”I believe in lifelong learning” – Matti Arpiainen celebrates 50 years at TT Gaskets

Matti Arpiainen, long-time CEO of TT Gaskets, has reasons to celebrate. The president of Finland granted him the title of Yrittäjäneuvos (honorary title awarded for entrepreneurship) in December 2021. Additionally, having started in the family business in 1972, Matti Arpiainen celebrated 50 years with the company in April.

– I had actually been doing small tasks and odd jobs at the factory for ten years before signing a contract. However, my first real job was at the Tampereen Trikoo sewing factory where I spent one summer folding women’s underwear at age fifteen. That was something I was too embarrassed about to mention to any of my schoolmates, Arpiainen says with a laugh.

From wartime innovations to a flourishing business

The history of TT Gaskets starts from the year 1943 when Väinö-Kustaa Järvinen and the Arpiainen brothers Eino and Jussi founded a business specializing in spare parts and gaskets for military equipment. With a mind for innovation, Matti’s father Jussi had proved his competence during his military service by designing gaskets for oil sumps and exhaust pipes of armored vehicles.

– My father was an inventive man who devised a boot grease substitute that was used in Winter War battles. Another of his inventions was a lacquer for wooden airplane wings. It was manufactured with celluloid that was sourced by melting old film reels of Finnish movies. My father used to say that he had done an atrocious act to Finnish culture, but war is war and desperate times call for desperate measures, Matti Arpiainen says.

After the war the company began manufacturing gaskets for heavy machinery required in rebuilding work. The rest is history: known then as Tampereen Tiivisteteollisuus, the business flourished and became known as an innovative company with the ability for solving customer problems quickly and manufacturing gaskets from any available material.

The essence of a family business

After starting studies at the Vaasa School of Economics, Matti Arpiainen had no intention of returning to his father’s business. Fate had other plans, and so Matti soon found himself in charge of the company’s binder-manufacturing functions.

– During my studies, I spent time in Germany and the Netherlands and gained a wealth of insight on what multi-generational family entrepreneurship is about: accumulating know-how and passing it on to the next generation. I have always encouraged our employees to keep an eye on new ideas and methods when traveling the world. In the old times industrial espionage was considered a taboo, nowadays sharing knowledge and skills is an accepted practice.

Competitive advantage from water cutting

Jussi Arpiainen passed the torch to his son Matti in the 1980s. During Matti Arpiainen’s tenure as CEO, TT Gaskets saw a large increase in international exports and activities.

– I wanted to automatize our production and find a competitive advantage to stand out in the Nordic market when I took charge. I encountered a revolutionary technology in Denmark: water cutting. I had a hard time accepting that the concept was actually viable, cutting gaskets with water sounded like science fiction to me. Nevertheless, I got to witness the technology with my own eyes and realized quickly that this is the future of gasket manufacturing. Water cutting is still one of our key methods here at TT Gaskets, Matti Arpiainen recounts.

Matti Arpiainen has been a global ambassador of Finnish gasket expertise during his long career. Having conducted business on all continents, he garnered thousands of driving kilometers all over Europe during the 1980s and 1990s with his working partner Jukka Sunila. Always in motion, Matti Arpiainen is driven by two key themes: people and machinery.

– I’m a firm believer in lifelong learning. I’ve always kept on studying new things and wanted to work with people from whom I can learn something. I am also endlessly interested in all kinds of machines, technologies, and mechanics, Arpiainen says.

Passing on the torch

The family ethos extends beyond ownership at TT Gaskets: nowadays you can find children, spouses and siblings of long-time employees working in the production hall. Matti’s son Aleksi Arpiainen became CEO of TT Gaskets in 2018. Matti is still involved in the business as chairman of the board, and he is overseeing the construction of TT Gaskets’ new solar power plant among other projects.

– When Aleksi started as CEO, it was clear to me that I must step back and let him establish himself. In some family businesses the older generation might have difficulties in letting go and they start undermining the younger generation by trying to wield power from behind the curtain. Aleksi has proved himself to be a modern leader with a strong vision of the future, and that is something I have no business meddling in, Matti laughs.