Returning to her roots was a conscious decision. The new CEO has known the ski resort’s hills and slopes for a long time.
Elsi Ojala, 48, knew what she was getting into when she started working as the Business Director of Himos four years ago. At the beginning of October, she became the CEO of Himos-Yhtiöt Oy.
In her youth, Elsi sold coffee and buns, rented skiing equipment and worked as a ski instructor at Himos. Later on, she brought her own children to the slopes of Himos to visit their grandparents.
That’s right: the new CEO is the daughter of Juhani ‘Jussi’ Ojala.
“This is a world of its own, originally envisioned by my father,” said Elsi, speaking about the ski resort.
The hills and slopes and ups and downs of running a family business are something Elsi has known for decades. Therefore, moving to Jämsä and Himos permanently was a natural decision for Elsi. Add in an MBA and one has to ask if there really is anything that would be a better choice.
“This invitation was open for years. I took it up when I found myself wanting to go back to my roots in Jämsä.”
Leaving behind a busy city life
However, where did Elsi Ojala spend the years in between?
“I lived in Southern Finland. I worked at food industry companies for 14 years. My children, Elias and Elvi, were born during that time.”
She is no longer interested in living in the busy cities of Southern Finland.
“Everything is simple in a small town. Everything you need is nearby. Eventually, I hope I can spend my retirement here as well.”
Home, the children’s schools and the workplace, meaning Himos, are all located just a few minutes’ drive from each other. This is something Elsi has a lot of appreciation for as the mother of two does not have a lot of spare time.
“I spent yesterday cleaning, even though it was Sunday and the weather was beautiful. But cleaning is just something that has to be done.”
Running a family business is a way of life
The Himos ski resort business is managed by the Ojala family. As owners, Juhani Ojala and Päivi Kuokkanen still have a say in how the company is run. Elsi’s brother Jouni is a Business Director of slope operations and will act as a substitute for the CEO if needed.
Juhani’s and Päivi´s son, Joona, who is in upper secondary school, has already been assigned some small duties to carry out.
“I’d be surprised if my son, who’s in the eighth grade, doesn’t come here for his first working life orientation,” Elsi says with a laugh.
Elsi asserts that even though one’s closest co-workers are literally family in a family business, they can still talk about things other than work over coffee. However, if there is something work-related that needs to be discussed, we can of course talk about it outside working hours.
“It’s a way of life.”
Himos is a big employer
In addition to the Ojala family, Himos-Yhtiöt employs over 10 people permanently. In addition to this, the company employs around 120 seasonal employees. The annual turnover is in the range of EUR 4–6 million.
“We are at the mercy of nature. Winter will always come, but we cannot predict that far into the future when it will be cold enough for snowmaking.”
Even though the ski season lasts less than six months, there is work to do also when there is no snow.
The accounting for the previous season is completed in June, and preparations for the next season starts in August.
“Maintenance work and preparations for the next season keep us busy. We can take some time off in July,” says Elsi Ojala.
Slope services provide many challenges
Many maps and photos hang on the walls of the office’s meeting room. Himos now. Himos when it will be ready.
“At the moment, there is no great need to increase slope capacity, although we could still expand. The most important thing right now is constructing services.
This means updating the ski lifts and also ensuring that the equipment rental and restaurants services are up to date.
Himos is the fifth largest ski resort in Finland, and it could provide opportunities for more entrepreneurs. Accommodation capacity during the high season presents a big challenge, and there is a need for other kinds of additional services as well. The development of the area would benefit everyone.
“According to the skier surveys (IRO) by the Finnish Ski Area Association, a thriving ski resort will bring benefits to their area that are up to ten times greater than the resort’s ski lift ticket revenue.”
Wishing for a sunny Saturday
Even though October’s snowfall made the slopes white for a short while, snow cannon operators are still biding their time. Weather forecasts for November predict that temperatures will stay above zero.
“Nevertheless, our aim is to open some slopes by 6 December.”
The CEO already dreams of the snows early spring. If only it was a Saturday and the weather was sunny! On weekends, she will try to find some time to go skiing herself.
“Those moments feel great—everyone is out there enjoying the skiing and the exercise.”