Digitalization and changes in customer needs impose significant growth and renewal challenges upon companies. Focusing merely on technical capabilities narrows the strategic options that companies have at their disposal. That is why companies need insight into broader strategies to achieve growth and renewal.
Two groups of Aalto students from the Master’s Programme in Industrial Engineering and Management provided such insight for Stora Enso, one of the biggest operators in the global renewable materials and packaging industry. As part of their assessment for the course Strategies for Growth and Renewal, the two groups worked closely on the company’s strategic scenario work.
‘As part of our future business development, we are building scenarios of the future in order to be able to respond to the arising consumer needs as well as develop our future business models,’ says Timo Sokka, Vice President and Head of New Business Development in Stora Enso Consumer Board division.
The students’ task was to evaluate and propose how new trends and new business models could be utilized in current organizational settings in order to enhance the company’s innovation and renewal efforts.
‘The first challenge was about new business models in the retail packaging value chain, addressing the evolving trends in the packaging supply chain due to e-commerce and how new technologies in digitalization impact and enable these steps. The second challenge focused on sustainable flexible packaging, looking at market opportunities for renewable materials in flexible consumer packaging,’ explains Mr Sokka.
Creating value at the university–industry interface
Often managers are so preoccupied with conducting business that they do not have the time to explore new possibilities, nor collect and analyze new information. This is where Aalto University students can help.
Co-operation with Stora Enso was reinforced when Stora Enso and Aalto University made the Memorandum of Understanding in May 2016 with the contribution of Dean Janne Laine from the School of Chemical Engineering.
During an intense two-month period the students conducted primary research in order to analyze a current innovation, growth or renewal challenge that the company faces. In close collaboration with the company management and under the academic supervision of Assistant Professor Marina Biniari, the students produced actionable recommendations on how to address the identified challenge.
‘I’m very pleased with the performance of the students. We are utilizing the findings in our strategy work, so these projects the students carried out were not merely academic exercises but real-life business cases,’ says Mr Sokka.
‘We found this work helpful and meaningful and will definitely do this again – and also encourage other companies to use this opportunity. In Stora Enso we are constantly looking for potential future employees to complement our staff, and this type of co-operation gives us also an excellent opportunity to get to know these individuals,’ he continues.
For students, working with Stora Enso meant a chance to gain insight into how companies approach development and innovation, and a chance to develop their consulting and business development skills.
‘It was very interesting to be part of a future-oriented project that is related to both sustainability issues and market opportunities, and to be able to integrate sustainable thinking – at least to some extent – into the business model,’ says Helena Henno, one of the students involved in the projects.
‘It has been rewarding to work with such a large company as Stora Enso and to have an impact on the development of the company,’ adds student Julius Särkkälä.
Strategies for growth and renewal in order to cultivate game changers! The students’ involvement in company-based projects is central to the Strategies for Growth and Renewal course. Each academic year, 11 to 13 projects are completed. For companies the course offers an opportunity to engage in such a project while students gain insight and hands-on experience of designing growth and renewal strategies for companies. The course is offered by the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, and led by Assistant Professor Marina Biniari.