14th Jun. '11

VIDEO: KONE CEO Matti Alahuhta on leadership success

A post by Sabrina (No Fear community coordinator)

Usually we only get PR-sanitized sound bites from current business leaders. Here is one of those rare opportunities to learn from a top CEO on how leadership is changing and what large organizations need to change, do more of and what they need to learn from the smaller companies and the incoming next generation of “Digital Cowboys”. If you are in charge of leading an organization, of  HR or management education, this is a “must” watch.

View the Chinese(non YouTube) Version here:


In this video, Kone’s CEO Matti Alahuhta shares his personal thoughts as part of an interview series for the NO FEAR community. Kone’s annual revenue of 5 billion Euro is delivered by nearly 34,000 employees.
Matti Alahuhta has led Kone since 2005. He took the helm at Kone after 25 years of working for Nokia. In addition to building and driving businesses, he is also very interested in business education and the latest technologies. For example he was the former chairman of IMD Lausanne and wrote his PhD on “Global growth strategies in hi-tech”. Despite his “Finnish calm”, Alahuhta likes to stay on the leading edge of leadership, management and technologies and his success in business proves that it’s more than theory.

When asked about the last recession and the general trend of cost cutting in all areas, but especially training for people, Alahuhta says that in June 2008 Kone didn’t approach the question of cutting down on leadership development the same way many other large organizations did. At Kone they correctly assumed that this is a difficult crisis of a different kind, and decided to take it as an opportunity for aligning the company for the expected change and growth potentials.  In this way, Kone and its leaders behaved more like many mid-size and family-owned companies than a traditional large corporation with a quarterly cost cutting focus. And now in hindsight we see that these organizations (and the economies in which those types of companies represent a larger share of the employers) usually come out of the recession with a much stronger market position and drive the recovery (e.g. in countries like Germany).

According to Alahuhta, Kone increased its investment in people’s leadership skills during the “lean years”. One of their initiatives allowed them  to keep many of the, as he calls them, “opportunity oriented people”; people that are more entrepreneurially motivated and are often move to smaller companies or build their own businesses. They are critically important for every corporation as well.

Another successful training program at Kone was focused on “management in difficult environments”. This often very intense series included a lot of self-reflection that then resulted in business changes implemented successfully within Kone.

Regarding his own priorities and insights, Kone’s CEO is focusing on time management (which he sees as a key issues for all business leaders), but also stresses that leaders need a holistic & complete picture of the business they are responsible for. They must always have a clear and sufficiently detailed understanding of the most critical areas, biggest opportunities for development, as well as possible bottlenecks.
In the past, Alahuhta explains, he personally spent more time with suppliers to drive competitive advantage. But over the last few years, the “big picture thinking” has become even more essential, as markets and business change. He states clearly that every business leader today has to understand customer needs. This is an integral part of the business system the leaders need to be able to facilitate, the change and growth within and from it into the organization.

For Alahuhta, Digital Cowboys are extremely critical for the success of “pan-global companies”. He sees these people more often preferring to work for small companies or be entrepreneurs themselves. They don’t fit into the traditional corporate mold. This change in motivation is more challenging for big companies, but the situation is clearly not hopeless, as demonstrated within Kone. Leaders and their organizations change the way we work and it becomes similar to how small companies work.
For Alahuhta and his team it meant, for example, that they had to make the importance of every individual job for the global targets of the corporation crystal clear to each and every one of their 34,000 global employees.
Leaders and the organization can and should learn from the Digital Cowboys, Alahuhta says. Key areas that experienced leaders can learn from “Digital Cowboys” in are, for example, how to adopt new thoughts and ways of working (and which ones to adopt), as well as the importance of being deeply globally connected. Especially the latest is a fundamental shift in self-image for these individuals, hard to understand for people who grew up 20 years ago or earlier. Alahuhta sees this as the feeling that the “Digital Cowboys” are true global citizens in the same way he and his peers were “Finns” 25 years ago.



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