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Ouch: Meet the man who quit Nokia for Palm

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Some people wonder whether lightning ever strikes twice. Ari Jaaksi must feel as if it can’t stop finding him.

After all, the Finnish executive has a couple of terrible moments in the last year. First he quit Nokia (s:NOK) last fall after running into trouble with MeeGo — the project to build the company’s next generation operating system that he had been overseeing. Shortly afterwards, the system was all but executed as new Nokia boss Stephen Elop decided to partner up with Microsoft instead.

Jaaksi’s timely exit came after Palm boss Jon Rubinstein lured him to HP (s:HPQ) to become senior vice president of WebOS — the project to build that company’s next generation operating system. Last week, of course, just a few months after the Finn made the jump, HP has discontinued its Touchpad and killed off all WebOS hardware. The entire system is not yet dead, but the writing must surely be on the wall.

So what’s happened? In an interview with a Finnish newspaper published this weekend, Jaaksi outlines the reasons that he left Nokia.

First, he suggests that Nokia never really wanted MeeGo to succeed, or at the very least could not wean itself off an addiction to its existing Symbian system — a “sacred cow” that took precedence at every turn.

“Symbian was a religion inside Nokia,” he told Helsingin Sanomat in an article only available in full in print but excerpted here. “The organization built around MeeGo back then made it impossible to work; I could not see how I was going to do my job.”

Although there have been plenty of reports suggesting that former Nokia boss Oli Pekka Kallasvuo had set up Symbian and MeeGo to compete with each other, Jaaksi says that he was always hampered by internal politics weighted against him — leaving him often turning up to gunfights armed with a knife.

For example, when the N900 was released in November 2009, the company’s biggest worry was not whether the product worked: “The biggest concern was how the telephone affects Symbian,” he said. “Not on how good the phone was or whether it sold.”

Second time unlucky

Although Jaaksi doesn’t address HP’s latest news — the interview was presumably conducted before last week’s bombshell announcement — he still comments indirectly on Palm, suggesting that he was tempted by the idea of leaving a company in trouble and moving to a safer and more fertile environment.

“HP wanted me more than Nokia, in every way possible,” he says in the interview. “And I’m not just talking about my paycheck.”

In fact, HP seems to have been in just as much of a mess as his previous employer, even though it may have been turmoil of a different sort. The fact that HP was bringing in senior figures less than a year before killing off the whole idea of building WebOS devices implies that the company was as directionless and confused as Nokia.

Jaaksi has remained publicly positive since the Touchpad news, making a foray onto Twitter to tell the world that “we will continue webOS platform full speed!”, but it must feel particularly galling to have traded one sort of uncertainty for another.

So is it from the frying pan and into the fire? Well, the parallels are not exact. It would seem crazy to claim that WebOS was the victim of a religious war inside HP, for example. But the ultimate outcome at both businesses seems to be the same — if Nokia was hampered by technology as religion that left it unable to change, then HP seems to be troubled by a sort of agnostic attitude that means it has been unable to commit.

The result? WebOS has been left in purgatory… and Jaaksi must be hoping that he can avoid yet another lightning bolt sent down from the heavens.

Photograph used under Creative Commons license courtesy of Flickr user Szilveszter_Farkas

7 Responses to “Ouch: Meet the man who quit Nokia for Palm”

  1. Bobbie Johnson

    I’ve just updated this post to correct the name of the newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (for some reason I always get that wrong!) and point out that the full version of the interview is not available online.

  2. Hardeep Singh

    Someone get him a job as a head of iOS development. Lol

    But in all seriousness, Intel should hire him and him implement his vision for Meego, thats too useful a product to die of neglect like this.