Interview with Heikki Kyöstilä, Founder and President of Planmeca Group, and Gerald Dorn, CEO of Plandent Austria
FINNCHAM :Heikki Kyöstilä, you have managed to grow a successful global business from scratch in 50 years, inspiring entrepreneurs all around the world. Could you please elaborate how it all started?
Heikki Kyöstilä: I began my career as a sales representative for a Finnish dental supply company in 1965 and became familiar with dental clinics and their equipment early on. I noticed that especially the patient chairs could easily be improved. At the time, almost all dental products sold in Finland were imported from Germany, so I thought why not do something about it and start making products of our own. That is how I decided to set up my own business.
The beginning was modest. Dental stools and instrument cabinets were manufactured in a garage in eastern Helsinki with an initial capital I earned by selling my sailing boat. However, I understood right away that the Finnish dental market simply wasn’t big enough to build upon, so I immediately headed for the international market. I got the opportunity to exhibit Planmeca’s first ergonomic dental stool and an instrument cabinet at the IDS dental trade fair in Munich, Germany. The demand was immediate, and orders came in from around the world.
Finland was quite unknown globally, and many customers had no idea where we were located. It took some time for us to establish ourselves on the market. We had to work really hard to put Finland on the map. I often say that the beginning was like skydiving without a parachute, but the jump really paid off.
FINNCHAM :What has been key to Planmeca’s success?
Heikki Kyöstilä: Valuing the expertise of the staff and hiring the best specialists in each field is the secret to building a successful company. Today, Planmeca has over 2900 employees, some of them having worked for the company for over 20 or even 30 years. Hiring the right people has been key, and so has allowing them to work beyond their job descriptions. I have always believed in Finnish knowhow and education.
We’ve had a global approach from day one. Planmeca has never believed in geographical limits − we have been ready to travel anywhere in the world where there are potential customers. Building an active sales network, founding local companies to support the sales staff and staying close to our customers have been crucial elements of our success. I have always loved meeting our customers in person and hearing their feedback − it has really been the spice of my working career.
Of course, not every day has been smooth sailing. In times of recession and in otherwise difficult times, we have worked harder than ever, trying to sell our solutions to customers in every corner of the world – and continuing to bring the latest technology into our products.
There are no shortcuts to success. Quality is everything, and one should never head to the market with an unfinished product. One successful product has often help come up with new ones.
FINNCHAM :Today, Planmeca Group is an industry leader consisting of several successful healthcare technology brands. The Group’s products and solutions are being distributed in over 120 countries worldwide, including Austria. How is the group positioned in the Austrian market?
Heikki Kyöstilä : Austria has a well-developed healthcare sector, and Austrian healthcare professionals are eager to utilise the latest technology innovations. I am happy that many of the local leading healthcare professionals have chosen Planmeca Group’s digital solutions – both Planmeca’s digital dental solutions and Planmed’s digital mammography and orthopaedic CBCT devices.
For example, the University Dental Clinic in Vienna and the Danube Private University in Krems have chosen our digital teaching concept as part of their dental education environment. In the veterinary field, the Clinic for Small Animals Surgery at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna is equipped with our high-resolution Planmed Verity ® VET CBCT scanner for veterinary 3D imaging.
FINNCHAM : In almost 15 European countries, Planmeca’s dental products are distributed by Plandent, Planmeca Group’s division of one-stop dental supply companies. Gerald Dorn, CEO of Plandent Austria, you have a long experience of working in the Austrian health care market. How does Plandent distinguish itself from other dental suppliers in Austria?
Gerald Dorn : I would like to emphasise the benefits of our strong parent company, Planmeca. With the production taking place in house, we can provide our customers with high-quality products and comprehensive service. Unlike us, the most Austrian suppliers in comparable fields offer congruent products by the same manufacturers. However, especially with regards to support, it is an advantage when you have a direct connection to the manufacturer, whose production takes place in Europe. When we need a Planmeca spare part that is not kept in stock, for example for a customer’s X-ray device, it is delivered overnight from Finland. Try doing that with a product manufactured in Asia.
When a distributor represents a variety of brands, it is difficult to provide consistent and competent support and service for all product models. Therefore, we only represent the most popular brands offering great service, with a focus on Planmeca. Our customers also appreciate this approach, which was also one of the reasons the University Dental Clinic in Vienna chose 80 Planmeca chairs as their dental units.
FINNCHAM : Did the Covid-19 pandemic affect the daily operations of the company?
Gerald Dorn: The past year was truly challenging for all of us. However, we were able to adjust to the new digital ways of working quickly by using all possible digital solutions and put the health and safety of our employees and customers first.
It has been encouraging to see that dentists have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to invest in new technologies and modernise their clinics. For our Plandent business, the past year was therefore challenging but also successful. The investment subsidy granted by the Austrian administration was warmly welcomed by our customers and contributed to our success. Generally, the subsidy helped to accelerate the economic growth in Austria during these difficult times as well.
FINNCHAM : This year, Planmeca is celebrating the company’s 50th anniversary. Has Plandent Austria some special activities planned for this occasion?
Gerald Dorn :We offer special “Planmeca 50 years” product packages for Austrian clinicians and invite all dental professionals to explore the latest digital dental solutions in our Plandent Showroom. We are also organising two Planmeca Digital Perfection Tours to the Planmeca headquarters in Helsinki in June and in September. We are inviting dentists and dental students to join us on these tours to get introduced to Planmeca’s unique digital workflow and deepen their knowledge of using Planmeca products. If the current coronavirus-related restrictions allow, we are also hoping to be able to throw a party to our customers in Vienna later this year to celebrate the anniversary.
FINNCHAM : What kind of new healthcare solutions can we expect to see next from Planmeca Group, Heikki Kyöstilä?
Heikkia Kyöstilä: Our primary goal is always to provide better care through innovation. We continue to deepen our knowledge, expertise and involvement in different specialty areas, such as orthodontics, medical imaging and new 3D applications. This will allow us to explore new technological possibilities and business opportunities. For example, a new full-body CBCT scanner and a ventilator are currently under development in our R&D department. Our future plans also include providing orthodontic treatment solutions through a new company called PlanSmile.
We continue working together with research institutions and universities to develop new solutions that help the daily work of healthcare professionals. Just to give you an example, we are currently working with Finnish health technology cluster CleverHealth Network in order to create tools for more accurate diagnosis of cerebral haemorrhage using our intelligent algorithms and AI.
I am extremely proud of our algorithm expertise. We have already managed to lower patient doses considerably and cancel the effects of patient movement. We continue to work tirelessly to keep introducing new innovative algorithms that will further improve image quality and help provide the best basis for diagnosis.
FINNCHAM : At the age of 75, you are still actively involved in the daily operations of Planmeca. Is retirement even an option for Heikki Kyöstilä?
Heikki Kyöstilä: For me, Planmeca is a way of life, and I certainly don’t see retirement as an option anytime soon. I want to continue to stay close to my customers and staff, and I want to be involved in everything going on in the company. Working together with healthcare professionals towards a mutual goal of better patient care is truly rewarding.
Planmeca Oy is a global leader in many fields of healthcare technology, with products distributed in over 120 countries worldwide. What started in 1971 as a small-scale dental stool and cabinetry producer, is now the largest private dental manufacturing company in the world and the parent company of Planmeca Group, consisting of several successful health technology divisions. This year, Planmeca is celebrating its 50th anniversary.