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Alumna Maija Jokela's work is displayed around town

The construction industry is more diverse than its reputation, realised Ramboll Finland’s Managing Director Maija Jokela during her first summer job.
Siniseen asun pukeutunut Maija Jokela istumassa pyöreän pöydän ääressä neuvotteluhuoneessa, taustalla suuren sohvan oranssi selkänoja.
Photo: Aleksi Poutanen

When Maija Jokela went on vacation last year, she eyed Helsinki Airport’s renewed Terminal 2 with particular pride. Ramboll Finland was part of the consortium which designed and executed the terminal’s impressive transformation.

‘Even my daughter already knows how to ask whether my coworkers have been at work on something,’ says Jokela, who started work as Ramboll Finland’s Managing Director a year ago.

Ramboll is a global engineering, architecture and consultancy company that started in Denmark. In Finland, the company has also worked on the Mall of Tripla in Pasila, the Crown Bridges Light Rail project and the Nokia Arena in Tampere, among others. It carries out a total of about 15,000 projects each year.

Jokela was supposed to become a doctor but applied to several other fields just in case. A friend had also pointed her towards the Helsinki University of Technology (now Aalto University), which emphasised the same subjects as the Faculty of Medicine.

‘I was accepted everywhere except medical school, and I thought I would take structural engineering to revise mathematics and physics,’ Jokela recalls.

Jokela’s studies went slowly at first because she was unsure whether she had made the right choice. Gradually, she realised it was exactly the right field for her. This finally became evident when Jokela landed a summer job at a construction consulting company.

‘The work opened my eyes to all that project and construction management can entail. I like to work with people, coordinate, manage and see results. If there are problems, as is always the case in projects, you simply need to solve them. You can’t sit around and wait.’

From summer job to career

According to Jokela, majoring in construction economics was directly linked with her working life, and that increased her motivation to study. Jokela is also grateful for the networks she built during her studies. 

‘The associations and organisation activities from my study period were extremely important. We worked a lot with companies and learned about sales, for example. The university had great relations with companies in general, and internships were relatively easy to land.’

Jokela’s first summer job eventually led to a long career, first in project management, then on the management team of Sweco PM Oy, which acquired her employer at the summer job, and eventually as the Managing Director of the entire company. 

After seven years, Jokela moved from Sweco PM to the significantly larger Ramboll to find new challenges. 

‘At Ramboll, I was particularly drawn to the international network; here I get to know and learn from the operations of other countries. Finns are constantly included in Ramboll’s international projects. We just spoke of a rail project in Tbilisi and an environmental project in Denmark. The water business also involves projects abroad.’

Jokela also finds the company’s ownership structure interesting. The Danish Ramboll Group is 98 percent owned by the Ramboll Foundation, and the rest is owned by the employees. The foundation channels its proceeds to Ramboll’s development, research, and education in science and technology, as well as to charity. This enables the company to be developed more intensively than a listed company.

Maija Jokela istumassa neuvottelutilassa oranssilla sohvalla.

Teamwork taught listening skills

Working as a managing director calls for more long-term planning than a project, Jokela says. 

‘A project has a clear beginning and end, along with limited goals. A managing director has a variety of goals related to the company’s finances, growth and the development of skills, but over a longer period. These tasks call for patience and the ability to see the bigger picture.’

Project management and working as a managing director do have some common features, Jokela believes. Neither manager makes decisions on their own.

‘It’s about working with people: being able to listen to different viewpoints and solve issues with the team. Experience in working with different teams and learning that your vision is only one of many is a great advantage.’

In its new strategy, Ramboll has placed sustainable development at the core: the goal is to help clients reach their sustainable development goals.

‘Sustainability as a phenomenon has found its way to the construction industry, but not as steadily as one might hope. Finland has the world’s most ambitious goal for carbon neutrality, which is slowly being reflected in public projects. Organisations in general do have sustainable development goals, but they are not always translated into action.’

Jokela mentions sustainable mobility solutions and urban environments as examples, since their design has long been guided by private car use. ‘Thankfully, the situation is changing.’

Finnish infrastructure and design competence is so strong that it is worth exploring as an export, Jokela believes. Construction is local, but consultation is international, she points out.

From maternity leave to a job interview

The cliché about construction being a conservative, male-dominated industry was not true, at least not when Jokela became Sweco PM’s Managing Director: she got the interview request during her maternity leave. 

‘I did want a job as managing director – I have drive and ambition. I always wanted work that was new or challenging for me. But at Sweco, I didn’t think I was a viable managing director candidate, being the youngest of the management team.’

According to Jokela, the construction industry has already changed a lot, although its image may not have changed as quickly. 

‘The industry’s old-fashioned reputation is extreme. I don’t agree with the idea of the industry being particularly unequal. It’s a shame if good people aren’t hired due to the sector’s false, outdated reputation. I am used to being the only woman in a meeting. But the treatment has been mostly appropriate and respectful, and people remember me better because I’m a woman.’

Design and consultation are also clearly more female-dominated than construction itself.

During her career, Jokela has seen attitudes and technology improve in the construction industry. On the technological side, information models help design a great deal, and international teams can work smoothly through remote work.

‘Attitudes reflect the increased importance of collaboration and communication. During my studies, I noticed that collaboration between different technological fields was less common, and silos were frequent. Now, people understand that shared goals and discussions produce the best results.’

Major infrastructure projects are increasingly being done using an alliance model, where the client and implementer share the financial risks and both gain if the project goes well. The alliance model also involves a longer development stage, followed by a final decision on implementation.

The construction industry not only suffers from an outdated reputation but also often has its competence publicly questioned. Major public projects in particular make headlines if schedules and budgets are not met. 

Jokela notes that a project going well is not news. In her previous work, she was responsible for the first stage project of Länsimetro (West Metro), which was often covered by the media. She found the experience to be educational and meaningful.

‘In large and somehow innovative projects, the planning tends to be quite general when applying for funding. If I could change something, I’d follow the example of industrial investment, where there is much more focus on the pre-planning stage.’

‘It's a shame if good people aren't hired due to the sector's false, outdated reputation.’

Maija Jokela
Siniseen farkkumekkoon pukeutunut Maija Jokela seisoo avarassa sisätilassa käytävällä suuren puisen oven vieressä.
Maija Jokela was photographed by Aleksi Poutanen.

Maija Jokela

  • Graduated as a Master of Science in Engineering in 2006 with construction economics as her major. Has worked as Ramboll Finland’s Managing Director since autumn 2021.

  • Began her career in project management at CM-urakointi Oy.

  • Managing Director of the project management and construction company Sweco PM, 2014–2021.

  • Alumna of the Year 2022, Aalto University School of Engineering. 

Is also

  • An avid horseback riding enthusiast. ‘I once won a district championship in dressage.’
  • Addicted to hobbies. ‘I get excited about pretty much anything I can immerse myself in and improve in. Lately I’ve been into strength training, which is a trending sport, I know.’
  • A goof. ‘With my primary school-age daughter, we arrange days for fun, such as home discos. It’s liberating to enjoy the moment and do something completely different from “grown-up” stuff.’

 

Text: Heidi Hammarsten 
Photos: Aleksi Poutanen

This article has been published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 31 (issuu.com), October 2022.

Construction industry influencer Maija Jokela has been named School of Engineering Alumna of the Year 2022

’Sustainable development and energy efficiency are at the heart of planning in construction projects. Together with Aalto University, we are working to make strides in these themes as well.’

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