Oops: A journey that would not happen today

Tom Lindholm is the Managing Director of Aalto University Executive Education Ltd and Head of Lifewide Learning at Aalto University. In the late 1990s, his master’s thesis involved travelling to power plants around the world.
Tom Lindholmin henkilökuvaan on yhdistetty piirroskuva, jossa on lentokone ja voimalaitos.
Portrait: Kalle Kataila. Illustration: Juuli Miettilä.

‘In the final stage of my economics studies, I attended a course on project management which involved collaboration with the engineering company Wärtsilä.

The company wanted to find ways of using waste heat to boost the operation of coal-fired power plants. They sent a group of two engineering master’s students and two economics students to study the matter, first in China and then around the world.

The project produced a solid foundation for continuing my master’s thesis for Wärtsilä. I visited over one hundred diesel power plants in over sixty countries. During my trips, I encountered exciting – even dangerous – situations. 

My travels have taught me that life can depend on the smallest of things. 

One site I visited was an oil well in Yemen. Before the trip, I did not know much about Yemen, except that it was a poor country.

Early one morning, I was picked up from the hotel in a large off-road car. We drove through the silent city towards the airport – until we saw a roadblock.

The locals sitting in the front asked me to remain calm and turned to the people in army clothes who had stopped us.

Suddenly, one of the men outside opened the back door. 

My coat was next to me on the back seat. The man placed his automatic weapon beneath the coat and lifted it, aiming at me, with his finger on the trigger.

Later I realised how frightening the situation had been. I did not share a language with the man or have any idea what he would do next.

Finally, we were able to continue. At the airport, I discovered that a bomb had exploded in front of my hotel only 15 minutes after I had left, and people had died. Our car had even been searched for a bomb. 

I would not take part in such a project now! At the same time, I would not give up those experiences and lessons.

For a young student of economics, it was a great cultural lesson and a deep dive into the field of technology. I got to visit different countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. 

The trips helped me put matters in perspective. Compared to most places in the world, we don’t have much to complain about in the Nordics.

I don’t encourage taking foolish risks, but I urge students to try their wings before, say, starting a family and becoming attached to a specific place.

I also encourage schools and companies to work together. Solving major issues requires multidisciplinary collaboration across borders. 

Above all, you should remember that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Enjoying life and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is worth it.’

Text: Anu Haapala
Photo: Kalle Kataila
Illustration: Juuli Miettilä

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

Tom Lindholm appointed Head of Lifewide Learning at Aalto University and Managing Director of Aalto University Executive Education Ltd

He will start in his new position on 2 January 2022.

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