Spotlight: Ari Virtanen

Ari Virtanen is Ensto’s new CEO beginning April 4, 2016. Ensto Today sat down to interview him about his past and his plans for the future.

Tell us something about yourself and your family.

I am married with two children. My wife is a lawyer and works in the public sector. Our son studies finance and doesn’t live at home anymore. His sister is doing her first year of upper secondary school. The fifth member of our family is a West Highland White Terrier with an ego much greater than his body.

We live currently in Espoo, which is on the wrong side of the capital area when the office is in Porvoo. There is a plan to move a little bit closer to make the commute easier.

Where did you study?

I earned my Master’s degree from Tampere University of Technology with dual degrees in industrial economics and computer science. Since then I’ve participated numerous leadership trainings and other events at INSEAD and IMD, for example. I still have postgraduate student status with some courses completed and papers written. The dissertation? Maybe at some point, but now the focus is completely on Ensto.

How do you relax on your free time?

I try to get physical exercise as often as I can. It can be running, biking, a fitness center, or whatever – even yoga. Time invested in sports always pays back several times over.

Reading, and also writing, are good ways to relax, as well as movies, musicals and other similar happenings. Spending time with family and friends is something I have started to value more and more. Downhill skiing is our family’s hobby, which often brings us together for a week or so. And then there is the unique Finnish archipelago, where I want to spend as much time as possible.

How would you describe yourself as a person? As a boss? As a colleague? As a friend?

I like to think that the person is always the same, but in different roles different characteristics are emphasized. The same fundamentals are always there. For example, ethical behavior, respect for individuals, and high integrity must never be compromised. In the leadership role I feel it is important to define a clear direction and help the team to achieve its goals. Colleagues are there to provide and receive support, often outside their own areas of responsibility. In fact, in many organizations the level of collegial collaboration is far too low. The words I associate with friendship are presence, trust, and loyalty. 

How has your working career gone so far?

I did my Master’s thesis at Nokia Cellular Systems. The topic was “Charging in GSM networks,” defining the logic of how mobile switching centers collect call-based data and make it possible for the operator to bill its subscribers. So whenever you receive your phone bill, I am partly to blame, because the software I wrote is the great-grandfather of those currently used.

Eight years later I was responsible for the business unit, and three years after that heading the technology office of Nokia Networks based in Silicon Valley.

After returning to Finland I moved to the mobile phone side and established the Linux SW platform called Maemo (later Meego). We built four generations of Internet Tablets, but unfortunately Linux never became Nokia’s mainstream. During those years Nokia’s business grew rapidly and the success was almost overwhelming. However, when I now look back those times, the strongest memory is not about business. It is about people and how fun it was to work with them. That feeling is something I clearly remember and want to repeat.

At Elektrobit I was responsible for the wireless business. That half of the company is now called Bittium. Moving from telecommunications to the R&D service business gave me a totally new perspective in many ways. Suddenly there were other companies than Nokia in Finland with real people working for them. No matter how much I appreciate my Nokia years, I think I really needed that change. It was also rewarding to be part of a competent team, which created great products like the world’s first smartphone with a satellite connection.

Kone had well-established “vertical” businesses for elevators, escalators, and doors. My role was to build a “horizontal” solutions business to create the best possible people flow experience. If you google “People Flow Intelligence” you’ll get a good understanding how a traditional industrial company is renewing itself, boosted by digitalization. For me, Kone was both an introduction to a new industry and a great company to work for. At the moment I am doing the final handovers and feel comfortable about moving on.

I have always been lucky to work for great companies and now I feel privileged to join Ensto.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about success in your previous jobs?

There is an old saying that the only place where success comes before work is the dictionary. It is not possible to guarantee success in any business, but when the whole organization works together towards clear and shared goals, the likelihood of success can be significantly increased. Once targets are reached they must be quickly celebrated but then considered to be history. Unfortunately, success is not a stable state of affairs, but it must be earned again and again with small actions every single day.

These days, when most companies possess good skills, competences, and processes, companies with true passion will win. The right attitude is irreplaceable, especially during tough times.

And finally, success is never individual. It is always winning together.

What is your Management philosophy?

I don’t think this classifies as a philosophy, but I always try to clarify the business framework, including external trends, competitors, customers, and other stakeholders. Then – by reflecting ourselves against this framework – clear business goals can be defined and shared. Once the whole organization understands the direction in a similar manner, everything else becomes easier, because everyone is pulling in the right direction.

The other key thing is to find the right people for the right positions, and give them both responsibility and freedom to execute. I won’t monitor every single action, but will be there if needed. My principle is always to hire people who are more competent in their tasks than I am.

In the fast-paced, competitive commercial world, how will Ensto stay ahead?

Perhaps I should ask you, because Ensto has already done that for the past 57 years.

I would assume it has happened by understanding external megatrends and business frameworks, by defining clear business targets, by developing the company consistently, and by acting according to Ensto’s values.

For me, Ensto is a great combination of solid existing businesses and future potential. Determining what is the right combination of these elements in our future business portfolio will be very high on our agenda. In addition to our own actions, we need to think carefully about whether we need more new partners to fulfill those tasks, which are greater than any one company. Many different partnering networks, or ecosystems, are being formed as we speak, because many previously separated products and solutions are increasingly integrated together due to customer demand.

What did you read last and what thoughts or insights came from it?

The Second Machine Age by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson. It tells about the impact of digitalization and how this process has just begun. Industrial revolutions follow each other at an ever-increasing speed. What is happening now is the industrial internet. Fascinating reading!

Ensto promises to save our customers energy. How do you save yours?

Perhaps the biggest contribution in my personal life comes from small choices, like controlling the temperature of our house carefully, using LED lighting when possible, and thinking about all purchase and consumption behavior from this perspective. I travel a lot but try to eliminate all unnecessary travel. My car was chosen based on emissions, and next I’ll start using an electric car.

Do you have a motto?

“Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first and lesson afterwards.”


Author: Pia Hänninen