30 Years of Curiosity

Ensto in Estonia has changed dramatically since it was founded 30 years ago. And Managing Director Kaarel Suuk is committed to making it the best version of the company that Ensio Miettinen imagined.

When Kaarel Suuk, Managing Director at Ensto in Estonia, meets with new employees he tells them three things: “We say ‘hi’ to each other when we pass in the factory; we are free to talk about absolutely anything; and every day something changes.”

Greeting colleagues isn’t always usual with Estonians, whose quiet nature combined with a complicated history makes silence more the norm. As for Suuk’s second point, Estonians have no trouble with questions that are direct. But it’s the third thing Suuk tells them that isn’t for everyone. “If you want to challenge your stress muscle, then you’re in the right place. Since stress + rest = growth, then stress from workplace change is a positive.”

30 years in the making

On November 17th, Ensto Estonia celebrated its 30th birthday. Over those years, Estonia has become a critical part of the Ensto organization, with goods manufactured in Estonia accounting for approximately half of Ensto Group’s turnover. Suuk says it’s the culture – one 30 years in the making – that’s made such success possible.

When Ensto was incorporated in Estonia in 1992, it was a low-cost country for manufacturing, with a GDP per capita of $2,849. By 2021, that number had increased to nearly $28,000. What started as a consignment assembly operation has over three decades become a modern production facility, warehouse, and testing facility of over 11,000 square meters that ships to 65 countries worldwide. Last year, Ensto was named Investor of the Year in Estonia, the highest recognition awarded by the government of Estonia.

Ensio’s vision

The key to transitioning from a low-cost country to a value-added country is all due to culture, says Suuk. "Sure, we want to be the world’s recognized expert in electricity distribution, especially in cold shrink technology, but that’s just one part of it. Talk to NASA scientists and they'll tell you that management and leadership are much more difficult than building a rocket."

Suuk is fond of saying a good factory is like a combination of individual sports like golf and team sports like hockey. "An organization needs both individual talents and team players. Your strength can be more in one of these directions, but it needs to be balanced within the organization. Since when it comes down to you, whatever your strength, you have to know that you are responsible for your own actions.” By this, Suuk means a culture where everyone pulls in the same direction and blame is never placed.

In Ensto Estonia's work culture, functions do not compete with each other within the factory. "Each unit competes only with its own target and with itself," says Suuk. "Since targets can be elusive due to the many variables in play, we try to value and enjoy the process of reaching them."

"Our culture isn’t too different from other Ensto factories," he says. "But I like to think we've achieved the best version of it. What we’ve created in Estonia is very similar to the trust capital Ensio Miettinen, Ensto’s founder, wrote about when he shifted from being an electrical engineer to an engineer of human minds."

The perfect factory

Suuk recently asked his employees to give him their vision of the perfect factory. “People mentioned things like clear strategy, great colleagues, supportive leaders, team spirit, sustainability, meaningful work, and technology. These are all valid, but to me the most important thing is curiosity, which really makes you want to come to work in the morning. At Ensto, curiosity is not a privilege of new personnel, it's something we can re-create every day and, as long as it’s present, we continue to improve.”

He concedes that nobody really knows what a perfect factory looks like. And even if they did, those at Ensto Estonia still wouldn’t be satisfied with it. “My dream,” Suuk says, “is that we are so ambitious that our perfect factory will never be ready.”

Picture: Celebrating success at Inspiration Day in June 2022 are, from left to right, Andres Rajamets, Kaarel Suuk and Kristy Valgma-Antsmäe.