23.04.2021 Author Pekka Vuorela

Shivers down the spine

The past year has been challenging for many industries. Long-term uncertainty and lack of vision have been bothering us and our clients. I have seen very close how differently Corona has affected different businesses. We get a feeling for the market through knowledge-driven leadership (research, consultation, and analytics) and our personnel service business (rental employment services and recruitment) as well as our recent international knowledge-driven leadership business – activity over the past year has been very much cyclical and in a constant up-and-down motion. The desire and will are there, but it has been difficult at times to boost hopefulness.

Our knowledge-driven leadership business hit a wall last spring, and Q2 was approximately 30% weaker than in 2019 in terms of turnover. The sudden slow-down was so crushing, that we had to react quickly.  We cut everyone’s working hours in half for three months, including the management. The quick reaction turned out to be a wise move. As summer arrived, the situation evened out and the flow of orders began to grow again; in the autumn the speed picked up, and in the winter we were working at full throttle again. We were able to achieve the previous year’s turnover during the last months of the year, and now in Q1 we are seeing growth of over 10%.

For personnel services, last spring and summer were still fine, but in the autumn Corona struck the industry and started affecting client operations negatively. As a result, there were no orders for rented employees and recruitments. The uncertainty has been on-going in early 2021, and obstacles to the movement of international workforces especially have severely hindered many of our client industries and our own growth attempts.

In a bold move, in the middle of the Corona pandemic in July of 2020, we decided to invest heavily in the German market, establishing Innolink Germany GmbH, of which I wrote about in my blog in the summer. I came back to Finland from Germany at that time, and Arndt Polifke took over as the CEO of the German enterprise with more than 25 years of experience in the international research sector. We received a commission from a German company very early on, and sometime later a few of our Nordic clients needed our assistance with the German market. The team grew and new potential prospects were discovered, the network grew – operations were off to a surprisingly good start. Last autumn was nonetheless very challenging. In the very conservative German market, sales negotiations are typically done face-to-face, relations and trust are built in personal meetings one step at a time. Despite the difficult Corona situation in Germany, digital remote meetings are not optimal for such a traditional culture, and our German enterprise has at times faced almost impossible odds. Regardless of all this, the team has pushed on with determination and has achieved awareness by making interesting appearances on digital platforms. One of the finest experiences took place last spring, when we gave the keynote speech at one of Germany’s most influential start-up networks, the Munich Network (Inno4X – Innovation Experts Panel). The German market is still in a challenging situation, but we have accomplished some positive outcomes. In March, we secured the notable German electronics industry manufacturer’s association ZVEI as our customer, and we are heading towards the summer with a positive outlook.

We have fought in a very difficult situation. At times, we have been truly worried and taken a hit or two. Compared to many other sectors and businesses we have managed well,  however, and the keys to success have remained in our own hands, for which I am very grateful. I have though much about how we have been able to maintain our positivity and faith in our success. Even small victories and an unshaken team spirit have been very helpful for our survival. We have arranged many inspiring and team spirit reinforcing programmes for our employees during the remote working period, and we have entered into long-term partnerships that will allow us to fine-tune the shared playbook and team spirit of the Innolink team in the future, too. The Corona relief funds received from Business Finland last spring have also enabled novel kinds of business development and acceleration – in a situation where we could easily have dug deeper into our trenches. This support has been especially significant in a mental sense. I have thought much about how the general atmosphere and the expectations of decision-makers in business affect why business succeeds – and especially why it does not succeed. How could similar stimuli be developed for the future now, so that the growth rate and investments of businesses would accelerate in the future as well.

Corona is not over yet by any means, although barometers indicate that there is faith in the revitalisation of the economy, there is hope in the air, and the markets are opening up almost hand in hand with the expanding vaccination coverage.

We have been genuinely worried at times, but seeing the ship start to turn sends shivers down the spine.

The author is the CEO and owner of Innolink.

Pekka Vuorela
CEO, Innolink


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