Productivity improvements, a desire for growth, pushing out into export markets – and also making businesses fit for purchase. All these things have motivated small and medium-sized businesses in Northern Karelia to participate in the trainings and coaching provided by Business Joensuu’s growth and development services.

A two-year project aimed at enhancing skills and expertise got under way in May 2018. By the end of the year, a total of 54 Northern Karelian companies and around 150 individuals had participated in the trainings and coaching sessions. The real passion for enhancing skills and expertise is something to really celebrate. The trainings are also set to continue throughout the region.

– There were well-founded reasons for seeking to boost training and coaching in Northern Karelia. There were signs of overcautious business models, and even stagnation, in the region’s business sector, explains Business Joensuu’s Business Specialist Hannu Räsänen.

The age is showing

The Joensuu-based Sunprofile plc is responsible for the Lean coaching sessions that are part of the training. The company’s CEO Jyrki Koukkari identifies the age structure as a factor behind the cautiousness mentioned by Räsänen.

Lean is not a matter of quick profits or hocus-pocus

– We have a lot of older company heads. It is a common case that the founder has been leading the company onwards for decades. The world changes, the markets change, and things stagnate. At that point, these businesses content themselves with the current state of play. There is no developmental approach, no vision for the future.

Even in the situation described by Koukkari, it is not at all too late to set out on the road to development. On the contrary, this is just what should be done.

– If the prospect of selling the business is on the horizon, taking developmental steps is a truly smart thing to do. I have a habit of saying that companies are not made fit to sell, but rather are made fit to buy. Potential buyers will be interested in a firm which is able to show that the course of development has been thought through and the goals for the future have been set out.

A family business grows and internationalises

Otto Ahtonen took over as CEO of the family business Karelia Ikkuna plc last June. Karelia Ikkuna has two factories in Joensuu – one in Hammaslahti, and the other on Kuurnankatu in Joensuu. In its particular field, Karelia Ikkuna is the largest Finnish-owned window manufacturer in Finland. It has around 90 employees and a turnover of €24 million.

The company’s growth has been in the 15–20% range over recent years. The largest customer group are housing companies, which carry out a lot of renovation work. Their market area covers the whole of Finland.
Ahtonen has long been involved in the family business’s everyday activities, ranging from the different production stages through to technical design and management. The continually changing business environment, opportunities for internationalising and competitive conditions motivated the new CEO to update his skills and expertise.

– Competition is fierce. Productivity has already been boosted through automation, and multi-million dollar investments in production equipment are currently being planned, Ahtonen explains.

He considers it a very good thing that the trainers have practical examples to offer.

– We have received from the training valuable support in our core efforts to push things forward. At each session, there was a lively discussion with the group. Regardless of the field or the particular company, the same kind of issues are occupying our thoughts. A lot of valuable information was shared about how other companies are dealing with different challenges, Ahtonen continues.

The principle of continual development

‘You have to overcome the static friction in order to move into the realm of dynamic friction’, explains Sunprofile’s Koukkari in summarising the idea of behind the trainings and Lean. It is always smart to develop, grow skills and expertise, and in this way improve productivity.

The strength of Lean is that the results can become concrete very quickly. The months change to days, the days to hours. This has happened also in window manufacturing – before, making a window took two weeks, but now it is ready in one working day.

Many ask Koukkari how long it takes for the impact of Lean to show in their income statement.

– It won’t show this year, nor is it likely to show next year either, because there are so many different things which influence the outcome. Instead, production may double, or even triple, without requiring the addition of any working capital. Lean is not a matter of quick profits or hocus-pocus. It’s about objectives, working together, commitment, clear and comprehensible communication, listening, dialogue and trust.

The trainings continue

Osaajat osaa (Experts Can) 2020 is an ESR project involving training provided by several Eastern Finland service providers, including Kuopio-based Consultancy Firm Seppo Hoffrén plc and Joensuu-based Sunprofile plc. The next Lean Factory coaching session will be held on 10–11 April. The next CEO trainings will be held in early summer and autumn in Kitee and Pielinen-Karjala.