Businesses need universities to innovate

Staff training boosted Kone’s crane manufacturing to success 30 years ago. According to esteemed business leader Stig Gustavson, securing the conditions of universities also benefits businesses.

Businesses need universities to succeed. Let me give you an example.

I was appointed to lead the crane division of Kone at the beginning of 1988, when our primary market was the Soviet Union. In 1988, there were already clear signs of difficulties in the Soviet economy: order numbers decreased and collaboration floundered. Soon after, the Soviet Union was consigned to history.

I was tasked with turning the direction of our business operations to the west, but, above all, with establishing profitable operations.

The people at the division were specialised in mechanical engineering. They knew how to turn, mill, grind and, above all, weld. But so did many others. It was clear that good mechanical engineering alone would not lead us to dominance. Instead, benefits could be gained by making the crane movement increasingly efficient and automated.

New skills from university for a hundred people

But from where could we source the experts? We reached out to a university, the Tampere University of Technology as it was known at the time, which offered to tailor education in digital technology and electronics to our engineers. The lectures were held after working hours in Hyvinkää, while the examinations took place on Saturdays in Tampere.

Under the direction of Professor Yrjö Neuvo, the training was a success, and in the early 1990s we had assembled a group of a hundred master’s degree holders in digital technology and electronics. All of them specialised in digital skills relevant to crane technology, something which the business had been lacking. From among the hundred engineers, five wanted to further advance their academic competencies and completed doctoral degrees.

In 1992, we declared Kone’s crane division entirely digital in terms of both products and administration. Two years later, Konecranes was established as an independent limited liability company, with the new technical solutions enabling our conquest of the world.

Collaboration engenders new things

Today, digitalisation is everywhere, and mastering it no longer provides businesses with a competitive edge. What remains the key to success is being among the first to utilise new skills. And once people get used to success, it is ingrained in the DNA of the business.

Skills and the capacity for innovation do not come from nothing. Businesses need universities to produce graduates capable of new thinking. At the same time, cooperation between universities and businesses helps to ensure that the latest research-based knowledge is used in innovation. Such collaboration makes it possible to identify solutions that have an impact both in Finland and globally.

This is why businesses – and therefore Finland too – need universities, and why the operational conditions of universities must be safeguarded.


Stig Gustavson was the first CEO of Konecranes, subsequently serving for a long period as Chair of the Board.

Research and education are the building blocks of our wellbeing. Investing in them is crucial for our future. Read more about the societal impact of research and education and explore the University of Helsinki’s objectives for the next government programme in 2023–2027. #ResearchMatters