A good business story should always start in a garage in the suburbs. Oilon was founded in 1961 when Urho Lehto and Jorma Manssila, both from Helsinki, noticed a gap in the heavy fuel oil burner market. Their first office was in a garage in Maunula, Helsinki.
Ossi Leiwo soon joined them as a funder and technical expert. The company moved to the city of Lahti where the Board and product development department can still be found.
Ossi is known as the father figure of Oilon. He ran the family business for 35 years and retired in 2009. The 87-year-old still closely follows Oilon’s business operations.
But let’s go back to the 60s for a moment:
“In those days, yards in Lahti were full of piles of firewood. Slowly the firewood disappeared as oil replaced wood as a form of heating.”, Ossi remembers.
Oilon took a firm hold of this development. First, Oilon imported burners to Finland from Denmark, amongst other places. However, they didn’t work sufficiently well, so Ossi wanted to start to produce the burners himself. CEO, Urho Lehto took care of marketing.
“We were a great double act. My job was to run the company and make sure that the equipment worked. Urho was the gifted showman.” Ossi says.
Soon Oilon started to sell light oil burners, which quickly became the engine of growth.
“At first, we tried importing them. Same thing: they didn’t work, so we started to produce them ourselves. Necessity is the mother of invention.” Ossi says.
The customer is your friend
The first oil burners we exported to the Soviet Union in 1965. Next came Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Germany. Ossi didn’t let success get to him, however. He realised early on that the oil era wouldn’t last forever. Oil burners were soon joined by gas burners and later heat pumps.
“I became interested in heat pumps already during the oil crisis when the price of oil went sky high. This was in 1979.
We’ve come a long way from the garage. Many things have changed along the way, but respect for the customer has remained.
“A good customer relationship is reminiscent of a friendship or even family. Trust is the basis for everything, just like buying a used car. When trust and an emotional relationship are established, it is incredibly difficult for a competitor to break through that.
Climate emission reduction objectives guarantee the demand for clean energy technology. Oilon is clearly part of the solution: its burners and heat pumps reduce carbon dioxide emissions by millions of tonnes every year.
When Oilon was founded, no-one knew about climate change. It was believed that nature cleansed itself. Nowadays, Ossi Leiwo is extremely worried about the state of the climate.
“Earth Overshoot Day gets earlier every year. Nowadays, it is already in August. It feels good that Oilon offers solutions for climate challenges and that the emissions can be reduced to such an extent that no-one has to drastically reduce their quality of life.
What about the future of Oilon?
“Thankfully, that’s someone else’s problem.”