FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Joonas Eronen
March 22, 2016
He’s never worked anywhere else. Many locations (Helsinki, New Zealand, Ohio, Montreal, Calgary), varied increasingly important management roles – but only, continuously, for one employer. Who does that anymore, an entire career with one employer? He isn’t unlikely, but I think his story is.
When most Canadians hear Finland and a name like Joonas Eronen in the same sentence we might expect to be listening to a sports report about an NHL hockey prospect – but this is a different story. The interview was a happy one – plenty of laughter mixed with serious talk; I wanted to get at the heart of what makes Joonas tick. He wanted me to know all about ABB. I think we both got what we were seeking.
They aren’t really oil patch. Yet they are, in a big way. Power and process controls – his firm is one of the large ones in his field. He runs a major division of a $2 billion/year Canadian operation. His group, 350 employees – with operations on St. Johns, Dartmouth, Burlington and Calgary – part of $38billion/year 125 yr. old global firm with 135,000 employees. And they’re hiring, not so much in Calgary right now, but in most markets …
They’ve recently relocated and consolidated offices, warehouses and shops in Calgary – from three locations to one – in former Smed/Haworth facilities. The Calgary operation of ABB Inc. is a humming place (readers - please forgive my attempt at electrical humour).
Joonas was born in Helsinki, Finland – his farm background/teacher mom and power plant project manager dad were very focused on education. While his performance in school was admittedly ‘below the bar’, a move of neighbourhoods so he and his older sister could attend a better school, pushed his performance when he needed it. He did play some hockey and soccer recreationally but his interests were more outdoors focused – Boy Scouts, hiking, hunting, skiing, summers at the farm. His school mates fit this description: ‘everyone had a plan’. And Joonas went along with his peers, applying to the University of Technology in Helsinki. He was accepted - but opted first to do his compulsory one year of military service. After his first two years in university he decided to also apply to Helsinki Business School - graduating from both with a Master of Science Degree. During his university studies he went to Kual Lumpur as an exchange student. Following graduation there was no time off ... as he went to work directly for ABB.
In terms for work, summer jobs (starting at 14) at ABB, and two ‘thesis projects’ on ‘ABB sponsored projects’ – a very happy coincidence – helped cement his relationship with the firm that has been his only employer. Job postings and promotions – woven with marriage (he met his wife twenty years ago through his best friend’s girlfriend - they've been married fifteen years), raising three children (one Fin, one Kiwi, one Yank), have seen the Eronens move and Joonas’s career advance on projects in New Zealand, Columbus, Ohio – and more recently to Canada … first to Montreal, and now in Calgary. Canadian citizenship expected within eighteen months, loving 4-seasons, educating their children in English has been their family focus – living on the west side of Calgary and regular visits to mountains has the whole family in a happy state.
Does he see himself staying here or relocating again? “While we love it here and for the next few years educating and raising children here – in the longer term I expect there will be move opportunities. It has been a great company, so much opportunity to travel – we have twenty-two business units in Canada, and worldwide. That challenge, to experience people, cultures, professions … ”
Why are you successful? “It's attitude. And luck. With your choices, you can improve the odds. Willingness to take risks. Languages. Education. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to hear NO.”
What has held you back? “I should have realized earlier that I was setting benchmarks. My initial reluctance to relocate – before I went to New Zealand.”
Joonas is pretty straight-laced – not stuffy. Smart. Not, I think, easily rattled. He seems to like Calgary a lot. Maybe we should buy him a white hat and convince him to stay, but I sense it might be temporary – he is clearly a rising star in an awesomely diverse company.
How do you see your business – automation & electrical processes for the hydro-carbon industry – going forward over the next quarter?
… we are a multi-national provider to multiple industries, so a downturn in any market from time to time is balanced out. We see our customers cutting back – which often opens up opportunities for us to help. Everyone needs to find savings and strategic outsourcing – automation and electrification is our sweet spot …
And over the next five years?
… growth. We are hiring – building our sales and account management team. Customers and looking for service benefits AND cost benefits. We will be the valued partner – and expect to be #1 or #2 in Canada in each market sector where we operate – automation, electrification and telecom.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… business in challenging right now - but I wouldn’t compromise long term gains for short term ones. We need to see relationships as partnerships – as a value proposition in a life-cycle approach. Mutual respect, responsive service – and the three R’s: reputation, references and relationships.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Joonas, choose ABB, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… Same answers - and the three R’s: reputation, references and relationships. We sell services, so we are selling people.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I try to stay on top of things without micromanaging. My philosophy is not black and white – I try to find people who have the qualifications I need. People can do magnificent things if you’ve got them in the right place – and you just need to guide them a little. I like to give people space, remove roadblocks for them, and let them focus on solutions.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I don’t stay up at night! I find it only makes sense to worry about things that are in your control. Work is work – and we’ve had to let some really good people go, and it is always difficult to separate the work relationships and the personal ones.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my parents – pushing my pursuit of education, and for their financial support that made it possible. My international experience – and Magnus Pousette, my Manager in Ohio. He was, and still is, inspiring to me. He encouraged me to ‘think big’ and let me make mistakes without fear of recrimination. He gave me room to grow, and has become a good friend.
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… very busy time in our industry right now. Kids take up so much time – but they give you balance. Time spent with them always lifts you up. I try to do one marathon a year. I’m signed up for the Vancouver Marathon on May 1st.
… working out (3-5 times a week), skiing, golf (handicap in the 20s).
What do you read?
… I read a lot. Lee Child novels, Malcom Gladwell books (loved Tipping point, David & Goliath).
… used to be an Audi S5, but with family growth and sports gear to haul around, it’s a Mercedes SUV, 2008.
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