Summary:

Reports suggest Nokia could be preparing to elevate F-Secure founder Risto Siilasmaa from its board to the role of chairman — and a speech from 2009 gives an intriguing insight into how he could view his role at the top of the troubled mobile giant.

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Reports from Finland suggest that Nokia is about to get itself a new chairman, with Risto Siilasmaa — best known as the founder of computer security company F-Secure — set to replace the outgoing Jorma Ollila.

According to Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, Nokia’s nomination committee is preparing to bring in Siilasmaa later this year after a two year search for somebody to replace Ollila, the former CEO credited with turning the company into a global force in the mobile industry:

Nokia’s Board of Directors should publish the proposals on Thursday January 26, immediately after the company’s interim report.
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One of the main strengths of Siilasmaa for the Nomination Committee is the fact that he knows the industry, and has acquired experience as chairman of the board of telecom operator Elisa.

Nokia’s board has made some surprising appointments in the last few years, chiefly Canadian CEO Stephen Elop who came from Microsoft under a cloud and subsequently decided to ditch Nokia’s Symbian software and swap to Windows Phone. But the company is said to be looking for somebody not only from Finland, but from inside the company’s board, to take over the chairman’s role.

If it does appoint the 45-year-old Siilasmaa, it certainly would not be straying too far from home — he’s a born and bred Finn who has invested in many Nordic startups and, perhaps more importantly, has actually been a member of Nokia’s board since 2008.

Still, that experience doesn’t necessarily make him an obvious choice. He is not a Nokia insider, and whether he would get support from the company’s middle management — many of whom are fiercely protective of the business and already feel undermined by Elop’s sweeping changes — remains to be seen.

Indeed, the HS report quotes one unnamed insider who questions whether Siilasmaa has the international experience and credibility to make him a good choice, suggesting the knives could already be out.

Still, if you want to get an insight into Siilasmaa’s way of thinking, then it is worth taking a look at this video of a speech he gave after being awarded Nordic Chairman of the Year in 2009.

In it, he explains his view of how a board and chairman can operate alongside a CEO — not just as a rubber stamp for management decisions, but as somebody who can challenge the management if things are off. That’s an important factor for Nokia to consider, since it is trying to turn around its troubled smartphone business, shore up its declining market share and fight a public relations battle all at the same time.

“A board position must be a two-way street,” he says in the video. “The company gets a lot by getting great board members, but the board member needs to get something as well — and it can’t just be compensation: the board member who’s focused on compensation is almost, by definition, a bad board member. One should have a passion about the company’s business and have an enjoyment from learning about what the company does, and about the world itself through what the company does.”

Before going on to describe his working relationship between chairman and CEO, he also points out that the board’s role is not simply to support the chief executive.

“Somebody would tell you that the board’s only real job is to pick the CEO — many people would subscribe to that view,” he says. “But obviously things are not that simple. A strong board supports the CEO but also challenges the CEO. A strong board supports the management team, but also challenges the management team. A good board also works with the shareholders, maybe sometimes challenging them, in addition to working for them in the company.”

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