4 October 2017

What does it feel like to have a Greenpeace banner hanging on the wall of your workplace?

Management, change management in particular, is once again a hot topic – and no wonder. The pace of change just keeps on increasing, and more and more companies are facing changes that shake their foundations. I have also had numerous opportunities to tell international audiences the story of the changes at Neste and how I have experienced them.

Many seem to believe that business stories are boring PowerPoint lectures revolving around numbers and figures. However, they are anything but. The real story is always personal, with emotions and insight, and of course a turning point.

For me, this was on October 25, 2011. This date is easy to remember as, on this day, we announced our results, and my mind was caught up on the details. Right before eight o'clock in the morning, I turned my car towards our  head office, just to see Greenpeace banners hanging on our walls.

It is easy to choke up when you see activists in climbing gear on your office walls and notice that the main entrance is blocked.

I knew exactly what it was about, and how important this was to all of our employees. Our 5,000 employees would take the claims presented by Greenpeace very personally. I also knew that we had done hard and groundbreaking work to ensure sustainability in everything related to palm oil. That is why I decided to invite representatives of Greenpeace inside and talk openly with them about what concerns them.

This gave the start to a period that I believe has been crucial in my development as a leader. This was when the skills of our sustainability, communication and procurement chain specialists were raised to a whole new level. What was important was to listen – even to a highly critical party – and to learn, even if we did not agree on everything.

Understanding this helped us to reach our goals. We improved our research and sustainability. We studied numerous new raw materials. We developed new business activities. Now, wastes and residues account for roughly 80 percent of the raw material used in the production of renewable diesel, and our customers around the world have selected products based on these raw materials to reduce their traffic-related emissions.

Everything we have learned from this has been rooted in our business culture: all criticism must be seen as an opportunity to change. This was true on the morning I wrote about, and this is true now when debate over the future of diesel is fierce. I believe that this debate helps to speed up the development of diesel engines and fuels. Of course, this is not something Neste alone can decide, but by talking with others and doing things together we can move on.

When something is important to you, no discussion partner is too different or unimportant. We need to believe in our work and vision, but we also need to be humble and able to accept help from outside. This is what being a pioneer is all about.

Matti Lievonen, Neste
Matti Lievonen
President & CEO, Neste