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This year, Planmeca is celebrating 50 years of contributions to modern dental practice. Many of our readers will know Heikki Kyöstilä, chairman and CEO of the Finnish dental manufacturer. Kyöstilä has been credited with putting Finland on the global dental map, and he has remained humble and customer-focused even as Planmeca set sales records and grew into a household name in dentistry. Dental Tribune International spoke with Kyöstilä to find out more about Planmeca’s achievements and about the man who founded one of the largest dental manufacturers in the world.
Mr Kyöstilä, you founded Planmeca in 1971 as a small-scale business; however, you quickly adopted a global approach. What was the rationale behind the founding of the company and what have been the greatest obstacles so far during its development?
Back in the 1960s, when I was working as a sales representative for a Finnish dental supply company, almost all dental products sold in Finland were imported. I realised that—especially when it came to patient chairs—the design and ergonomics of these products could easily be improved. That is why I decided to set up my own business. I thought, “Why not start manufacturing products of our own?”
The beginning was financially tough, since Finnish banks did not easily grant loans to start-up companies. I had to sell my sailing boat—my only possession, back then—in order to raise an initial capital of 5,000 Finnish marks, which is roughly the equivalent of €7,000 today.
However, having realised that the Finnish dental market simply was not big enough to build upon, I immediately aimed for the international market. Today, there are only around 4,000 dental professionals in Finland, whereas the number is close to 2 million globally. Luckily, I had the opportunity to take part in the International Dental Show in Munich in 1971. I exhibited my first products at the fair—an ergonomic dental stool and an instrument cabinet.
One of the biggest challenges in the beginning was simply putting Finland on the map and getting the word out about Finnish dental products. It was not only our company that was unknown but also our country of origin. Many of our customers had no idea where we were located; however, little by little, we began to gain a foothold in the industry.
What have been the greatest milestones in the history of Planmeca?
Businesswise, I would say that the achievement that I am personally the proudest of is that of having secured the largest individual sales deals in the history of dentistry. Planmeca entered the US market in 1983 with the sale of 10,000 patient chairs, and we delivered over 1,000 dental units to Saudi Arabian dental institutions in 2012. In terms of technological innovations, one of our most significant milestones was the development of the Planmeca Dimaxis all-in-one software concept in the 1990s. It really was a groundbreaking and bold innovation at the time and was launched long before the term “software ecosystem” became a buzzword. The Dimaxis concept paved the way for many new ideas that would further improve the daily dental workflow.
I am also extremely proud of our algorithm expertise. We have already managed to lower patient doses considerably and cancel from 3D images the effects of patient movement. We continue to work tirelessly to keep introducing new innovative algorithms that will further improve image quality and help to provide the best basis for diagnosis.
Today, Planmeca is one of the world’s largest privately-owned dental manufacturers. Have you ever been tempted to sell the business or to consider consolidation with a larger dental group?
Quite frankly, no. Naturally, we have received many offers over the years, but selling a company that is the result of the life’s work of so many people is not a decision one would take lightly. We also want to preserve our independence—the independence to change our course, if needed, to make fast decisions and product modifications based on the feedback that we receive from customers, and to invest in new companies and product development.
“For me, above all else, financial success means that I am able to secure the workplaces of my staff and create new career opportunities for young people”
Planmeca rapidly expanded its international business as early as the 1980s with the establishment of subsidiaries in the US, Italy and Sweden; and yet your headquarters has remained in Helsinki. How has being located in Finland contributed to the success of the company and how important has investment in the national economy been for you?
I have always believed in Finnish know-how and education. Despite our global success, I wanted to keep the company’s production located in Finland in order to preserve the agility, low hierarchy and entrepreneurial spirit that has defined the company from its early days. When everything is in close proximity, it is so much easier to make fast decisions and product modifications. Also, Finnish design is recognised around the world, and this has always been one of our key competitive advantages.
For me, above all else, financial success means that I am able to secure the workplaces of my staff and create new career opportunities for young people in Finland.
What is a typical working day for Heikki Kyöstilä?
Before the pandemic, I used to spend around 100 days every year travelling for business—meeting our customers and partners around the world. Meeting them in person has always been the spice of my working career. Naturally, those meetings are now taking place online.
Every day is different in this fast-paced company and industry. I really like to take the time to talk to my staff, to visit our production facilities and to stay up to date with whatever is going on in each department—whether it be product development, design, marketing, production or human resources.
What do you do when you’re not running one of the world’s largest dental companies?
My workdays are still quite long; for me, however, the dental business is both a career and a hobby. When I do have the time, I enjoy playing golf—in Helsinki in the summer and in Spain in the wintertime.
Despite the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Planmeca Group achieved sales of €764 million in 2020. How has Planmeca stayed strong throughout the last twelve months and what kinds of changes has the company undergone so far during the pandemic?
No one could have imagined the events of 2020—it was a year unlike any other. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and we certainly had to discover new ways of working and of interacting with our customers. When the pandemic began, we quickly realised that we must move customer interactions online. As a starting point, we organised a full series of webinars in several different languages as part of our new Time to Learn training concept. These webinars have allowed our customers to further improve their expertise and to make the most of their Planmeca equipment. Webinars have proved to be an effective way for us to cover highly topical themes such as infection control. We have already organised over 100 webinars in different languages.
“[The] need for dental care has certainly not diminished despite the changing world”
All in all, we have been lucky that many of our customers have been able to keep their services open most of the time—at least partly—and the need for dental care has certainly not diminished despite the changing world.
Before the pandemic, Planmeca participated in thousands of dental events, trade fairs and congresses worldwide. How have you managed to build and maintain relationships with your customers and partners over the past months?
Indeed, it has always been very important for us to meet customers at events around the world and, especially, to welcome guests here in Helsinki. Before the pandemic, thousands of dental professionals visited our headquarters every year. This has not been possible during the pandemic and we have had to arrange these meetings virtually, which has actually brought us even closer to our customers in many ways. For example, we took our popular Digital Dentistry World Tour online for the first time ever. It was a completely new type of dental event that was streamed in eight languages. Thousands of viewers from over 100 countries were able to tune in at the same time, and it was quite exciting to meet so many of our customers at once.
What lies in the future for Planmeca, and where do you see the company’s greatest potential for growth in the near term?
The future is certainly looking bright. We have several interesting dental and medical projects underway in our R & D department. We continue to deepen our knowledge, expertise and involvement in different specialty areas, such as orthodontics, medical imaging and new 3D applications. This will allow us to explore new technological possibilities and business opportunities.
At the age of 75, is retirement an option for Heikki Kyöstilä?
For me, Planmeca is a way of life and I certainly do not see retirement as an option anytime soon. I want to continue to stay close to my customers and staff, and I want to be involved in everything that is going on in the company. Working together with dental professionals towards a mutual goal of better patient care is truly rewarding.