Aalto University: A group developing Ponsse’s CSR reporting excelled in the Accounting Capstone course

The Capstone course in Accounting is a compulsory master’s level course for students majoring in Accounting. Typically, students take the course in their fifth and final year of study. This management consultancy course allows students to apply their analytical skills and competence in accounting, both of which they have accumulated over the course of their studies. On the course, small groups solve real-life business challenges presented by companies and organisations participating in the course. The challenges are taken on by groups of 3–5 students and on each course, 8–10 challenges are commissioned with the aim of providing everyone the opportunity to work on a topic that piques their interest.

The Capstone course is taught by Professor Jari Huikku and Assistant Professor Jukka Sihvonen in the autumn and by Professor Seppo Ikäheimo and Professor of Practice Mirel Leino-Haltia in the spring. Jari Huikku explains that the course organisers are flexible regarding the subjects commissioned and that they agree on and develop the cases with the participating companies. ‘The student projects meet real-life business challenges hands-on. As the desired end result is genuine managerial contribution, the professors guide the students’ work along the way. The case work is free of charge to the commissioning organisation.’

Ponsse’s student group was recognised for competitor comparison and in-depth interviews
Jari Huikku and Jukka Sihvonen considered the project made for Ponsse the best one on the autumn 2021 course. The project was called “Developing the key performance indicators and reporting of social responsibility”. The student group comprised of students Jenna Punakivi, Otso Kotilainen, Ilkka Haapaniemi and Matias Kauhanen.

Petri Härkönen, Ponsse CFO responsible for social responsibility activities, compliments the students for their professional approach to the subject provided. ‘The final result had a broad scope, and the work was well-structured and competent. I dare say the outcome and cooperation exceeded our expectations. I am happy to encourage both companies and students to seize similar collaboration opportunities,’ Härkönen states.

Katja Paananen, Sustainability Manager at Ponsse, agrees with her colleague and explains that Ponsse was highly satisfied with the students’ work that showcased enormous effort and profound insight.

‘Assessing the KPI metrics of social responsibility requires further investigation by the company management and functions. Nevertheless, the work shed light on valuable perspectives and sparked discussion on our social responsibility goals and the current transparency of our operations.’

The competitor comparison and the KPI comparison between Ponsse, its competitors and other operators of similar scale carried out by the students were also regarded as valuable contributions at Ponsse.

‘We will reflect the student project’s results with our own assessments when developing our KPI metrics.’

People at Ponsse thanked the students for the interviews, in which the group commendably expanded the proposed number of interviewees. As the students managed to interview more employees than expected, a larger pool of valuable views on the responsibility work was gathered.

‘I received internal feedback that the students had handled the interviews in an exemplary manner. The interviews were described as appropriate, reliable and open-minded,’ Katja Paananen explains.

After completing the project work, students present their final output to the commissioning company’s representatives, as is the case with Capstone courses.

‘The project presentation was structured, smooth and appropriate, and the students were able to focus on the essential, regardless of having extensive background material. We committed Ponsse’s management to participate in processing the outcome extensively, and their feedback on the work was positive without exception. The students’ versatile range of minor subjects must have provided an extensive range of perspectives for solving the challenge,’ Paananen continues.

The students gained insight on the themes of responsibility and project management
Matias Kauhanen is very pleased with the opportunity to work on a truly topical and interesting subject, the importance of which will inevitably grow in the labour market.‘Interviewing Ponsse’s experts so extensively was both exciting and suitably challenging. The successful interviews and subsequent thanks reassured me of my capability and skills to cope with challenges as long as I dare take them on.’

‘The research we carried out in connection with the assignment expanded our understanding of responsibility themes and practical issues with which companies and stakeholders work every day. Consequently, the breadth of the project’s scope was its key strength. We had the opportunity to examine responsibility from various perspectives, not to forget practical applications,’ says Otso Kotilainen.

After graduation, Jenna Punakivi hopes to find employment in a position with social responsibility duties.‘This course provided an opportunity to peek into business consultancy, and we gained excellent practice in implementing such a large project. We also had an excellent team spirit and everyone was able to utilise their strengths in the project.’

Ilkka Haapaniemi, commends the Capstone Accounting course on behalf of the entire team. ‘The course offered a magnificent opportunity to apply insights and work experience gained on previous courses. Every student participating in the course must have considered it great to work with successful domestic and foreign companies according to their own wishes. It was a great way to develop our project management skills.’

Capstone courses since 2015
The first Accounting Capstone courses were introduced in 2015 and now the course is offered twice a year, starting in September and March. The duration of the course is approximately two months. So far, student groups have completed a total of 122 projects. Examples of the projects carried out for companies include strategic competitor analyses, market analyses, AI and robotics solutions and a plan to improve corporate social responsibility reporting.

Project challenges have been presented by, for example, the following companies: Stora Enso, Orion, Oriola, Nordea, Kesko, Konecranes, OP, Danske Bank, Fortum, Huhtamaki, Fennia, Lindström, UPM, Hintsa Performance, LVM, Finnish forest administration Metsähallitus, Nokian Tyres plc, Outokumpu, Elisa, SAP, SOK, SRV, Finnair, Cargotec, Amer Sports, Metsä Group, Ponsse, Cramo, Kuljetusrinki, Lemminkäinen, Martela, VR, Musti Group, Sanoma, Azets and the City of Vantaa.

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