Working with strategy development builds the skills needed in leadership roles

4 August 2016
Maija Joutsenkoski and Tuomo Vepsäläinen

UPM has gone through a major change in strategy from a traditional forest industry company to a pioneer of circular economy.  This massive transformation is supported by the Strategy development team. People working for this team have a broad understanding of the industry and concrete influence in defining the direction of the company. Strategy work gives an excellent foundation for leadership roles as the job develops the ability to manage things on a larger scale and gives an in-depth view of the company’s objectives.  We meet two young leaders who have started out in Strategy.

Maija Joutsenkoski leads a three-year-long internal finance project at UPM. The project has over 50 active participants from various businesses.  Joutsenkoski graduated from the Helsinki University of Technology in 2005 with a major in Applied Physics.  She also has a master’s degree from École Centrale in Paris, one of the most prestigious technical universities in France.  After graduation Joutsenkoski worked in investment banking in London.  Before joining UPM in 2010, she also worked for a private equity investor in Stockholm and Helsinki.

Tuomo Vepsäläinen has worked for UPM since 2012 and is now the the Director of Business Control for the pulp business.  He has ten subordinates in Finland and Uruguay.  Vepsäläinen graduated from the Helsinki University of Technology in 2008 with a major in Industrial Management and Engineering, and worked for a consulting agency before joining UPM.  It was in the role of a consultant that he first became familiar with UPM.

“The best part about strategy work was getting to see the big picture and being able to make a difference with your own work. People working in strategy have a broad perspective on the industry.  You can do concrete work on bringing the company vision to life,” says Vepsäläinen.

“This is a very interesting time in the forest industry. Working with the big picture, challenging oneself with new things and the variety of work are the best part of the job. You also feel like you’re doing something meaningful. UPM is very important to the Finnish export industry for instance.  Corporate responsibility and the company values really mean a lot to me,” adds Joutsenkoski.

In Joutsenkoski’s current job it’s important to be able to adjust to change, to communicate, and to keep the common goal in mind amidst a group of people who have different motives and specific challenges of their own.  One of the most important tasks Vepsäläinen has is managing his team of experts efficiently so that the management always has the relevant financial information to make the right decisions. Both have jobs that require strategic thinking and the ability to hold on to the company vision in the midst of everyday work.  Being able to understand finance has been very useful to both.

Curiosity and an open mind are good stepping stones for success

Both Joutsenkoski and Vepsäläinen have advanced quickly in their careers.  This isn’t necessarily because of strict planning, but rather an open mind, curiosity, and the willingness to learn new things and challenge oneself.

“It’s good to plan your career, but not in too much detail. During my studies I decided that I won’t become a consultant, and then later I thought that I wasn’t interested in a controller job.  I was wrong both times.  I ended up in my current job partly by chance when my supervisor encouraged me to apply for it.  A good supervisor can make a huge difference in advancing your career within the company,” says Vepsäläinen.

“Whereas I never even considered having economics as my major.  I chose applied physics because I wanted to challenge myself while leaving all the doors open since I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in my career.  But I minored in industrial business and management. Now I lead a global programme aiming to decrease working capital.  You can spot great, even surprising possibilities when you keep your mind open and talk about your goals with the people around you,” says Joutsenkoski.

A good employee can manage their own work and wellbeing

“You have to keep your own knowhow current and relevant.  But work also suffers if you have nothing else in your life.  Luckily at UPM people take good care of themselves,” says Vepsäläinen.

“It’s possible to combine work, family and hobbies if you’re ready to be systematical and to schedule things,” says Joutsenkoski. “Everything doesn’t always go as planned, however, so you have to be realistic about what you can do.  Flexibility is then also often needed.”

“UPM has career possibilities.  We do good business and there is a generation shift in progress.  They really invest in people’s careers here.  But of course, every workplace is ultimately created by the people you work with.  At UPM people respect and value each other,” says Vepsäläinen.

Saara Töyssy

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