“The SEP is wonderful as it’s a chance for
people with a lot of combined knowledge
and experience to be taken away from their daily duties and have a total reality check about whether there are any skills they may have missed in their careers.”

Janne Palosaari

Chief Commercial Officer at Terrafame

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Janne Palosaari has enjoyed a successful and extensive employment history working with turnover projects from numerous countries across the globe. He decided to do the Senior Executive Programme (SEP) when his current company was faced with the challenge of changing its business model. While on the SEP programme, during the COVID-19 lockdown, Janne moved his office to a sailboat, where he was able to dedicate his entire focus to learning – and even a bit of yoga.
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I’m a commercially focused engineer with over 15 years of experience working in sales and supply chain management. I studied for a Masters in Process Engineering (Metallurgy) at the University of Oulu in Finland, and I’m honoured to be an external board member for the university’s Technology Faculty board. I’ve been working with change and turnaround projects for my entire career, and have spent a big part of my working life as an expatriate in Sweden, but also in emerging markets, including Ukraine and Russia. During this time, I’ve held various roles including manager of copper concentrates at Boliden Commercial and supply chain director at Ruukki Construction Oy.

Working with change projects means that the focus is always on the essential matters at the core of the business to deliver the best to turn its future around. These kind of situations really allow management and staff to think big, which is a great and motivating feeling. I have enjoyed working at this scale; it’s wonderful to watch good ideas evolve and grow.

I started my role as Chief Commercial Officer at Terrafame in 2015. At the time, my employer and I were faced with the unprecedented challenge of an industrial turnaround of a brownfield bioleaching site, following the bankruptcy of a privately listed mining company. Following the ramp up of nickel production Terrafame became the largest nickel mine in Europe. Then, in 2018, we were faced with another challenge when the company’s board approved an investment to evolve from being a mining company to becoming a world-class special chemicals partner for the fast-growing, electric vehicle battery industry. Terrafame’s renewed mission is to enhance low-carbon mobility with responsible battery chemicals. It’s an exciting process and it’s brought us to a completely different customer base, and production philosophy of a speciality chemicals company. Terrafame’s integrated mine to battery chemicals value chain is unique in securing 100% traceability for all we sell.

As we started to rethink the business model of the company on a wider scale, we saw an opportunity to enhance the commercial awareness of the company and, in turn, for me to enhance my own commercial skills. It was the perfect time for me to do the SEP. The programme was on the top of my list of ways that I could find innovative new ideas for helping the company to successfully evolve. I’ve always had a genuine interest in making a difference and seeking new ideas, so my purpose was to find new methods to improve different areas of the business.

Widening my personal expertise was also a key reason for doing the SEP programme. At the time, I was in the position of hiring new senior members to the sales team, so the programme was a good chance for me to work on my leadership qualities and personal growth in order to shape the new organisation. I think it’s so easy to get stuck in certain ways of thinking in everyday business, so I was really motivated to learn something new. Looking back, it was definitely the right time for me to be taken away from my usual business circles, and get a broader view of where I was going as a person.

My learning journey

“I found it really valuable to get a broad overview of what it’s like to be a senior executive, and it was so important to be able to gain confidence in my skills.”

“London Business School made a huge effort to create a good environment for learning in a digital space.”

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The SEP is wonderful as it’s a chance for people with a lot of combined knowledge and experience to be taken away from their daily duties and have a total reality check about whether there are any skills they may have missed in their careers. This could be management or leadership skills, or understanding the key components of running a business, such as financial reporting, accounting or strategy planning. I found it really valuable to get a broad overview of what it’s like to be a senior executive, and it was so important to be able to gain confidence in my skills.

As I did the SEP during COVID-19 travel restrictions, I couldn’t travel to London, so I did a lot of the programme from a sailboat. I’m a keen sailor and it was a great experience. I literally just took off and concentrated on working on the programme. It meant I was able to really focus on what was valuable at the time, and put all my attention on my learning. I didn’t have any WIFI problems as I was usually parked in an archipelago close to Helsinki or in the city centre, so I had perfect 5G. I was a bit shy about telling people I was working from a boat at first, but eventually the word got out.

London Business School made a huge effort to create a good environment for learning in a digital space. These very experienced lecturers did small things to keep everyone’s attention, such as asking us poll questions or pausing to see if we had any questions ourselves. There were great practical takeaways that I learned from that approach, and we now use a lot more videos in my team at work. Plus, even though everything was online, we still managed to network. We had small online coaching groups and I was very surprised at how well I bonded with people I’d never actually met in real life. Of course, this doesn’t happen if you don’t create a space, or make effort and the time, to have more casual discussions with people that aren’t just about the class topics, so that was really well done by the School.

The timing of the networking was also perfect for me considering the challenges we faced at the time. As we’re looking to transfer Terrafame’s business to support the new electrification trend in mobility, it was fascinating to meet other people that worked in the automobile industry who shared the excitement and understood the megatrend we are experiencing. It helped me realise that we’re not alone in our mission for the business; the electrification trend will impact different businesses and different people in very different ways. I’ve kept in touch with those people, regardless of whether they work in different parts of the value chain to myself.

The impact of my experience

 

 

 

 

“Doing the SEP has really helped me to communicate and emphasise the value-add selling points of Terrafame”

“The long-term benefit of doing the SEP for the future of my career would be, in one word, awareness.”

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One of my big ‘aha’ moments during the programme was understanding how our thinking is related to our basic instincts. We had a brilliant lecturer who explained various aspects of leadership and how people respond to the way you communicate. We learned about predictability and emotional reactiveness; what resonates with people, and why. Now I’m perhaps more transparent and easier to read, because I’ve learned to control the reptilian side of my brain slightly better.

Communication is so important and the programme was excellent in the sense that we could watch world-leading experts put their ideas in front of an audience. I noticed that they were able to simplify their ideas in order to communicate them properly, and I started thinking that this was a very important skill in bigger organisations. Back in 2018, we saw very few electric vehicles being offered to consumers. Now, of course, we are seeing the huge change that the automobile industry is going through. At Terrafame, we want to be an integral part of building the European value chain for electric vehicle batteries in the future. It’s a very dynamic market and I’ve spent years talking to all the major players, but doing the SEP has really helped me to communicate and emphasise the value-add selling points of Terrafame. Very few people working in my industry have that start-up mentality of pitching your own ideas, so the programme offered me a chance to introduce myself as a new person and find fresh ways to pitch our business.

The lecturers at London Business School have a huge wealth of knowledge and experience, and they often used practical examples of pitching to explain how businesses were run. For me, that was the interesting part; I started to think about how they would use Terrafame as an example, and that was the beginning of my learning curve. It was a real eye-opener and it really sharpened my communication skills. Simultaneously with the programme, we started the process of describing the business model at Terrafame, and becoming more aware of what we were proud of within the company. Then, in October 2021, we announced a new partnership with Renault; with the ambition to create a truly European transparent value chain for which the OEM will purchase responsibly produced battery chemicals directly from Terrafame’s mine for their electric vehicles.

A really powerful takeaway from the programme was the lecture on the idea of the 100-year life expectancy; it was the first time that anyone had told me that I needed to be prepared to live to 100 years old. This had such an impact on my future plans as it made me question whether I’m actually fit to live to 100 years. It made me realise one needs to keep themself in good condition. During the programme we also had morning yoga sessions that I joined from the boat, and those mornings made me become more aware about my own wellbeing, too. So now wellbeing is definitely a longer-term focus for me than it was before.

Another highlight of the programme was hearing from Peter Hinssen, one of the School’s guest lecturers that I was particularly looking forward to learning from. He’s one of the visionaries of the way the world is moving forward, and I was excited to hear ideas from someone who is so involved in new technologies. He certainly lived up to my expectations; I think he has the world’s largest private collection of Apple products, and he lectures from a formal chapel, which he calls the ‘Apple chapel’. It was so inspiring, and my key takeaway from his lecture is that life is never normal. We need to be able to adapt to continuous change, and that’s the way I live now.

Following the programme, I also have an increased awareness of how I allocate my time. We looked at how many hours of the day we spend dealing with today’s issues or yesterday’s problems, versus how much time we spend on long-term planning, where long-term value can actually be created. That really struck me. I’ve become very aware of checking how much time I spend on future gains and how much time goes on things that I’m just doing for reporting purposes. So hopefully the programme has benefitted me by making me more efficient, just through that awareness. It’s certainly impacted how I structure each day; I definitely have more of a focus on creating long-term impact, which is also valuable from the company’s perspective.

By end of the decade, I believe that just one quarter of Terrafame’s employees will be working for the mining part of the business, while the rest will be working on chemicals processing. When I look at the company now, it’s a good story; I’m proud of my input in the team’s dedication to identifying the long-term trends of the industry, all while working in the midst of a hectic turnaround process.

The long-term benefit of doing the SEP for the future of my career would be, in one word, awareness. I’ve learned that yes, you need to be a solid professional worker and yes, you need to be able to spearhead skills such as data handling and analytics. But you also need to have awareness of how other aspects of your role and your work can have an impact, such as how people within my organisation and around us view the company and review the results we get.

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