Our guest Topi Jokinen, is a co-founder and CEO of Vertia, a self-organizing company with a mission to help people live in better homes by improving the quality of construction. Vertia was listed in 2021 Financial Times 1000 Fastest growing companies in Europe while, as reported by a study by Tampere University, wellbeing in the company was significantly higher than average. Apart from his CEO role in Vertia, Topi is also a father of two daughters and he composes music for movie trailers. Topi is also a co-founder in Teal Finland community.
Living Room Conversations: Topi Jokinen
TOPI = Topi Jokinen (Guest)
HEIKE = Heike Bauer-Brösamle (Host)
HEIKE: Welcome everybody! My name is Heike Bauer-Brösamle and I’m happy to welcome you on our 29th episode of our Living Room conversation. We in LIVESciences believe that conversations are meaningful and helping us to fuel our ideas, giving us different inspirations and opening up new dimensions to all different kind of topics that are related to Teal
and this is also a good place where we can see what ideas resonate with us and also space where we can make connections to other people who are interested in this topic.
And this is what we try to achieve with offering this format to you guys to allow you this exchange these conversations that are mainly kind of focused on the future of work and new ways of working together and yeah let us broadly explore this topic and make a deep dive into it all together.
So with this opening from my side I really welcome you again to and invite you to really engage with us. So first of all thank you for joining um and tuning in today via LinkedIn or YouTube or Facebook. So for those who have already been with us you know, it by now that we like to really engage you in this conversation and for the other I will give you a short heads up what this is all about. So in a way how to interact with that so please feel free to yeah encourage and I encourage your way to do so to enter your comments your thoughts into the chat and so we see what topics you’re interested in what questions coming to your mind. Yeah just what we maybe should elaborate on even further going down this road so yeah we just pull out the question that are dropping you drop into the chat that would be great to have it really also your conversation and not just mine with our guests today.
So without further ado, I am excited to introduce you to our today’s guest. His name is Topi, Topi Jokinen, and just by the name you realize he comes from Finland Topi is a co-founder and CEO of Vertia. And Vertia is a self-organizing company with a mission to help people live in better homes and improving the quality of the construction of those. And Vertia was listed in 2021 in the financial times as one of the thousand fastest growing companies in Europe and this is a little bit the background behind it and apart from being a CEO in this company, Topi is also a father of two daughters and yeah very interesting he is also a composer he yeah composes music for movie trailers and yeah I think this is really an a broad variety of topics we can we can talk about. So welcome, Topi, glad you have you with us here in the show.
TOPI: Thank you Heike. It’s really an honor to be here in this show. I’m really excited.
HEIKE: Yeah, we just quickly talked before Topi. What makes what was the reasoning behind it that made you set up your company in a self-organized way of working and not in a traditional way that you normally set up the company?
TOPI: Yeah first of all we didn’t at first we didn’t even have the word self-organizing. So we that wasn’t the start of it so we just wanted to at first actually the journey began we were in university in Espor university in Helsinki so we where a couple of friends we were in this philosophy lecture. You know it’s a technical university but there’s this philosopher called Essenzarnen who is in Finland. One of the famous most famous philosophers in Finland he he talks about kind of this it’s really hard to define but how to live a better life. And we were really really inspired of those lectures and after those lectures we had really inspiring conversations with our friends and at some point we just had this idea that let’s form a company but we didn’t know anything what we’re about to do but we just wanted to form a company and we didn’t have any ideas but we just we just started somewhere and but what we had this because of these lectures I think there was this idea that we wanted to be it to be really great place to work for us but also for the people we would employ and we wanted to employ people.
And that’s kind of all that was there was in the beginning. And then we started kind of first
we found something that somebody was willing to pay for and then we just started the building the company and there just read a lot of books and tried to develop the company and it kind of
went to this self-organizing way kind of at first. So it- one moment, one moment because we wanted to just build com- a good great place to work for ourselves and for others and
one moment when I remember about the self-organizing thing, it was when we had maybe one or two two employees at that point but then what one of one of them asked me if they can have a day off and for me I thought that I remember thinking out loud that; how do I know if you can have a day off? Probably you know better! [Laughter] Because I don’t know your schedule and it started kind of that was one one thing that we started to we just agreed that anybody can have a day off whenever they want just put put in your calendar that you’re gonna be off and everybody will know. And the basic principle was that when the job if the job gets done it’s the most important thing and if you can reschedule or have someone to take your place when you’re away then it’s no problem you can just have a day off. And yeah that’s what one of the first things about self-organizing that came about but we didn’t kind of at first decide that hey we are going to be a self-organizing company it just kind of naturally went to that route.
HEIKE: Yeah it says like in the in the topic Teal in a construction industry. So I was wondering and probably the others as well are you really in your company like building houses or is it more like a service company? Because that’s an industry that we don’t connect too much to Teals so far because it’s not a common industry that is known for Teal-ish organization. So what is your main activity in the company?
TOPI: Yeah so what we do we well as you said our mission is to improve the quality of construction and by doing that we want people who live in better homes and healthier homes and what we do we assure the quality we do measurements quality assurance measurements. For example we measure air tightness and we measure the humidity in the concrete
and we measure we do thermal camera measurements and that kind of thing some measurements is kind of in and it’s quality restaurants so new buildings and we kind of measure and make sure that they are built as the way they’re supposed to be built.
HEIKE: So it’s also a combination of like quality and sustainability and this is this is also something that is a driver for you doing this kind of work?
TOPI: Yeah, yeah. The quality and sustainability yes, yes they both are and the quality of is kind of the we found at some point that actually I was we formed the company in 2011 and through from 2011 to 2015 I was the CEO of the company but then I went away for two years wanted to do something else but then I realized that I came back 2018 and then I at that point we yes we had kind of the mission already in place and we kind of knew what it is but at that point I wanted to at first before I did anything else when I came back as a CEO. I wanted to we had a little less than 15 people at that point and I wanted to speak to everyone and I wanted to know what they thought what the people thought that our mission. Why does Vertia exist in the first place? Why are we and what is the yeah what is the mission and almost everyone said that the mission is to improve the quality of construction and that wasn’t even at that point anywhere written.
HEIKE: It was just a common narrative?
HEIKE: So it was really a common narrative within the organization that you could really rely on?
HEIKE: And I mean this is interesting if we have such a strong common ground to build your company on that everybody agrees on it without without need to write it down.
TOPI: Yeah now we have written it down. [Laughter]
HEIKE: Makes it easier in that way. I was just wondering I mean you said like this was one thing and what else was your like take away from all these interview you had with your colleagues I mean you you had like two years let’s say sabbatical so I would be curious what was your main focus there? Why did you step out of the company and what was the topic you focused on there and what made you come back?
TOPI: Yeah. So for the first five years when I was the CEO we in terms of Teal kind of also we weren’t like at that point we yes we had the kind of self not the even self organizing kind of self-direction or something like that we kind of had that concept somehow but it’s it was an individual level. But I just wanted to say it at that point at this point but why I went at that point I was still on my journey so at that point I felt that I wanted to do something like bigger. I felt limited about what we did. I just felt that I wanted to do something that had more impact and big bigger thing and then I went to form a startup and we ended up actually forming we wanted to form a startup but then we ended up doing a kind of daughter company to one of Finnish construction companies. We wanted to do the kind of what we wanted to do we wanted to you know, improve the communications in construction with that startup. I did it for one year and I
really learned a lot in that year but the things didn’t go as we wanted to so ended up quitting after one funny year but during that one year and maybe the one of the reason for quitting also was that I read a book in when I was in Italy for a holiday and I had this book called Reinventing Organizations. And at that time I read like 50 books every year but that book somehow it resonated me hugely I thought when I was reading it I almost I underlined almost every sentence there and I thought that what we had done in Vertia was something like this but like these companies have had taken it’s much further than than we had taken. We were just having some baby steps towards the directions and then I wanted to our the startup I wanted to make it something like that at that point.
But it didn’t resonate with the others in the company so much so I think there was a little conflict conflict there. But yeah I ended quitting there and then had a few months sabbatical also made music and traveled and but then I then we formed this still I was part of a group who formed Teal Finland community and we got like it’s it’s quite actually it’s quite there’s like I think there is over 2,000 members now in the in the Facebook group and it was at least quite active I haven’t been part of that for a while but then I also coached other companies or teams kind of this Teal way of working but then I realized after coaching after for a half a year or something like that. I just kind of- I had this feeling that I needed to do this myself. I don’t want to coach others, I want to do this myself.
HEIKE: So you were really into the Teal vision and wanted to bring it back to towards here.
TOPI: Yeah. Yeah I was really into the Teal and I kind of almost I think quite quite navally knively you know, quite nicely into the Teal kind of how do you quite idealistically kind of it at that point very I was very idealistic about it. And then at the beginning of 2018 I had a discussion with with the currency of at that point of Vertia and he and during the discussion we came to the conclusion that I should come back as a CEO but I had this kind of term or I don’t know how to say English but you know, I wanted that we take this self-organization and this still fielding and really kind of-
HEIKE: So you really better stick to this to this theme and really to go and try it out.
HEIKE: Yeah, yeah. I wanted to try it really out and then I went back. So at that point we started to really kind of go truly in the self-organizing way but as I said I was idealistic about it.
HEIKE: So what was your hardest lesson learned to get it really into the Teal? Like kind of like starting from a kind of self-organized ways to really progressing in this direction?
TOPI: [Laughter] Yeah it wasn’t easy. And the hardest I mean-
HEIKE: It sounds so attractive for everybody everybody says that yeah this is like like paradise going into like our self-organized ways of working like oh I can I can do what I like and I’m totally free and so it it sounds like a little bit like yeah this is it’s like a little bit like attractive to all the people.
TOPI: But it just doesn’t it just doesn’t go like that when you kind of open everything up then everything would suddenly work and what surprised me at first we from the very beginning we opened the decision making to everybody through the decision make advice process and we opened the salaries and even had this salary committee that people could participate to decide on their own salaries. And we opened kind of everything quite really from the start and quite quite quickly I mean in the maybe in the first first half year we kind of opened everything up and what was surprised me was that the biggest surprise maybe was the amount of conflict. That was okay yeah it was and there was it was really hard for me especially regarding salaries we had a lot of conflict and at some point we I thought that it felt that you don’t because anything else but salaries all the time okay they were decided that people were themselves deciding it but you know, they still kind of we at the same time we were open but at the same time I think I still held it somehow back you know, that it wasn’t it was kind of that I still had a so maybe the people didn’t you know, dare to maybe do the changes they really felt that they needed or or then but then there was also that there was some people that after everything opens up and then you know, it kind of shows some real character of certain people.
You know, when I think the traditional organization is somehow you know, if there are kind of you know, some people that don’t don’t kind of fit in your organization, in your values for example. The traditional organization or at least for us it was they kind of maybe because it limits them. Tradition more- traditional way limits them. So it doesn’t kind of maybe-
HEIKE: They don’t show with the full-
TOPI: It doesn’t come to the surface yeah, right. But after opening everything up kind of then these things surfaced. And really came to service that some people had different values and there there were conflicts. And actually one team then formed when we people could decide on which on their own teams and this is one thing that’s been really hard for us to find and we’ve eventually for a half a year half a year ago eventually found a way that feels for us that kind of team structure but at first everybody kind of formed their own teams and certain people with certain different similar values kind of went to the same same team and that team conflicted with with other teams and other people-
HEIKE: So almost really overcome this situation. I mean like salaries that is really going to let’s say to our core values, personal advice. And like I mean this is one thing and the other thing is like in this organization I mean you said like at the beginning where like when you started like 15-20 people and yeah how did how did you just decide on how the structure should look like how what kind of values do we want to have how how do we set up these teams? I mean
this is just also personal interest a little bit this is a topic we are at in the moment also in LIVESciences, how do we set up a team? What is the criteria for um diversity inclusion in the team? Team size and all that stuff?
TOPI: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s been I think for us it was the thing that took many years before we realized and we still it’s still not like finished. But at first actually from at first I kind of had the idea how to organize the teams. And then I showed it to people and had some feedback like
just like in the advice process. And then but when we decided to go on that kind of that way then quite soon there became some things that showed that this really doesn’t work and then
people well it it didn’t go through all the way the new team structure. And then maybe half a year went went by and people came up with an with a kind of new new kind of structure and then and we started to call those Cells. So it was kind of that we called those Cells because one person could belong in many cells.
Also could have multiple roles and that at that moment people self-organized into those cells and then there there some people ended up in the same cell that had different values from others which brought combat contact conflict. But yeah after learning that it looked like it was quite a okay structure until until we had maybe over over 20 people something and because of that conflict the initial conflict like five people had left – almost the whole team with had conflicts with others left the company and then yeah it looked like that structure would work but then we realized that it doesn’t. It actually went to the point that last summer our our kind of financial results started to kind of plummet you know, went down and everything kind of my analysis I kind of the difficult thing for me was that I actually saw that beforehand that this wouldn’t work anymore but the difficult thing for me was to convince others that it was it was not going to work. And then after we’ve hired new people quite a lot at that point I my analysis was that actually it this the current structure how we organized in cell like where people could belong to multiple of cells it was just starting to get so complex that people don’t anymore kind of I think the core reason that people people couldn’t anyway any more kind of see the full picture.
HEIKE: Okay so there it was true to divide it and the belonging wasn’t there under transparency for them?
TOPI: That was- yeah it was too complex.
HEIKE: Okay so it’s kind of simple it’s also something we should keep in mind not but over
designing our structures and saying oh we have to need a role in the circle for everything.
TOPI: It’s just yeah I think and I realized I’ve been studying of course board shark also
and I’ve realized that they had this kind of thing called the inherits simplification or something like that and I started to realize also that it has to be the structure has to be simple. Because we all are quite still quite limited in our capacity to have relationship for example I mean I’ve started to think about like families. Be because we used to think that we are one family like Laloux talks about Green. Green as a family. And we also were kind of one family but then I kind of thought started to think that how many families do I know who have more than 20 people? You know, quite rare. Quite rare. So when you go above say 15-20 people and it depends on context and everything but when you go above that before that everything kind of works quite easily without need for structures you know, families don’t have quite many structures usually typically. They don’t need because they’re so small that everyone knows each other and we know that we know and then-
HEIKE: We know how to interact and really-
TOPI: Yeah we can interact with each other with each other and we know no but when we go up about 15 to 20 people we don’t we cannot know anyone everyone and we don’t know what everyone is doing at certain moments and it just becomes too complex and you start need to have some kind of structure that makes the whole things more simple for four people yeah and at that point we ended up in the structure a lot like so we have we also still call those sales but they’re more like teams so we have a couple of teams that have they have responsibility on their own of they do the sales and they organize their own work and they do the measurements work for the clients. They even do the contracts with the clients.
HEIKE: Okay so it’s really like customer focused sales so you build yeah they’re like 10 people in there or how many do you have in there?
TOPI: Yeah at the moment quite like 10 people and we don’t know how big those can grow but my assumption is that something between 15 and 20 is the maximum size for them.
HEIKE: Yeah. We have a question in the in the chat so I would so we both could yeah strike on forever and listen to your explanation of your company but there’s a question in there he was George was asking I mean you you were went away for a certain period of time and spend it in yeah out that of the company and yeah it was he is just curious and I would also be curious to know but you do it again? To spend some time off the company? And for me it was also like do you see that you have a chance to do so by setting up the company in this way to step away and get some time off sabbatical and focus on different things?
TOPI: Yeah in my case it certainly was helpful I think and I yes I would do it again because in those two years when I went away I learned quite I learned so much so not not only about my company our company but also in general in general so it was really helpful for me and I actually was in an one podcast maybe two years ago we discussed the same thing and the podcast in the interviewer she asked that should every CEO kind of not when go or maybe go away or kind of yeah go away because then you can come back kind of more not at that the thing that I feel what one thing was what’s really helpful for me was that I didn’t have any operational roles before when I was CEO I was really my focus and time went to sales and I did the sales on it but when I came back I didn’t other people did the sales so I didn’t have to take that role so I have had much more time to kind of do what I thought was most important.
HEIKE: I mean- yeah and I mean this the question I interpreted is was like going like intentionally and prepared to a sabbatical and spend some time off but we came across this topic before like that you had to step out quite often over the last couple months due to let’s say COVID and all the situation do you think this let’s say stepping out letting go and looking after your your personal health and well-being what’s easier in this environment?
TOPI: Yes I think yes it’s easier and also I think it’s also beneficial although I’ve been sick and that’s why I had to be out that I wouldn’t kind of want to but still I think it’s good to be away that’s too I read the book from Patagonia’s founder I don’t remember his name but the book was called let your book or surfing and he he talked to talked about leadership by absence he had this concept that he had kind of developed leadership by absence he just went away for a couple of months to climb to mountains and no one could reach reach him and that way people had to take responsibility and I’ve been kind of doing doing also that kind of not so long times at the time but I had a plan actually to leave on parental you know, parental leave for six months but because of COVID I’ve been able to spend so much time with my daughter so I don’t we I just don’t feel it. I don’t need it. So that’s why I I’m not not doing that but yeah but in general I think it’s good to have some time off and also regular vacations I don’t know in other countries but we have in Finland five weeks every year a vacation for everyone and we’ve agreed that as we are the kind of entrepreneurs still and we are the owners of the company but we will still we play by the same rules in everything that everyone else and including we have five weeks of holiday. And I too only work eight hours a day in average I don’t work long hours and I think that’s that’s huge benefit actually as being a CEO able to work eight hours a day I don’t it’s typical that CEOs work a little longer.
But yeah in general still I think it’s good to have some you know, distance able to you need to have distance I think some kind of distance and I mean but always but you know, you need-
HEIKE: To get to reflect on things and to go a little bit.
TOPI: Yeah. You think you should move like from distance to close and again this kind of
do this kind of move and you kind of because you also need you you don’t. It’s not helpful only to be distant you know, and only to be gliding on mountains. Because there are things that you should still have to I think that one one misconception about this is that you should it’s my opinion at least that one misconception is that leaders should like not interfere fear in their in any anywhere you know, that let’s just people let’s just people decide and do everything and well that’s kind of true.
But still kind of if you just in my experience if you would just leave it to the people-
HEIKE: It doesn’t go in the right way.
TOPI: -It doesn’t go in the right direction that’s-
HEIKE: -That this is maybe not sorry I interrupted you but this is also often let’s say misconception of what tier means that it doesn’t have leadership it doesn’t have leadership all the time connected to one person but I mean leadership is needed but it’s yeah spread over the urban nation and and located to different people. I have another question here in the chat that’s also an interesting one you you just refer to you want to have a parental leave and spend time with your daughters and this feels a little bit. Marianna is asking that how our upbringings contributed to becoming this kind of a leader and do you have any this like I mean for example like the up upbringing in your home like with the family and also like we know that the Scandinavian countries have like a kind of progressive school system so maybe also a topic that men’s into? Maybe your personal life first? And then… [Laughter] Okay I think we lost Topi.
We will see. Connection broke so-
TOPI: -Yeah okay now it’s okay good now you can hear me?
TOPI: Yeah. So I wouldn’t I don’t know if there was anything like-
HEIKE: It seems like a little bit hard time on the connection to Finland.
TOPI: Okay. Maybe should I try to connect to my cell phone maybe? If this I try to change the connection if this still still doesn’t work.
HEIKE: We tried keeping this. You want to go out and try on the other one? Let’s see whether he comes back for the last 15 minutes on the other channel and while this time we will see yeah maybe I can share it like for my upbringing I would say like in a way I was raised to to rely on my own thoughts so I get really this area to explore myself as a kid and this gave me the space to experience myself and but also to be held accountable for the stuff that I done during these times and I was a little bit of a wild child so I was quite often held accountable for the thing that got broken during that time so but yeah really learning this lesson also the lesson like respecting of people. That was also an aspect I think that was very important in my upbringing. And this also leads to this kind of self organized ways of working in a sense that you you really yeah be open to the to the people that you work with and their values and their backgrounds and don’t
judge too quickly from them.
I think these are claimed some key aspects in my upbringing. Very important. So we are back with you!
TOPI: Yeah. Hopefully this works.
HEIKE: This works. I just shared a little bit of my upbringing what made us made me being attracted more or less to this kind of organizational work.
TOPI: You know, I think we it’s not yeah it’s the upbringing has of course something to do with it but I think we all have to if you’ve been studying like Integral Theory that it’s based on the Telenor’s book was based on partially at least. So we all have like we have to grow and we all have to go to the same same kind of basic steps in our crowd. So you know, at first when I started the company I’ve I’m talking I started now talk like jokingly that I was kind of this I don’t know how to say english better but kind of sweet sweet man you know, I was like with but I mean that I was kind of I was no different than kind of other for me I can admit that one.
HEIKE: Whenever you’re doing it with your children at the moment like what do you I mean this is one question like do you do this pay attention in raising your daughters in a special way so they can live up to this?
TOPI: I don’t know in a special way. Of course I try to raise my daughters as best as I can but you know, they do have to grow. And they do have to they do have to go to all these same steps and stages that we everyone has to go grow through. So there’s I don’t think there’s shortcuts. I don’t know if there are of course but of course good upbringing can kind of benefit that but
but for me I think the most I’ve learned was the difficulties that I’ve had to engage in
HEIKE: There are so many topics we could we could talk about and I think this is so interesting and maybe maybe you can pick it up sooner or later in a different format and now when we come closer to the end it’s also going towards that the chat is really picking up questions and they’re dropping in but that’s it’s normal we always need a warm-up together because-
TOPI: A bit of an important topic; I would say that this is really important for leaders or entrepreneurs or people who want to kind of have this Teal kind of organization they have to be willing to grow themselves. And I have to be kind of willing to admit kind of that they’re that it’s actually for me it’s so true the quote from I think Gandhi or something that the first if you want to change the world you have to change yourself. So it’s as through us in developing organization that you actually you are the one who is in the way.
HEIKE: This is close to a final closing remark. So yeah with regards to growing I think we have some other yeah events coming up so I would just share with the audience what we have coming in the next couple weeks we can say. So we have another Living Room Conversation so if you enjoyed this kind of format so it would be a good opportunity to join again and if you so you don’t lose on any of those ends just follow on on social media so you will get informed about those. And then we have the Teal Network Global Teal meetup in Europe. So this is also a good
platform to personal grow and exchange on different topics with others so I invite you yeah to
to join us there and maybe this topic of how the upbringing has an influence and impact on on becoming a yeah a leader in this in this area and what is important as you said like yeah the willingness to grow and reflect yourself and step into cold waters is really important maybe more important than in other areas to really yeah progress in this in this field. So with that I just have a question you want to give a final remark to our audience? Yeah what still fascinates you? I mean you have so many interests I mean you have your family besides that you’re a musician and a composer and yeah you seem to be interested in all kind of organizational stuff and your company yeah just what is what is your like life motto sentence, final word for the audience to bring? To share?
TOPI: I pick on that interest. Interest. So I think really it’s beneficial to be interested in different different and also following the interest I think that’s that’s one thing that has led me to kind of grow and develop. That so I’ve I realized at some point that I can kind of do the things that I’m interested in and I should should kind of and it’s also studying university I started to at some point I realized that I could study I don’t have to study this mechanical engineering so much it didn’t interest me I was even though I was a student of mechanical engineering I could take the courses that I was really interested interested in.
HEIKE: Any areas you want to grow into? Or any objectives you have in mind you want to explore for you personally?
TOPI: At the moment?
HEIKE: At the moment.
TOPI: At the moment actually I’m spending quite a lot of time to figure out how to compose. [Laughter] Compose in a you know, yeah it’s my long passion has been music and now I’ve for a couple of years I’ve really engaged in that. So yeah and of course because we run the things we run in our company it also gives me kind of not only time but also kind of headroom to do other things so I don’t have-
HEIKE: Okay it seems like the connection has been broken again so I think this is also a good time to wrap up the conversation it was interesting to listen to Topi and his different aspects to life and all the facets you have there thanks for being with us Topi even though being sick for quite a while I’m not fully feeling your energy here you were talking away and at least there you had enough energy to be with us for this long hour and thank you for sharing your thoughts
and your journey with your company and on a personal level as well.
And for those who have been listening to us if you enjoyed this conversation make sure you follow us on the social media and like us and yeah to be informed what’s coming up next here in this format and here we have like Living Room Conversation topics lined up for the next half year so there is always an interesting thing we can exchange upon and yeah that’s that. Thank you again for being with us Topi and it would be really interesting to pick on this like upcoming topic or what’s on your mind maybe in a different format yeah sooner rather than later so thank you. And yeah so for all that I am say thank you to the people listening to us and wish you a wonderful summer ahead of us and yeah a rest of the day to enjoy. Thank you guys.
TOPI: Thank you!
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