He lives in a land of endless summers and endless winters. His Pipelife office is closer to the North Pole than to Vienna and he accepted a contract to work for an exceptional company because he was also an exceptional ice hockey player. Ari Pokka lives in Finland and works in Sweden which is only a few kilometres away but also one time zone away. He is Plant Manager for Haparanda and his feet are not only very much on the ground, they are also very often on water or ice...
Ari is a self taught man. He joined Pipelife Finland in 1991 as a production operator. "I was obsessed with hockey pucks not extruded plastic fittings," he exclaims. "My dream then at the age of twenty was to play for the local Swedish side. I had no idea that I would end up playing for another team: the Pipelife production team."
Within two years and after a lot of personal study, Ari was in charge of factory Quality Control in Haparanda. "We only produced PVC pipes and fittings at that time but Mr Jouko Suonvieri who was my boss at that time wanted excellence on the shop floor."
"The demand for plastic pipe systems during the sixties, seventies and eighties was enormous. But in the nineties, the quality theories of William Deming that had proved so successful in Japan were knocking at Scandinavian doors. Human involvement, team building, quality techniques and information technology presented an improved version of factory life."
While Ari led from the centre of the Haaparanta ice hockey team, he also led his factory towards smarter ways of working. "Quality management is not about telling people how they have to work better. Nobody is stimulated by that. On the contrary, like ice hockey, it is an invitation for colleagues to participate, enjoy the game and score. Without enjoyment there can be no continuous improvement in the work place or in any other kind of relationship."
"I like details. I always have. But the present is not only made up of details from the past. Imagination and hard work are required to make the future.”
In 2001 and after much hard work, Ari was asked to add the role of production development to his quality control work. The market wanted new pipe products and therefore new machines to make them. Demand for PE and PP pipes and fittings was incessant. Twin wall pipes for sewer and drainage then became movers as order books quickly filled up. “There were many deadlines,” explains Ari. “And with the addition of production sites in Utajärvi and Ii, our ‘Pipe lives’ had changed forever.”
His particular baby was PP Soil & Waste pipes. “Getting the mix of ingredients right so that all desired properties were there in the final products was a challenge. We still make those 50, 75 and 110 mm diameter PP systems in Finland and their production is also scheduled to start in Norway.”
New products and production techniques have not escaped Arie’s attention now that he is Plant Manager of the factory in which he first started to work almost twenty years ago. In addition to his plant manager duties, a daily focus on R & D has been assigned to him. “It is an exciting time for us at the moment. Triple wall pipes, PP foam and ingenious cable protection pipes will shortly be leaving our R & D nursery. We believe that with our eventual product portfolio, we shall offset difficulties in the economy.”
After twenty years, Ari Pokka still plays as a ‘veteran’ ice hockey player. He is married and has four children and during the long summer days, he takes to the local waters. His barefoot skiing on the lakes is not without style and grace. “The speedboat has to go faster for barefooting and a wetsuit is therefore obligatory. But when the speed throttle is cut, my descent into the water is not all that elegant,” Ari notes.
Being a ‘frontalier’ or a European worker that crosses the border daily, Ari leads a rather international life. “I appreciate the contacts I have made with other parts of the Pipelife network,” he says. However, he has to be precise with deciding meeting times: Swedish time or Finnish time zone? “Of course this confusion could enable me to cultivate a shorter working day.” But his daily routine, workload and Mr Kimmo Kedonpää, his GM will not allow him to do that.
And during the long summer days, he is in to other sports and interests. For example, with the help of some friends, Ari has built a floating sauna so that he can relax after a strenuous hours at work. However, his mind is never far from the Pipelife pipes that he makes. “Steam has to circulate somehow from source to its use. Our sauna is equipped with the best pipes and there is only one firm that can produce that,” he says with a wink.