June 28, 2019

Career Story: Ville Sillanpää

Mine is really the story of someone who wanted to have their cake and eat it as well, and who got to do both with RELEX. One of the stand-out characteristics of RELEX is that it’s a company full of enquiring minds, and if you have an enquiring mind, you’ll have an insatiable appetite for knowledge.

My dilemma has been that I both love pure research and I also love being able to put the knowledge I’ve gained to practical use. It’s not always easy to do both, but thanks to RELEX I have had the best of both worlds.

First part of the journey

I started out with RELEX in the summer of 2011 as an analyst. I already had a B.Sc. in Business and was planning my upcoming student exchange that was due to take me to Australia. The summer went by fast and, because I found my job challenging but also enjoyable, I decided to continue with my studies while working part-time. When I flew to Australia the following January, I already had solid experience under my belt and a promise from my team lead that my job would be waiting for me on my return.

I had an amazing student exchange (the weather in January is also better in Australia…), but when I moved back to Finland in the following summer, I had to make a decision. I had two job offers, one of them from RELEX. In the end the decision was easy, because I had the strong sense that RELEX had a plan for me.

Second part of the journey

I started working on the customer-project side. I was responsible for a number of development and business support cases, none of them really huge projects at this point. The role was both challenging and enjoyable, however I realized that it wasn’t going to be practicable to finish my studies and write my master’s thesis while working at the same time. I took the decision to concentrate on finishing my studies. After a six-month break from work I finally graduated only to be confronted by a new dilemma – did I want to pursue my long-time dream of postgraduate studies, or should I continue to work with RELEX?

I chose to return to RELEX having recently graduated with an M.Sc. I immediately got to work with our biggest client at that time. Soon afterwards I was put forward for the role of Service Manager with that client. I was flattered by the degree of trust my colleagues placed in me, even though I didn’t have that much experience. I was keen to learn more and my colleagues were ready to teach me.

Third part of the journey

Two years on and I felt that it was again time to follow my other dream and continue my postgraduate studies. It was something I had been considering carefully throughout my career with RELEX, but it was in no way a repudiation of my experience there, if anything quite the opposite. I had begun to feel frustrated at my lack of academic grounding for the tasks at RELEX to which I really wanted to contribute. I was very keen to play a part in developing our calculation models, but my academic background was in business, so I didn’t have the training I needed to do that. I found myself determined to educate myself to take on the roles RELEX had in mind for me.

The next phase of my post-grad studies led me to computer sciences, mathematics and machine learning; disciplines that allowed me to understand how forecasting and optimization really works. During my post-grad studies I stayed in touch with RELEX and my first published research was inspired by my earlier work there.

After three years as a researcher, I wanted to return to the world of work again. There was very little agonizing about my next step, because there was a position waiting for me at RELEX. I’m pleased that I came back, because at the moment I’m working in a role where I get to draw on both my previous experiences at RELEX and the expertise I accumulated during my research career. It’s great that my doctoral studies are valued and that I get to put them to use here. I will soon graduate as a Doctor of Sciences in Operations Research, and the subject matter I studied on the way to my degree is also appreciated in my current role at RELEX.

Where am I now?

Currently I’m working in product management as a product owner of calculation logic. Together with other product owners we steer product development of all the forecasting and optimization models that allow our customers to automate their forecasting and replenishment processes. I work closely with our developers, and occasionally I also work as a project manager on some of the larger product development projects. The calculation logic of RELEX relates to many areas of supply chain, and currently I’m focusing on developing machine learning models for demand forecasting. It’s fascinating working on such complex problems in a retail context, since the models we develop have a huge impact on day-to-day operations in retail businesses.

Looking back over my career to date I feel very lucky to have found colleagues and a working environment that values personal development and the accumulation of knowledge and expertise so highly. In some jobs I imagine one could cease to grow. Not at RELEX. Perhaps it’s because RELEX is led by people who have turned their academic interests into a business. One thing I think I can say with a degree of confidence is that you’ll never be penalized at RELEX for wanting to know and understand more – and I couldn’t hope for a more encouraging group of colleagues.

Ville has a curious mind for research and a desire to bring the best theories into practice. He has been part of the RELEX story since 2011 influencing in various roles. At the moment Ville is working as a product owner of forecasting. When not working, Ville is probably at the theatre or at some concert listening to indie, pop or rap music, or at home hanging out with his spouse and two cats.

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