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Fennovoima’s CEO Joachim Specht has observed that Finns are well informed when it comes to the benefits of nuclear energy. Photo by Paula Virta

Fennovoima’s CEO: “You are only as good as your team”

In June 2020, Joachim Specht took up his post as CEO of Fennovoima. He has brought with him broad experience, proven competency and a management track record well-suited to meet his new challenges.

An educated engineer with over thirty years in the nuclear power industry, 58-year old Joachim Specht’s resumé tells a story of a man who has dedicated his life to his profession.

What makes Specht’s career journey unique is that he is a person who has been on both supplier and operator sides of the nuclear power industry.

Experienced in delivering nuclear power projects

Upon his graduation in 1990 from the Aachen University of Technology, Germany, where he earned his Master of Science Degree in Metallurgy and Materials Science, Specht joined Siemens/KWU and was immediately sent packing for his first assignment abroad.

“For most of my career, I’ve been engaged in large, international nuclear power projects,” Specht tells. “It started with manufacturing and replacing steam generators for the Ascó nuclear power plant in Spain. Later in 1996 I joined a team in Brazil as one of three site managers responsible for the building and commissioning of the Angra 2 nuclear reactor.”

“I used to say that when I came to Brazil in 1996 the nuclear containment facility was empty; when I left in 2000 a nuclear reactor was operating inside it.”

As a young project manager, at times with over 5,000 workers on site and many his senior,

Specht forged his simple management philosophy: Assemble the best team possible, insist that timetables be met and budgets kept, but trust your people.

“I am not a control freak,” he insists. “I prefer to give people the freedom, flexibility and space necessary for their own talents to shine. But above all it is about teamwork.”

“I believe you are only as good as your team.”

“I know the logic of both sides of the table”

Specht brings to Fennovoima a unique diversity to his task as CEO in that he has experience from both supplier and operator sides of the nuclear power industry.

“I know the logic of both sides of the table from direct experience,” he says. “In this industry, it is essential to understand the differences in mindset between a contractor, who accepts higher risks, and a utility operator, who is responsible for billions of euros in long-term assets and is accountable for nuclear safety.”

“I prefer to give people the freedom, flexibility and space necessary for their own talents to shine.”

In 2007, he joined the world’s largest investor-owned electric utility company, Germany’s E.ON, taking the position of Senior Vice President of its nuclear power division, PreussenElektra, and managing all of their nuclear projects. Among the five projects in his portfolio, Fennovoima was one as they were an early partner.

But as nuclear power generation fell out of favor in Specht’s homeland of Germany, it led to E.ON withdrawing from the Hanhikivi 1 project in 2012. However, just as one door closed, another one opened a few years later.

Settling into a new life in Helsinki and Pyhäjoki

In early 2020 a search was conducted for a new CEO and following a careful vetting process the Fennovoima Board selected Specht for the position, with the starting date of June 2020.

Flying into Helsinki for his first day on the job, things got off to a somewhat tentative start as the newly appointed CEO was immediately whisked away for a two-week quarantine in isolation.

“Don’t worry, this was not mistaken for Finnish hospitality,” he chuckles. “Of course, it was necessary that I quarantine for two weeks due to the COVID-19 situation, so there was some improvising, working remotely, and social distancing required, but I’ve caught up.”

In the beginning much of his time since was devoted to engaging company stakeholders, visiting the Hanhikivi site he first visited years earlier, and meeting with mayors and municipal officials in and around the Pyhäjoki region.

“The meetings have been open and positive. I am grateful for the strong local support for the project, and I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the employment and new business opportunities that we will provide, as well as to present our safety program at Hanhikivi 1.”

Specht also is aware of the fact that while there are those who do take opposing views to nuclear, most Finns are pragmatic and realistic when considering the benefits of nuclear power.

“I have observed that Finns are well informed when it comes to nuclear energy. Still, I use every opportunity to reinforce the message that Hanhikivi 1 will be CO2 free and will provide 1200 MW of power that will not need to be imported, in line with national environmental and energy goals.”

Hanhikivi 1: A people story

As the project moves forward with the start of construction of the Administration building in Hanhikivi peninsula and preparation of the application for reactor licensing, Specht sees a gradual transition of personnel from Helsinki to Pyhäjoki. Indeed, he sees himself relocating to the area when headcount and site construction reaches the appropriate stage, while constantly visiting the site.

“Our future at Hanhikivi 1 will be defined by our team,” proclaims a confident Specht. “It will be a people story.”

Article updated 26.7.2021 (originally published 6.10.2020).