In the third part of the 40th anniversary series MagiCAD Group’s founder Mauri Susilahti tells us about the early days of the company and about his career.
How did you come up with the idea of founding the company?
Mauri: Before starting MagiCAD Group, I joined another company and started to develop programs in the building services engineering sector. We travelled around Finland and got to know different design offices. The business looked interesting, so I decided to start my own company and quit my previous job.
My own company grew quite slowly in the beginning around 1983-1985. About 10 years later, we were still pretty small, but we had expanded from off-the-shelf software to developing custom software for companies in the industry. The first one of this kind came out more than 30 years ago. Today, this work is led by Riitta Korri in the Manufacturer Business Unit.
Our calculation software was developed for design offices and was sold all over Finland and gradually the company began to grow. In 1990 we employed about 10 people and survived the severe recession that hit Finland in the early ’90s. It is hard to say in hindsight whether it was more luck or cleverness, but both probably had their role. One of the reasons was that we got a big project from a Swedish company. At the same time, we were also continuously developing our own products.
What was it like in the company’s early days?
Mauri: The business was quite entrepreneurial and engineering-driven. Our first employee was Pertti Pavela, who joined the company in 1985. After that in 1986, Jorma Jokela became the second employee. We had our own office, although it moved around a lot in the beginning.
We actually acquired considerably larger premises during the recession in 1992, where we stayed until 2007. There was quite a lot of space, and the company grew at a nice pace. Already in the early ’90s, we used management consultants to give more structure to operations and management. However, the entrepreneurial drive remained.
What was MagiCAD Group’s organisational culture like when the company started to grow? Was there some kind of vision of the desired culture and atmosphere?
Mauri: We had some of the good aspects of a family business, for example, ownership was close. There was also a good feeling about working in the company, although there was also a lot of debate about, for example, what direction to take and what not to take. Still, things were always discussed together, and decisions were never taken by just one person.
The spirit of working together carried a long way in the day-to-day operations of the company. If our good team spirit and drive had been accompanied earlier by more professional management and, for example, a clearer division of labor, the business could have developed even faster.
What kind of leadership was needed when the company was built? Did the leadership change somehow over the years and if yes, how?
Mauri: Our leadership was in tune with an engineering-driven company. There was always an effort to look outside instead of pushing forward stubbornly or thinking that we are right about everything. However, we had a fierce work ethic and drive to get things done. Moreover, no major mistakes were made during the biggest growth stages of the company.
What kind of people did the company look for before starting to grow and then throughout the years? Were there any preferred traits or strengths that were particularly needed?
Mauri: We searched for technical expertise initially. Looking back now, we could have sought for more project management and leadership skills in the business domain. Also, project management and technical skills could have been separated when recruiting new employees. There were not many people to recruit back then, and the technical and mathematical side was the focus. We had no separate recruitment advertisements and employees were usually found through personal contacts.
Which aspects have influenced the success of the company the most in your opinion?
Mauri: One of the biggest things was that we succeeded in entering export markets. Finland acted as a kind of backbone and its role was important, but if we had relied solely on domestic markets, the company would probably have remained at a certain size and level.
During 1990-1991 we had good relationships with customers and a strong ability to understand their needs. Our work was of high quality and the company was perceived as competent, which helped to create awareness. In Sweden, our first customer told others about us and this started to expand the market there and eventually to other countries. Our quality products, relationships and communication contributed greatly to our success.
What was the highlight of your career at MagiCAD Group?
Mauri: One of the highlights was when we started to sell MagiCAD software itself. The best part was when the products started selling and our growth really took off about 20 years ago. In the early 2000s, we were already well-known in the Nordic countries. When people saw that we were good and doing well in the market, it only accelerated the growth. Another highlight was also when our Manufacturer Business Unit started to take off with new momentum by combining product data from the equipment manufacturers with modelling design.
What was the industry like in the beginning and how has it developed since?
Mauri: In the 1980s, building technology started to develop and CAD software came into the picture in Finland. In my opinion, the introduction of CAD software has been the biggest change in the industry. MagiCAD Group started using CAD technology in the mid-90s and the actual MagiCAD software product was born in 1998. Over the years, the sector has become enormously complex. There is a huge amount of intricate building services engineering in buildings today and they simply cannot be designed without modern software.
We want to give the warmest thank you to Mauri for telling us about the journey of MagiCAD Group!