Tanja Vainio is an impressive female leader in the tech-heavy and engineering industry. In this interview, the CEO at ABB Czech Republic and Slovakia describes her different leadership roles in the last decades and talks about the next big things to watch as far as digitalization is concerned.
Tanja Vainio is Country Managing Director Czech Republic and Slovakia at ABB, a pioneering technology leader and a fortune 500 company. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia ABB employs around 4000 employees in 8 factories, 4 R&D centers, 2 Engineering centers and domestic sales and service. Tanja is an inspiring and engaging business leader with 20 years of global leadership experience across the whole value chain of ABB with a unique blend of expertise across utility, industry, transportation and infrastructure segments. She has proven ability to lead teams and drive results in global and multi-cultural environment having lived and worked in 7 different countries.
The importance of being able to make an impact
Tanja, you have successfully held leadership roles with ABB for many years and currently you are managing ABB for Czech Republic and Slovakia, tell us what inspires you to thrive in the tech-heavy and engineering industry?
Technology and innovation have always been fascinating to me because they hold enormous power to make things better. It is a particularly exciting time now as we are experiencing both the digital and energy transformation at the same time. Together with my team we are working closely with our customers as an innovation/technology partner – guiding them through these transformations, providing solutions for both future energy and automation and smart factories. It is great time to lead ABB Czech Republic, with the right strategy and bold moves we have taken a big step forward in the growing market. Besides managing the hard business topics, leaders can also positively influence important issues such as climate change, diversity and the business environment in general. For example, last year I participated in COP24 Katowice Climate summit representing ABB and industry – so the ability to make an impact is important to me.
Regarding my career, one of the great things about ABB is that they allow you to switch between different roles, which is something that very few companies do. So, you’re learning all the time and you don’t get bored. Since I joined in 1998 I have managed a variety of local and global business operations ranging from manufacturing to R&D and sales, before taking responsibility for ABB’s operations in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Having the opportunity to learn from various roles gives you an excellent platform to grow and to take more senior roles.
Innovation and the pioneering of new technologies
What has been the latest innovation at ABB?
ABB at its very core is a technology company; innovation and the pioneering of new technologies are part of our DNA. Our ABB Ability™ digital solutions offering is a great example of this approach. ABB Ability™ brings together more than 210 digital offerings into one unified offer. One way to think of ABB Ability™ is as the overall vehicle through which we deliver ABB’s expertise to our customers – enabling better asset utilization and greater uptime.
I am also very proud of our leadership in to eMobility: our vision is smarter, reliable, and emission-free mobility, accessible by everyone, everywhere. Last year we launched the world’s fastest charger enabling us to charge electric cars for 200 km in 8 minutes. Honoring our pioneering work in eMobility ABB was recognized last year by Fortune magazine as number 8 in the list of companies that are changing the world. In the Czech Republic we are also pioneer in this field – We installed the first fast charging station in the country in 2014 and this year we will be the charging partner for the first eBus project in the city of Trutnov.
The significant competitive advantage of new technologies
In your opinion, what are the next big things to watch in the next 5 years as far as digitalization is concerned? And how do you see it impacting business and society?
The digitalization of many new technologies will shape almost every aspect of our lives. Technologies such as Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, 3D printing, 5G, just to name a few, will develop faster than ever before. The businesses that embrace these new technologies are likely have significant competitive advantage. But the key to success is not technology itself; success comes when companies understand the underlying customer value and have the ability to implement change. That said, it is customer orientation, leadership and change management from the top that really enables companies to become champions in the digital era.
When it comes to society, the whole of society will change and must adapt, including, maybe most importantly, education systems ranging from elementary school to adult education. This requires an open-minded and new approach from both the private and public sectors. Last year I was elected onto the board of Aspen Institute CEE region so I can say from my own experience that real impact can be achieved when businesses, governments and non-profit organizations work together to tackle these changes.
Diversity and inclusion as a key topic
What is your take on gender diversity and equality at work, especially in a tech corporation like ABB?
Diversity and inclusion, including not only gender but all kind of diversity, is important for innovation and better financial performance in every business. In tech, we need more innovation than ever before and we lack females already in our engineering schools, so the situation is alarming. My responsibility is not only to attract more females to our company but also more girls to study technical subject. So we have decided to take an active approach.
In the Czech Republic we work closely with elementary schools and reach out to boys and girls to make tech an attractive field of study. We are also partnering with the Zlin children film festival. We bring them the opportunities of engineering, help them to imagine how they could develop better and more efficient charging for eCars to make eMobility main stream, or to develop next generation robotics or contribute to making solar energy cheaper as a form of power than traditional sources. This is much more interesting for them than basic mathematic algorithms!
Benefits of the Global Female Leaders Summit
Finally, you will speak at the upcoming Global Female Leaders Summit in May in Berlin, what are you mostly excited about?
I am excited to meet with other senior leaders from around the world. It is always inspiring to hear and learn from other companies and other industries how they tackle the challenges and opportunities around us and what we can potentially do together to make an impact. The summit covers a wide range of aspects, from the vital questions of the world economy to initiatives which demonstrate exemplary actions in times of crisis so I am sure I will leave the summit energized and ready to further make my mark, not only at ABB but also in the Czech Republic.