Story | 08/20/2019 05:28:56

Globetrotter has found home in Otepää

Tomi Heikkilä’s career at UPM has brought him from Lappeenranta to Kuusankoski, Canada, Lahti and Estonia. Over the past two decades, he has also made the leap from paper to the plywood business.

Tomi, who works in production development at UPM Plywood’s Otepää mill, has been interested in working abroad from the beginning. He earned his degree in paper technology from the Lappeenranta University of Technology in 1998. While studying, he had a summer job at UPM which turned into a permanent position as an Operating Engineer at the Voikkaa paper mill after he graduated.

In the early 2000s, Tomi, with his family in tow, moved to Canada to fill a vacancy at the Miramichi paper mill. They intended to stay in the country for the long haul. However, Tomi’s career abroad was cut short when the mill closed down in 2007. Tomi ended up returning to Finland, where he heard from a friend that there was a vacancy in UPM Plywood. In the spring of 2008, Tomi started working in business development at UPM Plywood’s head office in Lahti, until the recession hit.

“I continued in my position until the company re-organisation in 2010–2011. That gave me the opportunity to become a Development Manager in the Production Development team, so I returned to production work,” Tomi recalls.

Motivated by a dynamic work community

 A world beyond Finland still beckoned to Tomi. When a Development Manager position opened at the UPM Plywood Otepää mill in Estonia in 2012, Tomi’s dream finally came true. His family moved to Tartu at the beginning of 2013, where he still works.

 “We made great progress with mill operations, and once we reached its nominal capacity, we ended up expanding. In 2014, we prepared for an expansion investment, which the mill received in April 2015.”

Tomi credits the Otepää mill’s dynamic and enthusiastic community, with its positive attitude towards development, as one reason this change was achieved. “It’s great to work in a motivated atmosphere.”

When in Rome (or Estonia)

The Heikkilä family have embraced Tartu as their home. There, Hamina-born Tomi has the chance to relive memories of his youth spent on a boat. Their family, together with some friends, have purchased a shared boat, allowing them to spend time at Lake Peipus. “When my family is happy, working life feels better, too,” Tomi says.

 Everyone in Tomi’s family can speak some Estonian. At first, Tomi had a teacher who taught him the basics of the language. “I learned some vocabulary, but it didn’t make conversations at work easier. I forced myself to learn specific sentences and started to talk to employees about working life at the site. It was difficult in the beginning, but when I learned how to ask clear questions, I started to learn the language. I speak some Estonian now and can manage in both business and day-to-day situations well.”

 What has kept Tomi in UPM for over two decades? He lists interesting tasks, career development opportunities and excellent co-workers as some of the reasons. “In general, I have had great managers,” Tomi explains. “They have guided me well and recognised areas for my development. Different tasks require different managing styles: sometimes you have to be stricter, while sometimes you need to leave space for creativity.”


Text: Petra Niemi