Long-standing expert sees a bright future ahead for VTT, research and science

Anni Repo

VTT has shaped the surrounding world for 80 years and Seppo Viinikainen has been a part of the change for almost half of the journey. Viinikainen’s 35-year career is an example of how you can progress from one task to another at VTT when you are eager and able to reinvent yourself alongside the organization. The journey of more than 30 independent laboratories to one VTT also happened simultaneously.

“My work began with research related to energy recovery from waste,” Seppo Viinikainen tells. VTT's Jyväskylä office had started operating in 1980, and the young researcher moved there from industry in 1987. In Jyväskylä, the focus was on domestic fuels and their environmental impacts, and it expanded to the forest sector in the early years of Seppo's career. The driving force was the needs of industry.

For several years, the collaboration provided the customer company with research support in the development of paper machine technology. VTT was able to develop its infrastructure, recruit new researchers, gain global recognition and develop its expertise. Our experts worked at times in the industry and then returned to work on research, product development and innovation – correspondingly, industrial researchers were at times employed by VTT and then returned to industry.

Co-creation 20 years ago

In the early 1990s, Seppo's research on energy and forest topics was complemented with the tasks of a team leader. When VTT began to combine its 34 separate laboratories into larger units after a few years, Viinikainen worked as the leader of a research area. 

The turn of the millennium was a period of growth for VTT. “It was cooperation at its best,” Seppo commends the dialogue between research and industry. 

We had co-creation more than 20 years ago. An effort was made to package VTT's extensive offering to customers more uniformly using a service portal model.”
Seppo Viinikainen

Seppo learned to know VTT's research content at first hand at the beginning of the 2000s when he took part in the planning of two actions: the optimisation of the unit structure and, subsequently, the abandonment of the unit structure. The units merged under the flag of VTT.

Every stage of development has been necessary

VTT as an organization was shaken up again in 2005 and Seppo states that it was a good intermediate state. 

The change mixes things up and forces people to get to know each other and work across organisational boundaries. However, flexible use of resources across boundaries is a key factor.”
Seppo Viinikainen

In 2009, Seppo took on the position of Executive Vice President, Administration. Seppo also supported the research management at the same time. “It was a good combination,” he recalls, “because you could see both the business and administration side. As a former researcher, I understood what was expected of the administration.” Each stage has been necessary for the development of both individual careers and the entire organisation.

The customer pays everyone's salaries

“The matter had already been discussed earlier, and in 2016 VTT instituted the position of a Compliance Officer,” Seppo tells. A Compliance Officer is responsible for ensuring that the organisation operates ethically and complies with the applicable rules and requirements. With the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, Seppo also became VTT's Data Protection Officer. In addition to compiling the Compliance programme and the Code of Conduct, sustainability reporting was one of the responsibilities of Seppo.

It has been a long journey from the research on energy recovery from waste. The next step is “a more golf-focused lifestyle,” as Seppo humorously puts it. He worked at VTT during four CEOs, from Pekka Jauho to Antti Vasara, and “VTT has always managed to improve itself.” “VTT is always a mirror of its time, and ultimately it is the customer who pays everyone's salaries,” Seppo summarises the essence of applied research.

Viinikainen, who has worked in various positions at VTT, reminds that development and learning are vital for a research organisation. It is also important to know when to let go of something that does not work or is not worthwhile: “There is room for growth only when something is cut out. If we want to create new, big initiatives, such as printed intelligence and quantum computers, we need to make bold choices. Even a quick corrective measure can be in everyone's interest.”

VTTers' desire to do things well and commit themselves is obvious

Viinikainen sees a bright future for VTT. The beyond the obvious promise describes our efforts well: we always look forward and do comprehensive science-based work. VTTers do their work seriously and as well as they can, and they show a huge commitment to their own research, work and self-development,” Viinikainen says. 

When the direction and expectations are clear, people will find a way.”
Seppo Viinikainen
SeppoViinikainenreceivingarecognition

Seppo was awarded the Knight of the Order of the Lion of Finland (SL R) on Independence Day 2013. The badge of honour was presented to him at VTT's awards ceremony in March 2014. Pictured from left is Seppo Viinikainen, then CEO Erkki KM Leppävuori and HR Director Riitta Tolvanen. 

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