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Why Nokia Chose Stephen Elop

Nokia (s nok) today named Stephen Elop as the new President and CEO of the Finnish phone-maker, effective Sept. 21. Elop is leaving a senior role at Microsoft (s msft) to replace Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, a 30-year member of Nokia who stepped into his leadership role in 2006. The announcement confirms the speculation a few months ago that Nokia was seeking a new leader from outside of Finland for the first time in the company’s history. Kallasvuo leaves Nokia, and its board of directors, with a severance approximately equal to € 4.6 million ($5.84 million).

I’ve previously argued that Nokia is a hardware maker that wants to be a software and services company. Naming Elop to the top spot continues Nokia’s desire to excel in software and services. Why? Elop recently led the Microsoft Business Division, which is responsible for products like Microsoft Office and Sharepoint. He was the COO of Juniper Networks prior to that, and was president and CEO of Macromedia when Adobe (s adbe) purchased his company. In other words: Elop is a software and services man, which is exactly what Nokia needs to have a chance at realizing its vision of providing hardware, software and services.

I’m still not sold that Nokia’s vision is the right one, however. It’s taking far too long for all the pieces to be put into place. Meanwhile, the high-end smartphone market — which often yields the highest profit margins — is racing along as Nokia’s strategy slowly takes shape. By the time a MeeGo device arrives later this year, for example, Nokia’s freshman effort will be competing against products that have been maturing over the past three to four years. In the world of smartphone, which is growing far faster than the feature phone space, that’s an eternity.

My take is that the Nokia board has a similar thought: Under Kallasvuo, it was taking too long for the software and services strategy to unfold. Yes, Nokia has been selling more handsets than anyone else in the world, but the average selling price (ASP) of those units is around $60. The ASP of Apple (s aapl) handsets is roughly 10 times that figure, which is why Apple can afford to sell fewer phones, and of those Apple does sell, it continues to reap rewards through a rich ecosystem and application store.

Nokia’s board understands this challenge. Heck, anyone that has looked at Nokia’s last quarterly financial statements can see it. Although you can’t turn a supertanker quickly, Nokia’s board gave Elop the helm to move the software and service strategies amidst the speedboats of Apple and Google (s goog). There’s still time to turn the ship, but no company in the smartphone space has yet proven it can return to success after falling behind. The lone exception is Motorola (s mot), which embraced Android: something I’ve suggested Nokia do.

Will Elop captain the next company to make a comeback? That’s hard to say, but if Nokia is set on the software and services path, Elop gives the company a good chance, at the very least.

Related GigaOM Pro Research Report (sub req’d):

It’s Time for Nokia to Embrace Android

46 Responses to “Why Nokia Chose Stephen Elop”

  1. Jorma Niemela

    Speed of Market out Paced the Finnish Intelligence!

    One does not need salesmanship to sell a hamburger at $0.10 cents!

    When Nokia captured markets in the 1980-1990 with a cheap Nokia 3310, the price itself sold the phone. Not any intelligence.

    The top management at Nokia patted each others backs,drank vodka and beer in the sauna, and flew First Class on round the world trips.

    The Chinese and the Orientals hated the arrogant Finns, over-indulging, eating, drinking and womanising in brothels, staying in hotel suites where one could play tennis.

    At one occassion the entire sales staff in one China city walked out.

    Another occassion, in USA, an American staff member gave a verbal discharge against a Nokia senior Vice President. When she paused, the Finn arrogantly asked her in his horrid English with his Finnish accent, “Arrre you finnissedde?” To the howling audience, she responded, “No! I am American”!

    Although there are claims that Nokia is 125+ years old, is not correct.

    Nokia was given Salora of Salo on a plate, a company which makes Radio, TV, NMT phones the predecessor of mobile phones, by the consortium of banks for less than $1.00, to take over all the liabilities in 1979. Nokia was a rubber boots and other rubber products manufacturer.

    By sheer accident, the mobile phone market exploded and Nokia simply became over blown, and the balloon took-off. However, the insular Finnish mentality could not keep-up with the pace of growth, except by dogmatic, bureacratic, dictatorship management behaviour.

    The Finns at business meetings, held even with non-Finnish speaking foreign management present, maintained their insular “club” in Finnish. At their Nokia HQ in Espoo, no foreigners were accorded any important management positions. The Eastern European, Asian, Chinese employees were part of the Third or Fourth rung operatives, treated more like ex-Colonial slaves.

    Finns like to pretend that they treat all humans equally, but that is only for public consumption. Behind the back, the foreigners whether they are Swedes, British, Americans or Chinese get the same short-s***.

    Getting a Canadian Stephen Elop may be the first step out of this Finnish merry-go-round.

    Chairman Jorma Ollila had a choice, had he searched where Nokia should be heading in the nearest future. According to history, non-American rarely succeed in USA. And Nokia under a Canadian, even though Stephen Elop worked at Microsoft, will not head a head-lift. By 2012 Summer bells will toll the end of the Canadian.

    And Microsoft will use Nokia like a lemon, squeeze it dry and sling into the garbage can.

    Jorma Ollila, a provincial Finn, who happened to be ar the Right Place at the Right Time, when his CEO committed suicide, using a Finnish hunting rifle, eased himself into the vacated CEO chair, during the shock and turmoil. Now Ollila as Chairman of Shell, Ollila will reduce the company into a “shell” and walk away. That was a stupid British/Dutch mistake!

    Nokia should look Eastwards! Capitalise on the “good reputation” Nokia enjoys in Asia. Get a Chinese to run the business. Sell out before the bottom falls!

  2. Lee Hanley

    It will be interesting to see if there is a cultural clash with this appointment which hinders implementation of the changes needed. A software focused person running a predominately engineering/hardware based organisation plus the US vs European style of management angle for example. If they can make that work then they have a chance of regaining lost ground.

    I am beginning to see them more like a consumer version of RIM, a company with a closely aligned hardware and software proposition whose software doesn’t match up to Apple or Google. Do they go down the Motorola/HTC Android route or the RIM route, by trying to fix the deficiencies in their O/S.

  3. Nokia will never catch Apple in their high end niche, with phones, but even with tablets. Then again, most won’t.

    To catch or beat Cupertino…you also need to have something that beats iTunes. *iTunes* is Apple’s secret weapon/Trojan Horse.

  4. It’s worth remembering nokia’s roots. Their explosive growth came at the expense of analog cellular system providers after the European regulators settled on GSM as the system for next gen networks across the continent. Nokia was able to exploit the technological shift to become the giant they are today.

    Unfortunately for them, a technology shift- “true” Internet access on mobile devices, touch screens, smartphones and app stores- threatens to do the same to them.

    The argument for adopting Android is that Nokia’s worldwide logistics and distribution capabilities are world class and unmatched. They are also (occasionally) excellent at hardware design. I think they have the scale to very effectively compete in this market.

    The problem is that NOK’s shareholders don’t expect a larger, better, Finn HTC. They should have bought Palm, but forgoing that, they have to take a shot at owning the platform, high end, differentiated smartphones and the higher margins that come with it. If this fails, they can revert to being yet another Android player.

    Samsung will be their primary foe if they choose to go that route. I love my iPhone, but hope Nokia succeeds- better that Apple not get lazy..

  5. Julien Fourgeaud

    Kevin, Cash & ASPs are the result of well executed Vision thanks to Leadership.
    OPK was a number man, former CFO, he spent more time on books than with real people. He would not even be able to demo his company’s products.
    Wrote something about how the combination of Elop, Vanjoki and Ojenpera can boost Nokia, based on the changes Nokia operated the past 6 months:

  6. elguillermo

    I have worked for Elop at Macromedia. He is the best leader I have had the opportunity to work for. He has a way to inspire and empower people that I have rarely seen in any other CEO. This is the key skill Nokia will need to turn the ship around.

  7. On the one hand, I can see how bringing in someone who has successfully managed software and services companies (or divisions) could help propel Nokia in this direction.

    However, your allusion to Nokia as a “supertanker” leads me to wonder whether hiring a CEO who has led another “supertanker” (Microsoft Office) – which some believe has tended to suppress rather than promote innovation in new areas or new directions within the company – will bring about the desired result.

    Nokia has a remarkably rich history of reinventing itself over its 150+ year history – moving from paper to rubber to cable (wiring) to electronics to mobile phones – but reinvention becomes increasingly challenging as an organization (or individual) becomes older, larger and/or more successful.

    If Nokia were looking for someone with experience in the reinvention of a large technology company, I would have thought they would look to IBM – the only successful example I can think of in the past few decades – rather than Microsoft.

  8. Fine. I don’t get it. He’s got 1 yr here and 2 years there and suddenly he’s got the chops to change Nokia’s fortunes. I guess I’m the only one continually amazed how these boardrooms select there captains. But have no fear, he’ll ably blame his failures on 9/11 or the “tech bubble” or the “mortgage crisis”. That’s how we roll.

  9. Can someone please explain to me why in the world should Nokia go Android, at this stage of the game??? Did I miss anything? Is Nokia’s marketshare in the single digits???

    Why the heck would Nokia want to become just another Android hardware manufacturer alongside dozens of other such companies? Going Android now is the highway towards dwindling marketshare for Nokia.

    Owning the software is controlling your destiny — you have more flexibility and freedom, not being at the mercy of another company dictating the direction to go. HP buying Palm is a clear example of such easy-to-grasp concept.

    If Nokia had 4% worldwide smartphone marketshare, then obsolutely: let’s adopt Android to stay in the game. But reality is it has 40% marketshare!

    • Things are changing my friend, Android phones are plummeting in price, it is widely acknowledged that Android apps are much better than Symbians and now with cheap Androids complete with perfect Google apps, Nokia’s smartphone markethshare is about to tumble, watch the next 6-12 months carefully.

      • Did you say the same thing a few of years ago when the iPhone came out?

        Besides, you didn’t even answer my questions. You are just pitching how great Android is. Explain to me how it would be a sound business move for Nokia to abandon its current 40% marketshare.

        Yeah, I’m watching the next 6-12 months very closely. Especially after Nokia releases its N8 and other next gen OS devices. Hope you’ll come back here so we can revisit this subject. :)

      • Sorry, rdx, once again you’re wrong. The low cost Pulse and Tattoo Android phones made little or no impact on Nokia sales.

        Incidentally Gartner and IDC both have Symbian comfortably ahead of Android for the next four years. Gartner thins Android may catch Symbian then, IDC do not. I tend to agree with the latter – Android phones just doesn’t have the same cachet outside the US that Nokia does.

  10. rohitsift

    Nokia’s selection shows their recognition of the tough i= they face – kudos. Elop (though I am usually biased positively about Canadians) doesn’t seem to have ANY experience nurturing/delivering innovation based products. He was at Juniper for about a year (Jan07 -Jan 08?) and ran Ops at macromedia (’98 onwards) and was CIO @ Boston Chicken prior to that. So where exactly is the snippet of DNA that will deliver the kind of disruptive thinking that Nokia needs at the moment ?

  11. Well im a 20 yr old finn and if you’d known Nokia has never been the biggest factor in Usa, cause the americans have allways favoured their own products, and until recently they’ve only reached the level of nokia.

    Nokia has been the biggest provider in everywere ealse in the world and it’s right now and it will allways be.

    You also fail to see that the cheap phones have a hundred times bigger market and thats the point main point which has made Nokia the biggest.

    So yes iphone sells well (but only for a little % of people). You look at how well apple phones have grown but there is a certain limit, you know the market and so on, so the iphone has reached that limit. So as a company u have to do every day every year a better result. For apple to stay in this position their every customer had to buy a device a year(talking about phones) and i dont see that happening. spacially the new phone not being much upgrade. They’ed have to attract a lot of new customers from other parts of the world so there ull compete against othercompanies and speacially against cheaper options.

    So by having one phone on market it can stay for a short period of time but to really get threatning they’d have to get so much bigger. Apple is not looking for that and they don’t have the resources like nokia. So the growth of apple in phones is just % but when you compaire apple and nokia in mass, in this i mean everything that comes to phones, it would take for ever to apple to reach it.

    And as Steve says if they are not good at something they wont do it. So The iphone cant really grow in any direction, they can just have the basic platform and have itunes and some apps. Nokia is on the otherhand creating its own navigation systems and so onand has millions of patents and so on. They make their own applications tooand they will grow even ´bigger. Their smartphones are getting on the same level if not better specially on the longrun apple doesnt look promising…

    at the end of the day smartphones are the thing people talk about but eat very small piece of market. In couple of years you cant sell them for 800, theyll be more like 100 and then aplle is screwed. theyd have to come with a new idea in few years and i fail to soo such major upgrade. so apple is screwed

    • Gustav – you’re only 20 years old and you can’t really see what’s going on in the world.

      Smartphones are winning based on hardware AND ecosystems. iPhone and Android are way ahead. Nokia’s hardware is overpriced and dated, and the Symbian ecosystem is way behind.

      Feature phones are competing based on price. Nokia can’t win this battle either. China Inc is going to take Nokia’s share here. Have you seen the phones on display in Shanghai and Hong Kong?

      In other words, Nokia is being squeezed out and unless something drastic happens, Nokia is dead. Don’t forget that Windows Phone 7 is also about to launch, which will erode Symbian market share even more.

      Nokia: reinvent or perish.

  12. Hmm, a welcome change at Espoo. Am assuming here that the Nokia board expects a lot from the new boss; a lot more than merely sticking android to Nokia hardware. That would be too easy – and wouldn’t require someone with the kind of background that Stephen Elop brings. That said, things do hot up now, more than ever before. Is there a room for a third smart phone OS? How big is the possibility that Nokia soon counts Dell or Acer amongst rivals? What happens now to Intel vs Arm?

  13. Just a general comment to those who want to debate financial and market-share numbers: all good points, but why are you not discussing the fact that Nokia is making a major leadership change and, more importantly, why they’re making that change? If the numbers and future expectations are so good, why make the change at all? Curious as to your thoughts on that, since that’s the thrust of the post.

    • Kevin,

      I totally agree with you. I dont get where these Nokia fanatics come from who claim that Symbiam is competent even when the market and everyone else thinks otherwise…probably some Finnish folk too blinded by nationalism or Nokia employees…

    • I’d be annoyed if Elop changes Nokia’s course too much at this point. OPK did a pretty good job at modernizing a company that wasn’t prepared for the direction that the industry would go post iPhone. That’s not to say he didn’t make mistakes but who’d have predicted how much the industry would change in such a short time?

      Nokia now for the first time in years have a line up of phones about to launch that put them on par with the rest of the industry but crucially thanks to Symbain’s superior architecture which was designed solely for mobile should mean that much more is possible with far lower spec’d hardware giving them the potential for a price advantage, size advantage, battery advantage or all three.

      All that said I do think OPK had to go if only because as a company Nokia was failing to get there message across and ultimately OPK was responsible for this.

    • They’re making the change because OPK failed to react quickly enough to the change to touchscreens for high end phones and did not crack the US market as he said he would.

      Elop is a better marketeer and has contacts in the US carriers. He’s a good choice. This, however, will have little bearing on Nokia’s product or OS strategy for the next few years.

      This was inevitable. I thought I’d mentioned this months ago?

    • Can Nokia be turned around? Only if the new CEO takes radical measures…

      Kevin – I agree with your assessment. While I admire Nokia, radical action is clearly needed to regain its competitive edge. Here are evidence and views from others who concur.

      Re: Android, developers are the most important reason why Nokia should embrace the platform:
      1. Android is attracting a growing number of innovative developers, much like the App store did initially. As the gap in innovative apps grows, consumers will increasingly shun Nokia’s handsets and opt for other OEM’s devices that offer access to the Android marketplace.
      2. On average Symbian takes 15+ months to learn, while Android requires 6. With more new developers focusing on mobile, this is a significant handicap.
      3. Programming in Android is much more efficient. Compared to Android, developers say that programming apps in Symbian requires 3x more code (and 2x, compared to Apple’s iOS). Source for 2 and 3: VisionMobile,

      Thucydides Sigs of VisionMobile also posted an insightful piece last month titled “How to save Nokia (from itself)” – recommended reading. Among his recommendations, the most important is the need to “transform Nokia’s handset development efforts from a mammoth machine into small, fast moving (9-12 month development cycle) commando units of integrated software, hardware, mechanical and design specialists.”

      On this last point, a few months ago Juhani Risku (former Nokai executive) offered a scathing, but constructive critique in Uusi Nokia (New Nokia – the manuscript). He observed that “despite a rich R&D base [that] has pioneered many of the innovations competitors now feature, Nokia has forgotten how to bring innovative products to market. Instead, a risk-averse bureaucracy has grown up that stifles innovation – it makes progress slow or non-existent.” Risku offers a number of important recommendations. Interestingly, he cautioned against bringing in American executives, saying “To avoid catastrophic nominations no American or foreigner should be the CIO/CCO because Nokia product creation from innovations through concepting to design is very Finnish issue. The American movement, American business culture with arrogance and aggression has paralysed Nokia since 2003.” It will be interesting to see who is right on this issue. Links and commentary on Risku’s manuscript appeared in The Register at

      Dr. Phil Hendrix, immr and GigaOm Pro analyst

      • Phil, your information is ill judged and out of date.

        Symbian^3 uses Qt framework which in no way takes 15 months to learn. Please don’t make the mistake of relating S60 (which is difficult) to this because that’s what your source is based on.

        Also please name the innovative apps you’re referring to so we can see what they are and if they’re cross platform otherwise you’re just making an unfounded supposition.

        Moving to Android would be a fundamentally stupid move for a lot of reasons.

      • I agree with Mark here.

        QT is nowhere near a difficult to develop for as Symbian C++ with all its idiosyncrasies was. Nokia also has things like PySide which will bring QT bindings for the Python language to symbian and meego which should allow even fast development.

        In the past it was a complicated process finding information about Symbian development with different companies owning different bits (UIQ, S60) but this has changed so much in the past year and the signs are good that things will continue to improve. It is now very easy to go to Nokia’s developer site get all the tools and informations and produce an app based in QT.

        I’ve developed for most of the mobile platforms and really do think that this is one area where Nokia is finally looking very strong.

      • Mark/APS – your arguments that “Symbian is now easier to learn and use” may be valid – unfortunately, VisionMobile’s survey shows that “Android has emerged as the mindshare leader” among developers, with large gaps between Android and Symbian on efficiency and other criteria. Again, while this is a recent survey with a good size sample (n = 401), I’d be interested in seeing other recent evidence on developers’ use, perceptions and intentions of competing platforms. GigaOm Pro is in the midst of conducting a survey with developers and should have results available soon.

  14. The ASP you quote is for all phones, not smartphones. This is higher. When the N8 and C7 go on sale it will increase.

    Your profit quotes also include NSN, not just the handset division.

    Basically in a year’s time all the tech journals who didn’t really get it will be scratching their heads as Nokia retain or increase share and increase profits.

  15. Now that Nokia finds in the mobile OS dilemma (it seems unable to make its mind up about Symbian 3, Symbian 4, Meego), they should probably consider offering superphones with a choice of atleast operating systems. One of them ought to be Android. And then, let the market decide what is best. Phone hardware is fairly powerful and standardized now. Supporting two OSes cannot be a massive issue.

    The Symbian lobby seems to be too strong for Nokia to see the benefits of Android. But even the upcoming Symbian 3 is not very impressive. And Meego has not exactly proven itself either. Seems like a big gamble to me.

  16. Your “facts” are just not correct. There have been multiple times when Nokia has been suffering from competition attacking with new designs such as Motorola Razr and earlier clamshells, but Nokia has always got their product lineup fixed and been back. They are small player in the USA, but the biggest in all other countries of the world. US is important, and would gain profits for Nokian (and will in time), but the rest of the world is a rather big market too.

    Nokia´s smartphone sales have gone up globally 3 quarters in row, now in 41% of global market share. Apple market share has gone down from 17% in smartphones (Q3/2009) to 14% in Q2/2010. Other big players have also lost market share in that segment. But that is globally, not in the USA.

    • Those competitive “attacks” were hardware only. Competing in today’s smartphone market requires the ability to step out in front of the pack equally – with hardware and software.

      I see Kevin’s point about Elop’s experience. I’m not convinced administrative experience is enough to lead Nokia into new directions.

  17. I would like to say that, Andriod OS is for those who are dying in the market. By adopting android, not one company will excel and make it to the top. only google will benifit from it.
    Motorola is merely serviving. Motorola will not be the same again.