Outokumpu aims for global steel appeal

As one of Finland’s longest established and most international companies, with a history dating back almost a century and a workforce of around 7,600 in 30 countries, Outokumpu knows all about the importance of an international mindset. The company is a global leader in stainless steel with plants in Finland, Sweden, the UK and the US – and it knows it can only achieve its vision of being the world’s number one by means of an open employment policy.

“We truly believe that our personnel need to have a global mindset and an international approach in our processes, and that we can learn by having competent people from different backgrounds working with us,” says Heli Alén, Outokumpu’s Vice President of Human Resources. “All in all, diversity is good and develops corporate culture in an innovative and mature direction.”

Clearly Outokumpu’s global presence involves a big mix of nationalities in the overall workforce. However, it’s also important to retain an international flavour at the company’s Finnish head office in Espoo, just to the west of Helsinki.

“At Espoo we employ permanently some six non-Finns from a total of 150 employees,” says Heli. “They are all highly, academically educated, and they work in either managerial or specialist roles. In addition to that, we constantly have colleagues from other countries working here at the Espoo campus on a temporary basis.”

To encourage this cosmopolitan approach at its administrative hub, Outokumpu has implemented the Stainless Pro graduate programme. “In spring 2010 we took the programme’s third intake and have 640 applications from all over the world. We'll select six people of which one will remain in Finland. All of them, however, rotate around four different locations in at least two different countries during their two-year programme. The idea is to develop well-rounded, international leaders.

“I'm sure we can offer an interesting learning and working environment for young graduates and also more experienced people,” she continues. “Our industry is a fascinating one, and our Tornio Works is the most advanced integrated stainless steel production plant. We put a great deal of effort into developing leadership at Outokumpu, and we do it in many ways. We have talent management processes to ensure that those individuals with good ability, aspiration and engagement have good opportunities to develop themselves in our company.”

Heli Alén is a firm advocate of an open approach to employment. “I see it as very important for Finnish business life, but also for the whole of society from a macro-economic view to interact with ‘the rest of world’ in a natural and open way. It is good to have the gates open both ways and not to be isolated here.

“We need to be actively working with universities and support the establishment of international contacts for our academic world. With this is in mind, Outokumpu has decided to support the new Aalto university to the tune of a million euros. It is big money, but we really believe that in the long run it will result in benefits, in terms of good relationships with students and the research community all over the world.

“Networking and networks, open learning environments, innovations cross boarders... we’ll need to manage these if we want a winning team in the future,” she concludes.


Written and photo by: Tim Bird