March 11, 2019
It is Kim Kolster’s turn as the Chairman of the Board of Kolster to carry the baton of the family-owned business while cherishing traditional values in the middle of changes. Being a forerunner and international plays the key role, but at the centre of it all lies the family.
“My father wanted me to join early on”
When I was young, I wasn’t too interested in school, but in the interim year following the matriculation examination I got fed up with twiddling my thumbs within two weeks. I started to study economics and along the studies also work at Kolster’s IT unit. That was the start of my twenty-year career in the family business. IT support, finance, HR, and office support are just some of the many areas in which I have worked at Kolster. I’ve been the Chairman of the Board for three years soon.
It is uncommon that Kolster’s ownership has remained narrow. I have no siblings, so in practice I represent the fifth generation almost alone. This makes me feel that I have the overall responsibility for the company. If not me, who then?
My father wanted me to get involved in the company early on and to grow into more responsible tasks little by little. For me, this was a natural path, but there are other ways to join a family business. We have talked about it with my son. Even though he, too, has the chance to grow in the family business from the very start, it may be more challenging than taking another route. It might be good to gather work experience first somewhere else and try out other options he finds interesting.
“Change of generation brings along new ways”
When my father retired, I moved on to become the Chairman of the Board. The change of generation shakes old patterns. When you are used to Kolster of a particular kind and its operating methods, changes in the company culture may be hard to swallow for some. However, for the sake of continuity, the changes are unavoidable.
For Kolster’s entire history, we have been one step ahead and want to be just that from here on, too. During my years, we have done a lot of things unlike in the past, because our customers expect from us a more comprehensive touch, internationality, and more diverse services.
The change in the culture expresses itself as a more agile management. In today’s world, two years seems like a long time, but in the IP sector changes take place slowly. The change of generation presents an opportunity to bring new ways into the house, and I have brought with me my new ideas. These changes can also be seen in everyday concrete matters: we have moved to modern premises closer to our customers, at the same time parting with paper archives and moving on to the digital era.
“We have to sit on the driver’s seat, not the backseat”
To quote our CEO, Timo Helosuo: we have a crystal ball to the future of the IP sector. Many inventions pass through our hands, so we can foresee which way the world is going. I don’t want to be a backseat passenger, keeping an eye on what others are doing - we have to be on the driver’s seat, at the forefront of technological development.
In a field continuously developing, we must give thought to how all the technologies can be managed, how trademarks, for example, are protected in virtual world, or who owns the rights to a 3D printed product. Can professionals in a certain sector be replaced by computers or the entire patent system remodelled by the block chain technology? As a sector, we are still quite conservative, and I want to be involved in taking leaps in utilising these technologies.
I also wish to invest in Kolster’s digital development, which is why I closely follow different technologies and development paths of digitalisation. Digitalisation has a halo: once a company shows its ability and desire to stay on the crest of a wave, it becomes a desirable working partner.
“My ancestors established the foundation of internationality”
In addition to being the forerunners, one of the cornerstones of our operations is internationality. Our market is the entire world, and my forefathers have travelled around the world creating contacts all over. This has established a foundation for all our operations. There was a time when 70 percent of out turnover originated from abroad.
In the IP sector, the fastest-growing market is China. I raise my hat to all the Kolster employees who many years ago knew that China would be the place to go to. Shenzhen is now eulogized as the world’s growth location and the focal point of patenting. The fact that we understood the potential of China, dared to seize it, and set up an office in Shenzhen is our leading the way in practise and on an international scale. The prizes we have been awarded there cheer us up. It is after all great that a huge market such as China chooses our little Finnish office as the most recommended IP company of 2019.
“Running a company resembles a marathon”
Kolster is a purely specialist company, and I’m not a specialist in the IP sector. This is at times challenging, because my leadership philosophy is based on setting an example. If I want to teach ice-hockey to my children, I take an ice-hockey stick and show them how it works. However, I cannot set an example for the lawyers or patent attorneys, because they know the particularities of their field better than me.
I don’t believe anyone is born a leader. It is more about identifying one’s own skills and their limits, and aiming to lead with that in mind. I can’t pretend to me more than I am, but luckily I’m not alone: I have around me fine people who manage the sub-areas that I do not. We’re doing this together.
For a family entrepreneur, getting successfully to the end of a year is always a huge win and relief. It is awesome to notice that we did it yet again. Managing Kolster is like running a marathon, which hopefully is only at the outset. I’m sure this is the road I want to take.
“I get to take the baton forward”
Kolster turns 145 this year. I feel both responsibility and pride for being the person who can take the company baton forward. My goal is to take the company to the next generation in an even better shape than the current. I never think whether I should quit or do something else. I have been given a chance which needs to be put to use in the best possible way.
In connection with a change of generation, a family-owned company puts a lot of thought into ownership, continuity, and changes. For example, as of late it has been my task to support and be the sparring partner of our CEO, who is the first director from outside the company.
My area of responsibility also includes managing Kolster’s investment portfolio and the profits. As the Chairman of the Board, I coordinate Board matters and meetings, and communicate with the owners who are not active in the company.
“Individuals always come first”
I cannot think of Kolster as a job that you can leave at the office at 5pm after switching off the computer. This is much more than just a job: For me, Kolster is a life’s work.
My family is at the centre of it all. Individuals become persons through upbringing and family, but the family way of thinking also affects the working life. The Kolster employees form a big family where the individual always comes first.
The model of family business ownership is an important factor that differentiates us from our competitors. My five-year position of trust in the commission of The Family Business Network Finland, which has just started, is an opportunity to highlight more the values our company finds important: communality, continuity, and openness.
“The mind finds peace on a ski track”
I have passed the Kauniainen hockey school five times, if my own ice-hockey period is included. This shows that my hobbies have for the most part been my children’s hobbies. You get to know people better when you chat with them by the sports ground than in official events or sitting face-to-face in meeting rooms.
Relaxing means spending time at the summer cottage or boating in the archipelago. I also want to spend time with my family in other ways than at an ice stadium or in the car on the way to a hobby activity. I have also spent more time myself in sports activities, and in January I took part in the 70-kilometre Marcialonga skiing competition in Italy. My goal was to make it to the finish - and I did. I though that if others have been able to do it, why wouldn’t I? On a ski track, I forget work and the mind rests.
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