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Category winner:
Pushing the Right Buttons: Global Talent Management at KONE Corporation

This case won the Human Resource Management/Organisational Behaviour category at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2020. #CaseAwards2020

Presentation of the trophies for the Human Resource Management/Organisational Behaviour category 2020
Adam Smale receiving his Case Award Ingmar Bjorkman receiving his Case Award Johanna Saarinen

Celebrating the win

Unfortunately, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we were unable to present the authors in person with their trophies for winning the Human Resource Management/Organisational Behaviour category in 2020.

Even though we couldn't make it the trophies did!

We are delighted to celebrate Adam, Ingmar and Johanna’s win by sharing these pictures of them with their awards - congratulations!

Discover more about the winning case below.

Find out more about the Case Awards here.

The case

one doorWho – the protagonists

Matti Alahuhta, KONE’s President and CEO; Kerttu Tuomas, Vice President Human Resources; and William B Johnson, Managing Director, Greater China.


KONE is one of Finland’s largest companies. KONE has achieved its international growth largely through acquisitions, and it is listed on the Helsinki Stock Exchange.


KONE’s talent management activities is one of the corporation’s ‘must-win’ battles.

Matti has his eyes on China and how KONE will maintain its competiveness in the industry’s most competitive market.


KONE is headquartered in Espoo, Finland and employs around 40,000 employees across 50 countries. The case has a special focus on KONE’s talent management challenges in China.



KONE’s shares have been traded on the Helsinki Stock Exchange since 1967, while it made €7 billion in 2013.

KONE’s acquisition strategy really started in 1968 with the purchase of Sweden’s Asea-Graham. The number of foreign subsidiaries quickly grew from four to about 100 units over the following 20 years.

The case focuses on developments in global talent management at KONE from when Alahuhta joins as CEO in 2006, right up to 2014.

Key quote

“The people were reactive, tentative, didn’t have the spirit I was looking for. The company didn’t see itself in first place. People didn’t have a clear understanding of what the opportunities were and that was having a direct impact on how the people operated.” – William Johnson, Managing Director, KONE Greater China, on the struggles in the country.

What next?

What kinds of improvements should KONE make to its talent management activities globally, and China in particular? How do they support leadership bench strength and talent mobility in and out of China, and what is the best solution to the language issue?

Interested in finding out more?

Download the case and teaching note

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Pushing the Right Buttons: Global Talent Management at KONE Corporation
Ref 415-111-1

Teaching note
Ref 415-111-8

The authors


Adam Smale, Ingmar Björkman and Johanna Saarinen

Adam, Ingmar and Johanna discuss the popularity of talent management and why students need to be placed in the shoes of protagonists.


The authors said: “We are very honoured and flattered that the case has been used by so many instructors, and in such a variety of countries.

“It also serves as a kind of validation that the global talent management issues we, as authors, think are important for many companies today seem to resonate in classrooms around the world.

“We are also grateful that instructors and students have made the effort to examine what a company located in the small Nordic country of Finland, yet one of the leaders in its industry, has to offer in terms of learning about global talent management.

“The award is of course also encouraging feedback on our work, giving us further motivation to continue to write teaching cases and to improve this popular case.”

Talent management on the rise

The trio continued: “Talent management as a topic, which we acknowledge does come with some ambiguities in terms of definition (and a class discussion topic in itself), has risen quickly onto top management team agendas.


“In that respect, we believe the case has been riding the crest of that wave. Details relating to how KONE’s global talent management system works therefore provides many topical discussion points on how to go about building one, and why.

“Whilst the case is not to be viewed as ‘best practice’, at the time of publication KONE’s talent management practices were generally seen as quite advanced. It can thus serve as a source of ideas, but also opportunities to discuss critically the choices they have made.”

Field research is key

The authors commented: “The case is based on field research, including visits to global headquarters and China. This helped us in not only identifying the key burning issues, but also in understanding the perspectives and feelings of the main protagonists. Bringing these ‘voices from the field’ into teaching cases is important and it was also the source of many highlights for us. For instance, hearing the CEO’s, global HR’s and head of China’s personal views on what to do in China was very insightful and a classic example of global-local dilemmas in action.”

Writing to immerse students

“It is about being able to put students in the shoes of the protagonists and forcing them to think about what they would do.

“This means, for example, that it is important in both the scene setting and closing parts of the case that students are brought to the level of the manager(s) that must make decisions.

“In our case, these issues and the people involved were very real and we inserted direct quotations, so it is easier to get students to immerse themselves in the issues at hand. If students don’t feel like they have to make sense of the situation at hand and based on that make a difficult decision, then the power of the case method is somewhat diminished.

“This is also why we suggest a role play exercise in the teaching note: it is a means to force students to understand the same managerial issue from different perspectives and think about what that person would feel and do in that situation.”

About the authors

Adam Smale is a Professor of Human Resource Management and is currently Dean of the School of Management at the University of Vaasa, Finland.
e adam.smale@univaasa.fi
tw @DrSmale

Ingmar Björkman is Professor of International Business and has just finished his eight-year term as Dean of Aalto University School of Business, Finland.
e ingmar.bjorkman@aalto.fi

Johanna Saarinen was a doctoral researcher at Aalto University School of Business when the case was written. She is now Director, Talent Acquisition and Development at Vaisala, Finland.
e johanna.saarinen@vaisala.com
tw @JohannaSaarine


View all the 2020 winners