Mar 11, 2021

Career story – Ilkka Penttilä

Ilkka Penttilä
Ilkka Penttilä
Director, Horgau Plant

"I am an operations guy, so I love to work with production, to be a part of making stuff, and working with real-life processes." We interviewed Ilkka Penttilä about his interesting career path at Neles.

Ilkka Penttilä at Horgau office

What is your name, job title and location?

My name is Ilkka Penttilä, and I’m Plant Director at Neles’ Horgau plant in Germany.

What is your background? What brought you to Neles? 

I studied Automation Technology and Industrial Management at Aalto University in Espoo, Finland. I joined Neles (at that time Metso Automation) first in 2007 as a summer trainee. Back then, the plant was in Roihupelto, Helsinki. Neles was well known as a brand and as an innovative Finnish valve manufacturer. During the following summers, I worked in various factory duties, such as purchaser, production supervisor, and production planner. Then I got an opportunity to do my master’s thesis in planning the logistics and warehouses for the new Helsinki Plant in 2010-11. After a longer period in the Helsinki Plant Logistics, I was appointed Positioner Factory Manager in spring 2018. My next career move came quite quickly after that, in summer 2019, when I moved to Horgau, Germany, to work as the Plant Director.

What is your typical workday like?

My typical workday starts with walking my son to school and then driving to the factory (or nowadays sometimes also walking back to the home office). The production morning meeting on the factory floor gives good insight on where we are in terms of safety, quality, workload, materials, and efficiency. Even in the times of the pandemic, I try to make myself visible on the shop floor at least a few times per week, even if it is with a mask and safety distancing. The rest of the day is filled with one-to-one meetings with managers, which is basically where most of the management happens. I also spend a lot of time in meetings on various topics, such as customers & sales, continuous improvement, suppliers, and quality. Additionally, the typical German way is that local management has regular and frequent contact with the local Workers Council.

What kind of colleagues/team do you have?

The Horgau management team is a great combination of the experience of the long Horgau legacy, a fresh approach from other business environments, and deep dedication for the cause. Working in a German business environment has good things about it. Not to be too stereotypical, but once something is agreed, it is agreed, and there is a disciplined approach and thorough commitment. I like that.

Ilkka Penttilä at Horgau plant

What inspires or motivates you at work? What makes your work meaningful to you? Any real-life examples of when you have felt this?

I am an operations guy, so I love to work with production, to be a part of making stuff, and working with real-life processes. Trying to improve our daily work, trying to improve the management ways of working and the metrics we have to base our decisions on. And on a higher level, to shape the culture and to engage the people so that we become better each day. A real-life example would be our daily management system implementation and development; learning and testing as a group and finding the essential cause-effect relationships, key pieces of information – and then developing it even further.

Also, I was recently able to join the VSE (Service) management team as an Operations representative, which is a completely new surrounding for me. It will be very interesting to see what those guys are up to. It broadens my perspective nicely.

What is your or your team’s greatest achievement at work?

This might not be so typical, but I would say managing the past year without any major outbreaks of Covid-19, implementing the necessary safety precautions in an ever-changing situation, and switching rapidly to a home office and remote management mode with the office workers is an achievement that should not be taken for granted. Thanks to the management team, HSE team, workers’ representatives, and everyone in Horgau for working for the common cause.

Of course, there are important project deliveries – like a recent one to Brazil, where we as a team pushed together to expedite and rush the last-minute parts into production, get the valves assembled, packed, and shipped to the customer. This was also a committed group effort, and it feels good when we succeed in defying the odds.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

As a Plant Director, you get a lot of data and a lot of input to process. In the daily work there is much “noise”, a lot of signals here and there; identifying what the relevant ones are – or what is about to become relevant – is often demanding. Common sense and a cool head are always important, and you can also train your eye to spot those things even better.

How would you describe the Neles culture?

Neles is a very good blend of a global, yet Finnish company. The Neles culture is about being proud of high-quality flow control solutions and being a reliable partner for our customers. As we are in the high-end valves business, our work is largely circling on the most challenging cases, but, even then, we should not lose sight of our achievements.

The Neles culture is about being proud of high-quality flow control solutions and being a reliable partner for our customers. Neles is in an exciting stage of its journey, so now is a great time to be a part of it.

What makes Neles a great place to work?

For me as a Finn, Neles is both global and Finnish at the same time, and it runs a high-quality business that one can be proud of. Neles is in an exciting stage of its journey, so now is a great time to be a part of it.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I’ve given a part of my soul to male choir singing, but I’ve also gotten some of my best memories and best friends from there in return. Being part of Ylioppilaskunnan Laulajat (, @ylchoir) has taken me places, such as to Carnegie Hall or to meet the Empress of Japan, and I’ve had a chance to perform in great concert halls around the world. And I’ve definitely been to some great after-parties as well. Some of the greatest singing memories are also quite small-scale, like a summer concert on a small island chapel in the Finnish archipelago for a handful of people, for instance.

(Family is of course very important, too.)

YL choir

The YL male voice choir

Watch a Behind the scenes video about the choir

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