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Back to the Future

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Head office of Ahlstrom, Noormarkku, is one of my favorite places to overnight when traveling in Western Finland. Although my tenure at Ahlstrom ended almost 20 years ago, I’m still warmly welcomed, treated like a family friend whenever visiting. The same applies to other Ahlstrom sites, such as Kauttua Court, a paper mill and packaging factory site, although it has long since changed ownership. With this legacy and tradition, Ahlstrom will always have a special place in my heart.

The Noormarkku site is full of Finnish industrial history, along with restored ironworks, sawmill and a small hydropower plant. The head office itself features the first electrical elevator in Finland, built around 1910, and a lot of works and architecture from contemporary Finnish artists and designers. Finnish industrial future was built here.

The hydropower plant was originally installed in 1896 and expanded in 1914 into its current form. For 100 years it continuously generated 150-200 kilowatts, being serviced every year by the turbine company Tampella. Every year, turbine engineers visited and measured the wooden propeller blades, then crafted and replaced the damaged ones and serviced the rest of the machinery. All this was along a Service Level Agreement signed in 1914.

Tampella knew its customers intrinsically, all the way to individual turbine blades, which made their business trusted and sustainable for a century. Service work was naturally mostly manual, which limited the number of plants they could service; this is why they remained mostly Nordic.

Today, spimes and platforms like ours make the same customer connection possible on a global level. However, we need to re-enact some Tampella-type trust-based service models and forget some more recent mass-production doctrines. Knowing everything about your customers is once again the key. Even when there are billions of them.

//Pasi

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