers. They suggested a lot of possible partners, new opportunities, and ideas.

A report was recently published in Finland about how digital-world knowledge is going to affect change. I’m not a digital native, but I know that if you start at the right time then you can change. The banking sector, for example, is moving quickly to digital. Thousands will be without jobs if they don’t figure out how to develop themselves. Our team of owners is committed to making sure Ensto doesn’t fall into that trap. We are committed to developing ourselves and developing the company, and then it is only a question of whether our employees will have the same commitment.

What’s your crystal ball say about developing the company?

With the new owners we’ve been discussing what will happen in the next ten years and trying to understand what the environment will be. Of course, that’s quite difficult, but that’s part of our role. I think we should all ask ourselves: What is it that I can do better today than yesterday? Will that skill still be valid after ten years? If it won’t, then I need to start now to retrain myself.

I think that we’ll need to retrain ourselves to make decisions faster in the company. Speed is important in gaining digital competencies, but it also matters in decision making. We also can’t see ourselves as Finnish – we are an international company and our employees come from 20 countries.

In my discussions with Ari [Virtanen], I often ask him if we can go far enough and fast enough when it comes to digital and technological change in the company. We have to be able to keep up with our partners and our customers! It’s such a challenge, because it’s a balancing act. Robotics, AI, VR, what have you – we’ve got to understand a lot of new things. But of course we don’t have to necessarily be first – you can lose money if you go too fast. 


Author: Scott Diel