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In conversation with Satu Yli-Viikari

Daring to lead with the heart

Satu Yli-Viikari has been with Lindström for twelve years and counting. Perhaps one of the keys to her commitment is that she is genuinely fond of the people she works with and the work that she does. This has led to her being given many opportunities to grow in the company. Today, Satu shares how she has become one of the most popular leaders in the organisation, as proven by the results of the internal employee engagement survey.

Inheriting a passion for fashion

“My mother, who was a sewer in a sewing factory, passed down the sewing hobby to me. By the time I reached third grade, I had already found my love for fashion design. It was clear to me that this was the path I wanted to pursue. Although I encountered a few detours along the way, I eventually graduated from the Lahti Institute of Design with a degree in fashion design. I feel that this is the key point for me, when my professional journey in the fashion industry officially began.

Before joining Lindström, I had opportunities to work in various roles, including as a designer and product assistant. This allowed me to gain valuable knowledge of different aspects of the industry. From procurement to planning shipments and delving into the nitty-gritty of garment manufacturing, I soaked up all the insights and skills that came my way.

In 2011, I joined Lindström as a project manager in the case support team. Looking back, I realise that I’ve dedicated around 30% of my life to Lindström. It’s been an incredibly engaging experience, filled with personal growth, exploring different markets, and collaborating with colleagues from all corners of the world. And let me tell you – it’s been nothing short of amazing.”

Growing into leadership

“I had a lot of help when transitioning to a team lead role. I was fortunate to receive invaluable support and guidance from my manager; she played a crucial role in helping me navigate the challenges of stepping into a managerial position and uncovering my true potential. While my manager recognised and appreciated my skills as a project manager, she also encouraged me to broaden my horizons beyond just being highly organised, detail-oriented, and adept at rallying the team.

Another influential figure on my journey was another leader in the company, who coached and mentored me further in this new role. Under her mentorship, I learned to adopt a more strategic and people-focused approach, shifting away from a purely task-oriented mindset. This was a transformative experience that allowed me to see the bigger picture and understand the importance of nurturing and developing my team members.

Building and leading a team presented its own set of challenges, and I quickly realised that it is a continuous learning process. It involves recognising and leveraging the unique strengths and weaknesses of each individual, motivating and inspiring them, and fostering an environment of effective collaboration and communication. It’s a journey that takes time and sometimes a bit of luck. I feel incredibly grateful to have had managers, throughout my career, who have not only guided me but have also led by example, showing me what it truly means to be a successful leader.”

Leading a team in a diverse world

Satu Yli-Viikari values team work, people focus, and leading with kindness.

“In my current role, I lead a multicultural, diverse team in which the members are spread across different geographies. Especially given everything that has unfolded in recent years, such as the pandemic and the war in Europe, it has been quite a journey. These situations present unique challenges when our team members are physically separated. But we’re adapting and learning continuously.

One interesting development has been the founding of a new team as a result of organisational restructuring. Collaborative teams have come together, bringing different talents and perspectives under one roof. It’s an exciting space where we get to witness the growth and evolution of roles and responsibilities. It’s incredible to witness people rising to the occasion and wholeheartedly embracing these new opportunities.

When hiring new members, I always make sure that we have peer discussions with potential candidates. It’s important that we’re all on the same page and genuinely excited to welcome the new team member. We want to make sure we’re taking them in with open arms and setting them up for success from day one.”

Leading with kindness

“I bring my personal values to the workplace, and that includes empathy, kindness, and treating everyone with equal respect. In workplaces where acts of kindness become the norm, the spillover effects can multiply fast. When someone receives an act of kindness, they pay it back, and not just to the same person, but often to someone entirely new. I take a genuine interest in the growth of my team members as individuals: their personal development, career progression, and overall well-being. It’s not just about the work they do, but also about their happiness and fulfilment.

Based on what I’ve learned, having a close-knit team can really smooth out conflict situations. It always helps if you are willing to take in the perspective of the opposing party, and this is much easier when you are in a safe space with your co-workers. You can share your disagreements more transparently with people you trust, and you invite more dialogue with people you like. That’s a winning combo for finding solutions. In our team, we tackle most conflicts by looking at the facts and figures, making informed decisions, and being open to adjusting our approach if necessary. It’s all about working together and finding the best way forward.”

Passing the torch

“Reflecting on my early days at Lindström, I realise that I used to believe that being professional meant suppressing parts of my personality and putting on a ‘work persona’. That kept my work relationships at a surface level. However, as time went on, I learned the importance of embracing my authentic self in the workplace. This was a game-changer! Doing so, especially as a leader, fosters a more inclusive environment. It also deepens trust and builds bonds among co-workers in uncharted ways. Work friendships are a great stress buster. They cut out those countless, unavoidable, tiny moments in every workday that can sap your time, energy, and enthusiasm, and instead they keep you positive.”

“Satu’s way of leading is honest, and she has a warm way of encountering the team. Her trust in her team members is solid, like a rock, and she never hesitates to share responsibility for topics according to the person’s strengths. It improves trust in her as a leader and strengthens the atmosphere to talk openly about different things, both challenges and successes.”

Pihla Monter, member of Satu’s team.

“Satu always has time for her team, and any issues can be discussed openly, but you can always trust her to handle them in confidence. She not only leads the team but is an integral part of it, and she knows the work descriptions and tasks of the team members very well – that’s why sharing things or asking for support is easy, no matter how big or small things are. However, she understands when it is enough to just lend an ear, and where to offer help and solutions. Satu is also a very creative and solution-oriented person: whatever the challenge, she usually finds the core of it quickly and makes a clear proposal for a solution.”

Pieta-Maria Hautaniemi, member of Satu’s team.

Who: Satu Yli-Viikari
Role at Lindström: Head of Product Specification
Location: Head office, Helsinki, Finland
Outside the office: In addition to keeping busy taking care of three kids, Satu likes to spend time outdoors in her garden or working on their old house or summer cottage. Also photography, painting and hand crafts are close to her heart – especially knitting, which is something which she and many of her team members have in common: they even knit together in team meetings occasionally!

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