MV-Jäähdytys is a family-owned company specialising in the maintenance and projects of cooling, heating, and professional kitchen equipment. Established in 1971, it has been a pioneer in the industry, introducing refrigeration service labels to Finland, being the first to implement a laser-operated thermometer, and creating the now widely adopted service contract concept in the field. The company’s journey to its current state truly began with a generational shift in the early 2000s, when founder Martti Virkki stepped aside and his sons, Lasse and Marko, took over the business. Lasse Virkki served as CEO until 2019. When he transitioned to the role of Chief Development Officer, Ilpo Mäkelä was found as his successor.
Half a decade ago, MV-Jäähdytys stood at a crossroads: with steady growth, the company had reached a size where the benefits of being a small family business had been lost, yet the advantages and resources of a larger company were still lacking. Since the only way was forward, seeking a private equity investor seemed like the logical next step. The choice of a growth partner was based on a shared set of values: domesticity, prioritising employee well-being and providing first-rate, reliable service. The intriguing nature of the company operating in a specialised field appealed to the private equity investor, and the management’s hunger for growth sealed the deal: Korona Invest invested in the company in 2018.
“Many pieces were already in place, and growth-supporting alternatives had been considered within the company when we entered the picture,” says Juho Mäkiaho, Investment Director at Korona Invest. “The desire, opportunity, and capability were already there, and as a private equity investor, we were able to provide support for taking risks.”
Becoming a National Leader in a Traditional Field
Today, there is no industry in which MV-Jäähdytys is not involved. The ascent to becoming a national leader in a traditional and competitive field was achieved through an unconventional sales concept supported by advanced technology. Additionally, MV is the only player that caters to all equipment needs of professional kitchens, easing and expediting the customer’s installation and maintenance requirements.
“Our common goal was to grow into the best growth and service company in our specialised field. MV-Jäähdytys is still the same family-owned company built on a strong set of values and teamwork, but with multiplied revenue, expanded service area, and significantly larger workforce,” stated Mäkiaho in 2022.
MV-Jäähdytys handles a wide range of processes that require both heating and cooling technology. These include cold technology for food cold chains, such as central kitchens, logistics centres, and cold storage in grocery stores; comfort cooling and household heat pump technology; industrial process cooling and temperature control, for example, in the chemical industry; as well as crucial infrastructure in the public sector like hospitals, schools, and kindergartens. The company’s field of operation also includes defense-critical infrastructure and readiness-related functions. Unbeknownst to us, MV-Jäähdytys is involved in our everyday lives: cooling systems impact everything around us, such as traffic lights, gates, radars, and various other seamless operations.
There Is No Company Without Employees
Despite abundant growth, MV-Jäähdytys has managed to uphold its core principle: the company is always the sum of its employees.
“Regardless of the situation, we hold onto our staff. This was essential for us even during the pandemic; not a single furlough was made. Instead, employees were reassigned to other tasks when possible, and together we discussed how to proceed. We took a hit in the results, but as the pandemic eased, we were already running while others were still getting back on their feet,” recounts Ilpo Mäkelä, CEO of MV-Jäähdytys.
Responsibility is also evident in the company’s operations through practical, environmentally friendly measures, such as extending the lifespan of equipment and saving on customers’ energy bills. Additionally, there is ongoing consideration of more efficient ways to recycle refrigerants, which are essentially hazardous waste. While responsibility is a crucial value, these actions are also sound business decisions. That is why many environmentally friendly practices have been ingrained in the company’s operations from the very beginning.
“Nothing superficial would work for us. When prompted by Korona Invest, we began examining our own practices and realised that there were already many environmentally friendly actions at the core of what we do. We just talked about them with their real names, focusing on concrete actions,” explains Mäkelä.
Reviewing the existing practices from an energy efficiency perspective also provided an opportunity to consider new business opportunities.
MV-Cooling faces the challenge that the profession of a refrigeration installer as well as the field in general, is not well-known. There are many well-paying jobs available, but young people are not often drawn to this field. That is why it is important for the company to maintain active collaboration with schools through internships and apprenticeships. It is also crucial to engage employees with the company from the outset, as finding, building, and getting skilled staff up to speed poses a bottleneck for the company’s growth. MV-Jäähdytys plays a significant role in training both new and returning professionals.
The Journey Continues from the Top
In 2022, Nordic Climate Group acquired MV-Jäähdytys, and simultaneously Korona Invest divested its ownership. At the same time, a significant number of the company’s old and new key personnel became part of the new ownership structure. With the support of Korona Invest, the company had grown from a local player to the best national maintenance company in less than five years. Nowadays, its turnover is approximately 30 million euros, and customers are served throughout the whole of Finland. The growth target by 2026 is a turnover of 80 million euros. Mäkelä admits that the goal is ambitious but still attainable, primarily through organic growth.
Despite rapid expansion, internationalisation is not on the company’s agenda in the near future. In the last century, the company briefly expanded to Russia and the Baltics. However, since then, the focus has been firmly on the Finnish market.
”This suits us very well. In our new group, we already have the best refrigeration companies from Sweden and Norway, as well as the first companies from Denmark. We actively exchange best practices efficiently across borders. It’s genuine Nordic entrepreneurship,” says Mäkelä.
Nevertheless, whether at home or elsewhere, MV-Jäähdytys has all the ingredients to continue its success story.
The article is part of the Finnish Venture Capital Association’s and PwC’s Building Growth Competition of 2023 blog series, where we present the stories of the competition finalists. You can find more information about the competition here!