Aaro Cantell is an expert on what works in business. He has acted as Chairman of VTT Ltd since the beginning of 2015. Cantell has versatile business experience as a CEO, owner and board member. He has worked closely with VTT for the past five years, first as a member of the VTT Board for three years and then as Chairman for two years.
However, the roles of different types of boards vary. Before VTT became a limited company, the Board had an advisory function, and it mainly shared the responsibility for risk management with the CEO.
– As an Ltd, the tasks and roles at VTT have been clarified and divided more naturally between the owner, the Board, the CEO and VTT’s business areas. These responsibilities are stipulated by the Limited Liability Companies Act. I am more familiar with this model, says Cantell, Businessman of the Year 2014 in Finland.
In Cantell’s opinion, the most important task of the Board is to ensure that the company has a competent CEO.
–The Board is also there to encourage and support the management. On the other hand, it is good to challenge the management at times. It is the responsibility of the Board to see to it that everybody has the same vision of the direction of the company in terms of development and growth.
The Board’s role as a supervisor requires great care. Cantell only mentions it last because it does not provide additional value to the company as such.
Not taking risks is the greatest risk of all
Operating as an Ltd, VTT is more agile.
– An Ltd can change direction quicker. It is also easier to make quick decisions on what to explore – and what not. This allows us to create, for example, new customer service and partnership models. VTT has unique expertise, an excellent reputation and a good name as an employer. We are well equipped to develop our operations further.
Cantell points out that as part of their social responsibility, it is the duty of businesses and entrepreneurs to renew and grow their operations to fully use their development potential.
– If you are satisfied with the current situation and rest on your laurels, you lose momentum and will inevitably roll downhill. An entrepreneur that thinks he is avoiding risks is in fact taking the greatest risk of all.
It is vital for our national competitiveness to boost renewal and growth in Finland.
– This in turn requires that Finnish companies start to grow, says Cantell.
A company has two ways to improve its competitiveness: by producing the same product at a lower price than its competitors or by providing more added value to customers through continuous development of its products or services.
Countries in which production is cheap typically choose the first strategy. Finland’s strategy is the latter: we are capable of continuous development and innovation, as proven by companies such as Nokia, Kone and Outotec. Export industry requires special focus, as it generates most of our revenue.
Further cuts should not be introduced in R&D and innovation
– Since the economic crisis in 2008, decision-makers in Finland have not taken bold action but seem to believe that cost reduction is the only way out of a bad situation. While cuts are inevitable, it is not the way to help Finnish industry succeed on the global markets, Cantell points out.
It is especially regrettable and dangerous to introduce cuts where innovations take place, such as at VTT and Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation.
– A responsible business owner does not cut R&D investments when competitiveness is weak. Cost cutting is only a way to stay afloat: it does not help a business to expand and grow. Innovation and identifying new ways to create added value for customers are the keys to new growth.
Cantell points out that technologies have and will continue to play an important role in the renewal of business for decades. As a government-owned expertise organisation, VTT has a big say in improving the competitiveness of Finland.
– Finland holds the trump card: the most important R&D organisation in Northern Europe. There is no lack of potential here, but unfortunately Finnish decision-makers have failed to see it.
VTT has an important role to play in making Finland an appealing environment for businesses.
– We employ several thousand research scientist who work on new innovations, not just enhancements to existing products and services. We have vast resources in terms of experience and technology, which should be better utilised for the benefit of Finnish businesses and the country as a whole, says Cantell.
To sell, you need to understand what the customer needs
Cutbacks in government funding are forcing VTT to seek more project funding from the private sector.
– This would have been inevitable in any case, but in the current situation, we have no choice but to do so immediately.
VTT and Finnish businesses should launch more projects together, and we should adopt an increasingly customer-oriented approach.
– Most businesses in Finland are completely in the dark about what VTT has to offer them. We need to ramp up our sales activities, visit customers and listen to their future needs, Cantell suggests.
To be able to offer businesses what they need, VTT needs to know what is topical in each customer segment.
Cooperation in R&D and technology projects should also increasingly take place on a global scale. Cantell emphasises that VTT operates primarily on the Finnish markets to support businesses and organisations here. However, if the domestic market is very narrow and there are not enough projects to support the further development of VTT’s expertise in the field in question, it makes sense to find projects abroad. This is of benefit to both VTT and Finland. VTT’s ability to maintain and deepen its top expertise also supports Finnish organisations.
Sailing to switch off from work
When it comes to continuous development, Cantell demands a great deal, and not just from businesses but also from himself. If Cantell takes something on, he commits to it fully. This would not be possible without effective time management and the ability to say no. Cantell is occasionally invited to act as a guest speaker or board member but simply does not have the time or energy to start anything new at present, no matter how tempting the offer.
A busy professional also has to take time to switch off from work. As an active person, Cantell does not head to off on a beach holiday to do so but finds it more relaxing to play golf or tackle some slopes. However, Cantell’s number one hobby is competitive sailing as a skipper in the X-41 One Design class.
– Sailing is a great way to switch off from work because it requires total focus, says Cantell, who has won a world championship title with his crew.
Not unlike a skipper, a Board must be vigilant and ready to take quick action.
– The world does not stand still. What worked in the past, may not work any more. Both Finland and VTT are at an important junction. We need to make bold decisions and explore new areas, Cantell sums up.
Born: 1964 in Helsinki
Education: M.Sc., Engineering Physics
2005– Chairman, majority owner
Normet Group Oy
1997–2006 Managing Partner, owner,
Fenno Management Oy
1993–1997 Investment Director, Sitra
1992–1993 Consultant, entrepreneur, Cantell Oy
1990–1992 Product Manager, Fiskars Oyj Kotelot
1989–1990 Group Management Assistant, Fiskars Oyj
1987–1989 Research and Teaching Assistant, Helsinki University of Technology
Main positions of trust: Chairman, Affecto Oyj; Chairman, Kasvuryhmä Ry; Board Member, the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries
Hobbies: competitive sailing in the X-41 OD class, fitness, golf and downhill skiing
Board of VTT ltd
The Board is there to encourage and support the management.
VTT Board in 2015:
Chairman Aaro Cantell, Chairman of the Board, Normet Oy
Vice Chairman Matti Hietanen, Government Councillor, Ministry of Employment and the Economy, Enterprise and Innovation Department
Kaija Pehu-Lehtonen, Senior Vice President, Business Development, Metsä Fibre Oy
Anneli Pauli, President, Professor, Lappeenranta University of Technology
Kari Knuutila, CTO, Outotec Oyj
Petra Lundström, Vice President, Nuclear Development, Fortum Power and Heat Oyj
Harri Leiviskä, CFO, Suunto Oy