(Blog, Isa Hietala, 23 November 2017) I was selected to participate in the Thousand Young Leaders' campaign, and I had the chance to spend a day with Sari Mannonen, the Vice President of UPM Biofuels. The idea of the campaign is to offer young people, aged 17 to 24, a chance to shadow a director during their work day, to see what kind of leadership and skills are needed in working life. For me, the day was full of new experiences, interesting encounters, learning in practice and inspirational thoughts about building my own career.
The day began at the UPM Head Office, registering and getting an access pass. I was shown to a cafe where I met Sari. At first we went through the schedule of the day, and Sari told me about the UPM operations. I was very surprised to hear how broad the company’s business operations are, and how innovatively they have developed new products out of the residue of a single product. Many people are no doubt familiar with the timber, paper and pulp products of UPM. But I also learned that UPM makes, among other things, the wrapping paper for Fazer chocolate bars and the bottle labels for Napue Gin that is made in Finland.
We continued the morning with a first meeting of the day, where future business prospects and economic data were the talking points. The actual content of the meeting was a bit difficult for me to understand, as in their discussions people used abbreviations and acronyms unknown to me. However, it was very interesting to watch a real meeting from the inside. Such moments were definitely the highlights of the day. The idea in the Thousand Young Directors campaign is to let young people see working life situations in practice.
After the meeting, Sari and I talked about leadership and the challenges related to it.
- As leader, I want to put people first. I demand a lot, but at the same time I offer support. I’m always ready to help, and it is important to have fun at work. I want to lead from the frontline, but I also want to involve employees in strategic decisions. I believe that putting people first when leading gives the best results.
As for the challenges of leadership, Sari discussed the challenge of recognizing different work preferences.
- People are different, and I need to understand and adapt to various situations by changing my own working methods. One client may be ready to make spontaneous decisions on the spot, whereas another may need some time to investigate and think about the matter. In such cases I need to change my way of approaching. The same applies to everyday situations with employees.
The day continued with a delicious lunch at the UPM canteen, after which we toured the office area and Sari introduced more UPM products to me. We also visited the UPM Forest Service Office, located next to the Head Office. With coffee to go, we headed to the next meeting to discuss the results of a personnel survey. It was interesting to see how a company of this size tackles employees’ welfare, development, and the effects of supervisory work at a very concrete level.
- We influence wellbeing at work in our everyday operations within the organisation by listening to employees, ensuring that everyone knows what they are doing and promoting fairness. Wellbeing at work is also promoted in other ways, such as organizing Pilates classes for the whole department, or providing an opportunity to exercise at the Lappeenranta sport centre.
The afternoon continued with the annual clock meeting on marketing and communications, where plans for the next year were reviewed. My “Day with a Director” ended by summing up what I consider to be the main idea of the campaign. Sari gave me good advice for building my future career, which I feel every young person should listen to. Sari emphasized the importance of studying, but she also stressed that her career has benefited the most from practical work experience.
- As Richard Branson has said, if someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure if you can do it, say yes and learn how to do it later. Be brave, form networks, seize opportunities, step into the unknown and trust yourself.
I had a very interesting and inspiring day. For that I want to thank Sari Mannonen and the organizer of the Thousand Young Directors campaign, Finnish Chamber of Commerce.