“Borrowing the CEO’s Hat – Patria leaders learn in entrepreneurial growth companies”
Text: EEX Photo: Harri Hinkka
“2020 has been an exceptional year and forced us all to do and learn in new ways. I don’t anymore accept if something is claimed to be impossible”, says Heikki Korelin, VP, Business Control.
“In the future all leadership teams’ members need a wider and more holistic view of the company, beyond their own immediate roles”, Systems Business Unit’s VP of Human Resources Krista Puustelli-Lahti points out. “Understanding other companies' viewpoints is also crucial in businesses based on deep collaboration between different players.”
In addition to Heikki and Krista some 20 Patria leaders have served as advisors to startup entrepreneurs in the EEX Journey program. The year is not about theory and lectures but hands-on strategy work, real challenges and rollercoaster of ups and downs.
In EEX Journey the small growth company gets its own Advisory Board, a team of experienced corporate leaders. Together with the entrepreneurs they dive into the startup's growth challenges and strategy.
The innovative program is run by a startup called EEX [https://www.eexglobal.com/] , Entrepreneurship Exchange. Idea of “exchange” is the core – sharing thinking and best practices between the entrepreneurs and large company leaders. What did Patria’s Krista, Heikki, Annamaija and Mikko learn during their journeys?
“In a startup everything depends on you. The primary motivation is passion for the mission, not money. I must admit that when I get excited about something, I tend to push it 24/7”, reflects Mikko Kilpeläinen, SVP, Operations.
Heikki wanted to get new perspectives to business challenges: “I admire small companies’ flexibility, agility and rapid decision-making. I simply wanted to learn more about these.”
Now the monthly meetings take place in Teams. Even if the platform itself is very familiar, the business and situation of the startup are very much out of box for the corporate participants.
Krista describes the jump into Advisory Board meetings as refreshing highlights in the middle of her daily HR routines: “The Journey helps me to be more analytical about new difficult challenges. I notice that now I seek after more long-term solutions that address the root causes – not settling for operative band-aid.”
Annamaija Mäki-Ventelä, Senior Manager, Digitalization and New Solutions, thinks that being entrepreneurial is all about strong belief in one’s own work and capability to collaborate with others.
“Innovativeness and entrepreneurialism stem from our people’s endless interest in the future.” According to Annamaija, in Patria people work for love of societal security and technology.
Annamaija believes that the Entrepreneurial Mindset is strengthened by small deeds: giving encouraging feedback to colleague’s bold idea, or by setting little more ambitious targets. Changing habits requires repetition: “It's like any exercising: steady, regular and frequent workout brings about more lasting results than hasty intensive courses.”
Mikko stresses every employee’s responsibility and ownership: “Entrepreneurial Mindset increases by giving and accepting responsibility. Great specialists can recognize and, what is more important, solve the problems.”
Krista thinks that in a startup the ownership is inbuilt both with the entrepreneurs and the core team: “In a startup everybody tends to understand what the whole company goals are and what is the person’s own role in the whole picture. This encourages to take responsibility also beyond one’s own box, so that key stuff does not fall between the cracks”.
“EEX’s model is based on growing dialogue where everybody can have different insights and then pick and choose best ideas for one’s one repertoire – test these rapidly in own organization instead of learning from a thick book or at lectures”, says Krista.
Down-to-earth practical strategizing, fast reactions for example to customers’ demands, constant holistic leadership, persistence and the other large companies’ best practices are some of the elements that have enriched Patria’s participants' own leadership.
“I sort of knew that startups do things fast. But still, seeing it in practice has been an eye-opening experience. Global pandemic really did not slow down the startup but they turned the crisis into opportunities and business growth,” reflects Heikki.
“How come ‘not possible’?” is a phrase that Heikki thinks now more often.
Heikki feels “really great” about his year in EEX Journey. His key learnings are the importance of listening and fearlessness in decision-making. “One should not be afraid of the change that follows from taking decisions.”
According to Heikki, the magic in the program is about different enough advisors and entrepreneurs, who complement each other in a great way. High motivation builds team spirit when the work begins. His Advisory Board had professionals covering strategy, service development, sales and marketing in companies like Neste, VR, KONE and Kesko.
Annamaija points out that she has always had the luxury of a stable established company environment, but in a startup the criticality of cash flow is palpable: “The startup experience suggests we too should pay more attention to where and how we earn money.”
Mikko too stresses the cash flow: “As part of the big company you rarely if ever worry about cash for paying this month’s salaries. Nevertheless, this is exactly the fundamental reality one should recognize. End customer pays our salaries too.”
“We have put more attention into cash flow management. Traditionally the business has been measured mainly by sales and profit. But these can be very different if there are for example long payment schedules. This also reminds us to be a responsible partner to small companies”, says Mikko.
Krista describes how in an Advisory Board one has to wear the CEOs hat and think about the whole growth company’s situation and future:
“I believe that our Advisory Board is a psychologically safe environment to practice holistic leadership and especially to strengthen financial and strategic thinking. I am positive this helps me to assume yet more challenging roles in the future.”