Erkki Viuhko’s long journey to Olkiluoto

Erkki Viuhko has made his career in building exports around the world. Viuhko is working on an export project now also, though this time in Finland. He is the deputy director of the French construction company Bouygues at the Olkiluoto nuclear power plant site.

“It might be a good time to finish up that thesis”, said Risto Huttunen in Perusyhtym√§ to his subordinate Erkki Viuhko in the fall of 1973. The reward for finishing the task was a three-month language course in London, UK. After that the thesis quickly saw daylight and Viuhko transferred from municipal infrastructure services to a newly founded export division. This marked the beginning of Viuhko’s over 30-year career tackling international projects.

Appartments and dairies

Erkki Viuhko was sent to Nigeria in 1973. The first project was planning the  municipal infrastructure of a military base.

“That didn’t mount up to anything but glory”, says Viuhko. But Makrohouse 100 element appartments proceeded all the way to the building phase.

After few years in Nigeria Viuhko left to launch the export activities of the OMP Corporation (formerly Oulun Maanrakennuspojat). Nigeria was considered as an export destination, but the risks with the status of the country appeared to be too high. Viuhko was left with the decision where to head to, Libya or Irak. Intuition steered to Libya.

“I had made acquaintance with few Iraqis and I didn’t trust them.”

A dairy was built near the border of Egypt in co-operation with Valio and Hankkija. Viuhko still considers Arabic people as honest folk.

“My hat goes of to the Libyans who agreed to correct an obvious mistake made in the agreement. I feel that in this respect they are similar to Finnish people. You can get your paths crossed with the arabs only once.”

Four years had flown by in Libya when Viuhko returned to his homeland. He was there to found a new unit for OMP in Uusimaa.

“I was given the authority on many things like the acquisition of sites. The instruction I got was to ‘make money, don’t spend it'”, says Viuhko.

In spring 1984 OMP was sold to Haka by Maa- ja vesirakennustekniikan tuki Ry”. This meant the collision of two entirely different ideologies. It was the intention of Haka to buy western export know-how possessed by OMP.

“Many people were pondering how it would be possible to unite such different cultures. And it wasn’t. Within the next six months 80 percent of western export professionals had left the company”, says Viuhko with a slight smirk.

Viuhko himself felt also that politics was dictating the rules. On the other hand he is thankful for the lessons learned while working in Haka. It has had a positive effect for example on co-operating with the Finnish Construction Trade Union today in Olkiluoto.

“We need to be able to discuss matters at the right time and as they really are.”

An idea – exporting element factories

The next phase for Viuhko was to take a seat in Kummila with the goal to start-up export projects around element technology. One of the factories was sold to Sweden for the expanding of the Arlanda airport construction site.

An element factory was also meant to start in Cairo, Egypt. The plans were well underway, but Finfund took a step back from the project at the last minute. A well designed logo with three Giza pyramids on the background was left as a reminder of the Giza New Elements project.

“The local partner started the project by themselves and the element factory is still running and profitable”, Viuhko notes.

Hollow-cored slabs made of fiber concrete were developed in co-operation with the VTT concrete laboratory. The idea was to produce affordable solutions for residential construction. One test house was even built, but according to Viuhko the agenda lacked political will.

“A connection in New York was made though. Some entrepreneurs had an idea to bulldoze Harlem to the ground and use these elements for low-budget rebuilding”.

A few years later Kummila was placed under company reorganization which meant the end of export endeavors.

Development aid and environmental projects

After Kummila, Viuhko headed for Mozambique where the Finnish government was building a container terminal using development aid. The project was behind schedule and the assignment was to get the project back on track. In the end the project was completed ten months before the deadline and resulted in total savings of 27 million Finnish Marks.

“This excess was then used to build a part of a cargo terminal, one hospital maternity ward, a school extension and a couple of roads”.

The government had extensive courses in the Portuguese language for its employees, so Viuhko developed excellent skills in Portuguese.

This would come in handy for the next assignment which in fact was located in Portugal. Viuhko worked for Maa ja Vesi (“Land and Water”) designing a water treatment plant and supervised its construction. There were no other companies that were in the business for biological cleaning of pulp factory waste water treatment besides Maa ja Vesi so Viuhko had a suspicion that there were no other candidates for the job.

“We went in with an offer as high as we could bring ourselves to make, but we got the job.”

When the work was finished it was suggested by the buyer that a supervisory team would be instated for an additional year to finalize the plan. The buyer wanted to delay the investment due to a current high 22 percent interest rate.

During the year plans were re-checked and re-specified. The contractors time usage was brought down from 14 to 8 months so the contractor also got their fair share of the deal.

“There was even time to pretty well learn the use of Autocad version 10 they used then”, Viuhko remembers.

The recession hit hard

After Protugal Viuhko returned to Finland in the middle of the recession. He founded the Finnish Export Network with 56 other unemployed academic export professionals. The Finnish government gave support for education. Each of the professionals had a company of their own but a company with 56 owner was a company dead in the water.

During the Export Network Viuhko left for France for a year. In 1996 in France he made first contact with Bouygues. Viuhko had heard that the company had asked a quote for the Lahti expressway.

The deal wasn’t achieved when the group lead by Bouygues finished third in the bidding just slightly behind the group lead by YIT and Lemmink√§inen.

“Skanska (the bid winner) had such a daring plan it was out of our reach”, Viuhko admits.

In the beginning of 2000 Viuhko also managed to build cell phone base stations for Lemcon Networks in Brazil. The connection with Bouygues lived and came even more alive in the summer of 2004 when there was a bid for the construction of the Lohja – Muurla expressway. The deal for Olkiluoto was formed some time after.

Viuhko is still a bit vary of how little appreciation international working experience receives in Finland.

“Some people are still worried that spending time abroad somehow affects you in a bad way. You certainly notice that you have been away from Finland and that you have dropped out from the inner circle. The network for Olkiluoto had to be created from scratch.”

A cultural interpreter at the power plant site

The Olkiluoto nuclear power plant is an important head start for the French giant Bouygues. The company (Bouygues) is based in 80 countries. For VIuhko the main goal is naturally to create a lasting foothold on the Finnish market for Bouygues.

Interesting projects are a plenty: The southern ring road of Tampere and the west metro (subway) are the largest. Bouygues has built a subway line in Sydney with a 25-year life cycle responsibility.

“Finland is also a gateway to Russia”, Viuhko states. Boyugues has house building activities in Russia, but still no building engineering projects. The major St. Peterburg – Moscow expressway project is very intriguing for Bouygues and co-operation with Finnish builders could also be possible.

In Olkiluoto he sees his role as a cultural interpreter for the most part. The differences between cultures and countries are endless.

“The French have a tendency for bureaucracy but on the positive note things are double checked.” Bouygues puts special attention on risk management.

“All risks, large and small, are brought out in the daylight and analyzed systematically.”

All possible tests are done and each work phase has pre-defined methods.

Viuhko is at home in multicultural environments. His French spouse originates from Madagascar. At home, they speak French and English. The boys of the family go to a French school.

Work in Olkiluoto is currently keeping them in Finland, but Viuhko thinks it’s absolutely clear that after this project the family is sure to head out abroad.