How a wacky idea turned into something great! Jaakko Eskola reminisces his first years at Wärtsilä.
“It could never work.”'
“Are you nuts?”
“A whacky idea.”
These were some of the initial reactions when Wärtsilä did some serious out of the box thinking in the late ‘90s. At that time, it was one of the biggest marine companies in the world – the manufacturer of engines and propellers for the marine industry.
But then some people wondered why engines that propelled vessels on the seas couldn’t be used to power electricity grids? Who, after all, says that only turbines can be used for power plants? Why can’t combustion engines be used, instead?
Well, why not? Even though the idea initially sounded preposterous, the core team was given permission to try it out. The team had to find a way to finance these huge projects for the customers. Next thing you know, they walked into the World Bank. A lot of cash was burnt in the process and the team, more than once, got to hear that they are crazy. But in the end it was this very team that created the Energy Solutions business at Wärtsilä. Quite a pay-back, to say the least.
It was also about this time that Jaakko Eskola came in contact with the company. He came from the finance industry and tried to figure out the financing arrangements for these types of new projects. The finance industry is considered quite orderly, and he marvelled at the culture he found at Wärtsilä.
“I wasn’t used to this kind of a free culture,” he now says with a laugh.
But he loved it and accepted an offer to start working with the company. Next year, marks his 20 years at Wärtsilä.
Innovation is a vital condition for any company, and it’s important to acknowledge that innovation isn’t just about technological novelties. Conceptual ideas are usually the ones that are truly disruptive.
“The idea of putting our engines on land was a business innovation and not so much technological at all,” Eskola emphasises.
It takes a lot of courage to go against the tide. And it takes the right kind of boss, someone who is willing to take the risk and stand up for the decision if it backfires. Because every now and then, it will. That is the nature of innovation.
Eskola says he’s been lucky at Wärtsilä, because he always has had bosses that tolerated setbacks. He wants to be that kind of boss himself, and is not too hard on himself when things go wrong.
“The most important thing is to learn from the setbacks,” he says.
The first power plant projects at Wärtsilä demanded not only bravery, but also a whole lot of cooperation. And perhaps most importantly; a common goal and purpose.
“There was a joint goal and a strong urge to pull in one direction,” he says.
Clearly, purpose, bravery, and collaboration are the three pillars needed to turn a wacky thought into a great business idea– one that benefits everyone on the planet.
Let’s have even more of that.