40 years in the timber business

A man of unrivalled experience and knowledge in his industry, UPM’s Matti J. Leinonen is set to bring the curtain down on a glittering career next summer and pass the baton on to the next generation of budding UPM superstars.

There is a first time for everything. When Matti J. Leinonen, a 20-year-old from the countryside, arrived in Helsinki to study forestry, he had never visited the capital before. It was September 1976. Four years on and Matti found himself on another maiden voyage. Having landed a job at UPM Kaukas, it was time to board a plane straight to the eastern Finnish city of Lappeenranta and sign his first professional contract - in those days, things were done in style. 

Fast forward 39 years and UPM Timber’s Supply Chain Manager is preparing himself for retirement next summer. Thinking back to that moment, he says: “It was my first ever flight. Waiting for me at the airport was a black company limousine and I was driven here, to the factory. I had a new and fancy title: marketing assistant,” he reflects.

Sitting across from Matti is someone at the opposite end of their career. Educated in Umeå, Sweden and the central Finnish city of Jyväskylä, the forest industry was not Essi Parviainen’s first career choice. Indeed, she only applied for UPM Graduate Programme after her friend told her about the opportunity. Out of 600 applicants, she was one of just fourteen hired.

“I told almost no one that I had applied. My impression was that UPM was mostly engineer driven and I considered my chances to be slim. However, my excitement and motivation grew during every step of the programme. That phone call I’ll remember forever. It was my current boss. My mouth went dry… and I got the happy news. That was March 2017,” she recalls.

A time to reflect

Matti’s is a career that has seen modernisation on an unprecedented scale. “When I started, selling offers were written by hand and then taken to a copyist, who sent a telex. Sheets of paper were used for planning and sales marked with red and blue pencils. Today, everything is digitalised and available from wherever you are. Whether these are good practices, that is something people have to decide individually,” he ponders.

Over the years Matti has not only made geographical leaps, but several cultural ones. Since the 1980s, the markets for timber have expanded gradually from Europe to the Middle East. Around the turn of the millennium, UPM as a company and Matti and his team as foot soldiers were the pioneers reaching out to Asia - first to Japan and roughly a decade later to China.

“At first it was all about building trust - long evenings and numerous toasts. The hierarchy and the importance attached to business cards seemed a bit amusing and strange in the beginning. But the significance of those conventions must not be underestimated,” says Leinonen.

Working together

“Matti has a reputation of being almost a one-man information bank. The first time we met I was amazed by his scope of knowledge. I was following up the sales planning process and trying to make the distinction between a spruce and a pine. Matti was telling me how logs would be cut, where the sawn goods would be sold and for which end-use products they would be used – based purely on his knowledge of the log class. I thought that if I ever knew half that much, I’d be fine,” Parviainen smiles.

Providing Essi with an in-depth knowledge and information of products is one of the issues the two of them are planning to embark upon in the spring of 2020.  Even though Essi is not Matti's direct successor, it is equally crucial for her understand the production processes – how the mills operate and what they can deliver.

Their joint schedule will include visits to clients and partners, as witnessing local circumstances and cultural characteristics first-hand is vital. Special emphasis will also be placed on the bigger picture, such as how to co-ordinate and time operations according to what’s happening in the markets - not only at the moment but also in the future.

“The focus is on predicting future demand. Together, we’ll examine different markets, their customers and the features. By doing that we will be able to compile a comprehensive plan which will help us to keep our customer promises and also secure UPM Timber’s profitability in fluctuating cycles,” says Leinonen.

When asked if he could sum up his time at UPM for his younger colleague, he thinks long and hard before answering: “High expectations and demands, but the freedom to execute. Motivated and professional colleagues. Those things I can promise people entering the UPM payroll.”

Text: Pekka Vänttinen
Photo: Annika Vesterinen