The impetus for establishing Merius back in 2003 came to CEO Hannu Sarja after first working in the industry for around ten years as a production and design manager. At the time, he found that it was possible to get more out of investments with less design work as long as one understood the perspectives of all the different parties involved, regardless of language and background. Of course, this is easier said than done. Nevertheless, Hannu found a solution that creates a common understanding between all parties. Ambiguities between interfaces can easily arise in investments, which in turn leads to a waste of time and materials. In terms of investments, these add up to significant additional costs.
“I was in the role of a supplier in industry investments, as we designed and manufactured various turnkey systems, such as dust extraction equipment and solid fuel heating plants for the carpentry industry. That is when I realized that planning is key, as it can affect everyone involved in the investment. I also noticed that when the design philosophy is slightly changed, the same material could be used to satisfy all parties, in other words with a lighter workload.
This led to thinking about how much resources are wasted when producing information many times over. With this observation, I was among the first to move from 2D to 3D design in 1996, which made it possible to produce a diverse range of materials from the same 3D core design material.
A pioneer in the industry in visualizing the real environment
I completed my business degree in 1999 and eventually founded Merius Oy in 2003. All the pieces were finally in place. It was at that time that the company also found its first major client, a Finnish agricultural machinery manufacturer that kept me very busy for the first couple of years, when I was still working alone.
I realized that more can be achieved with less if you consider all aspects, including marketing material, technical manufacturing and lifecycle management, already in the design stage. The company name is rooted in the same philosophy, as the Latin word ‘Melius’ means ‘more’. That is what the Merius name still means in its own way, even if I made the language stronger. The name had to be such from the beginning that it would enable company growth and changes in the business. It has to help sell everything from wool socks to airplanes.
We were also pioneers in the industry in the early 2010s in bringing reality capture services to industrial design. We utilized several methods, such as 3D mapping, laser scanning and animation. We have been creating geometric digital twins for industry for almost ten years. In practice, this means capturing the built environment with different measurement techniques and creating a visual model of it.
The process industry with its complex processes has been our main target group for more than ten years, during which we have had the skills and resources to carry out even bigger projects. We make things easy for the client. We help them save time and produce easy-to-understand, illustrative information – maybe that’s our thing in a nutshell. Our passion is to promote problem-solving, decision-making and implementation in investments by producing illustrative information and achieving significant benefits through our modern and streamlined approach and technology. Our quality and delivery reliability are at a very high level, for which we have been praised.
“Design is often thought of as answering the question what. By expanding our thinking and slightly refining the same material, we were also able to answer the questions why, for whom and how.”
The most common challenge for our clients is to improve productivity within an existing environment
The world is changing, and both production and end products must change with it. The most common challenge for our clients is to improve productivity within an existing but ever-changing environment. We are precisely the right partner for this. Similarly, our service repertoire includes designing new factories, even though reality capture, i.e. digitization the existing environment, obviously cannot be utilized here since there is nothing yet to capture.
Our slogan “Make the big picture understandable” backs up our work. We capture realities and create digital environments from them, we solve industry problems with 3D designs, we visualize solutions through animations, and we share information efficiently with terminal-independent SaaS services.
“Some say that employees are an organization’s most valuable asset. I say they are the only one.”
This has been a career with many roles. Fortunately, my business degree, technical studies and prior experience as a designer in various environments gave me confidence right from the start. This is certainly a continuing education. I completed a degree in Business Administration and Management in 2004–2005 and continued my studies in economics and strategic management.
Indeed, my technical role soon focused on business planning through my studies, but this very quickly leads to managing people in such an environment. After that began leadership management. I have a lot of psychology books on my bookshelf these days. I have a desire to understand people’s motives and dreams so that we can build long-term working relationships. This is where an organization’s resources come from. Some say that employees are an organization’s most valuable asset. I say they are the only one.
I hesitated about continuing my studies for a long time, as I wondered if a person in the company should be spending ten percent of billing hours on the school bench. Eventually, I decided to continue my studies at the University of Vaasa, and in 2010 I completed my MBA degree. Luckily I did so, because it was one of the best choices I ever made. It was great to have someone provide the literature for me and challenge my ideas. My understanding of the mechanisms of growth became clearer, my growth plan became much more ambitious, any uncertainty disappeared, and the risks also diminished. At the same time, it left me with the spark and a huge curiosity to learn and understand this world. Since then, I have been studying continuously, several non-fiction books a month. The possibilities have become even more diverse since these days you can listen to some of them as audiobooks.
Nevertheless, no degree can prepare you fully for the work we do, and few recruits have enough experience when they join us. The desire to learn, curiosity and will to succeed are what are required and also valued at Merius. We are a development-friendly company, so change is happening all the time. We have already created truly hybrid professions. Multiskilled experts will continue to be needed and utilized.
Replication was painful
Along the way, I’ve encountered many difficult moments and critical turning points. In the beginning, when I did everything alone, everything was dependent on a single client and business trends reflected directly on Merius. In 2005, I decided that Merius should have more people and clients in order to diversify risks.
It was a time of growth for myself too as we gained more employees. I had to think carefully about how I could best transfer my own skills and practices to others. My postgraduate studies dealt with the same subject, so I learned how this should be done.
Replication was painful. I was used to doing a lot myself, and then came people who did less. It was not their fault, of course, simply that they were jumping into something new. This led to managing and motivating people through the meaningfulness of work. There were times when others were being paid while I was doing most of the work myself.
Growth required organizational restructuring
At some point, our organizational structures also began to limit our growth. In that regard, our work is better now that we have prepared for a bigger leap in growth. We have invested primarily for the future by changing our organizational structures, management model and strategy, as well as by increasing the number of employees.
In the past, we have been very target-oriented and made significant development investments to maintain our pioneering position. At some point, however, you reach a limit when such a mechanism no longer works. Very easily the project becomes the main focus of what you do instead of identifying the client’s needs, and you lose sight of growth factors. In practice, we have increased governance and also divided and shared responsibilities to reach a size of 50 employees, after which starts the next step immediately.
We strive to keep our operations agile, but also to stay on the growth path. There will inevitably be a hierarchy in some functions, in which case it is our job to transfer decision-making to teams. Many use the term “self-management” to describe this. Fortunately, someone came up with a better term: “joint management”. That is what we are working towards.
A question of building value
There was a brief moment that we were an extremely profitable company. My own workload was perhaps still a little heavier than it should have been. However, through my own continuous learning, I realized that, if we just rest on our laurels and enjoy our success, we would only get stuck. My personal growth would also have stalled. I wanted to break out from there and move forward, even though I knew it would initially mean weaker profitability. Now, for example, we have three new members of the board and real drive.
It is a question of building value for the company. A company’s performance is measured in numbers at some point, and the value is one of the numbers. The value of a company can be examined by whether it is good for its clients, employees and owners. I would be wasting my time if I did not focus on a balanced increase in the value of the company, as it cannot be done by just any means. It has to be done on all three of those conditions.
When we are written about in black and white sometime in the future, the headline will hopefully describe how we understood to redefine the challenge facing our industry and how we have improved the way things are done – that we have been a pioneer and stumbled at times, but still made it and established a leading position in the market.“