Aalto University: New Quality Award Will Be Given To Teams Of Top Experts Who Change Aalto Over The Long Term

The Aalto Pioneering Excellence Award builds upon the Matti Sundberg Quality Foundation grants, awarded since 2002. The new award further emphasises the importance of quality.

“While many organisations reward recipients for excellent individual achievements or results, the new award is about developing capabilities. The award-winning activities must help Aalto improve in some new way, both permanently and over the long term. The new award seeks longer term impact, not just one off achievement,” says Veli-Matti Mattila, Elisa’s CEO and Chairman of the Award Committee.

The Award is given to a team that carries out pioneering work to develop education, improve the excellence and impact of research and artistic activities, or enable the international success of the Aalto University community. The team’s activities should be cross-border in nature, bringing on the succes of others and preparing them for such success. It promotes creativity and develops an ethically sustainable and responsible culture and way of working. For more details about the award, see the award webpage.

In addition to Mattila, the Award Committee includes Professor Tuuli Mattelmäki, Professor of Practise Maria Clavert and Professor Risto Rajala.

“The winning team must be part of the Aalto ecosystem. For example, it may involve cooperation in teaching and projects of continuous learning, or a cooperation project between Aalto University and a partner company that takes place in line with Aalto’s strategy and values. We are grateful to the long-time CEO of Valmet, Matti Sundberg for his long-term support, which makes this award possible,” says Rajala.

“CHEMARTS is an example of bold cooperation where a joint experimental approach to chemistry and design has led to effective activities in which creativity and sustainable development act as the guiding principle,” says Mattelmäki.

Clavert joins Mattelmäki in highlighting an experimental culture which encourages risk taking.

“The focus is on communal working methods, which improve the quality of operations. For example, the Aaltonaut interdisciplinary minor study programme has adopted an image of an experimental teaching platform where co-development is possible and risk-taking is permitted.”

From paper and dust to continuous development and learning

At Elisa, Veli-Matti Mattila implemented the principles underpinning the award. He graduated from the Helsinki University of Technology in 1987, focusing on the acquisition of in-depth knowledge of telecommunications technology in his studies.

“The first strong wave of quality thinking began in the 1990s. But this was mainly about standards, documentation, and bureaucracy — It gave you the impression of quality that tasted of paper and dust, a dull and uninteresting image. So, I prefer to talk about developing excellence.”

“Quality thinking entails a mentality and culture of continuous long-term development and learning. For instance, development of management and processes is important.”

Over the years, Aalto and Elisa have been engaged in collaboration, some of which was directly related to the development of quality and excellence. A project is currently underway with the Finnish Centre for AI (FCAI) to develop speech recognition of the Finnish language.

The importance of quality as a competitive factor

Since the 1990s, Matti Sundberg has been studying what both university rectors and graduates think about quality.

“At first, I received no proper answers. However, the Helsinki University of Technology turned out to be the most enthusiastic in matters related to quality.

At that time, Valmet, led by Sundberg, had hired almost one hundred quality managers who had to start checking that the products and processes were in order. However, Sundberg transferred all but one to other tasks.

“Every supervisor is responsible for the quality performance of his/her department. No outsider can be can be held accountable for this, while, at the same time, others behave completely irresponsibly.

According to Sundberg, quality requires long-term thinking. In the short term, there is no glamour in quality work.

“Quality is in constant change. We must understand the importance of quality as a competitive factor, whether it be industrial, commercial or university activities. It is really important that Aalto is starting to reward people who apply quality thinking in their own activities in an exemplary fashion,” says Matti Sundberg.