Businessweek: Stephen Elop's Nokia Adventure

Published by Rafe Blandford at 9:19 UTC, June 3rd 2011

Bloomberg Businessweek has published an in-depth article, titled 'Stephen Elop's Nokia Adventure', which describes how Nokia's new CEO is trying to turn the company around. It covers his first 8 months at the company and looks at the story behind Nokia's new strategy. There's a lot of interesting detail about the decision making behind Nokia's smartphone strategy, which took place in the first few weeks of 2011.

Key points from the article:

  • On his first day in charge, September 21st, Elop sent an email to every employee asking what they thought should change. There were more than 2,000 responses and most were about accountability. 
  • On January 3rd Kai Oistämö raised concerns, with Elop, about MeeGo, which was scheduled to gradually replace Symbian. The two men decided to interview a number of key personnel.
    Before the first interview, Elop drew out what he knew about the plans for MeeGo on a whiteboard, with a different color marker for the products being developed, their target date for introduction, and the current levels of bugs in each product. Soon the whiteboard was filled with color, and the news was not good: At its current pace, Nokia was on track to introduce only three MeeGo-driven models before 2014—far too slow to keep the company in the game. Elop tried to call Oistämö, but his phone battery was dead. "He must have been trying an Android phone that day," says Elop. When they finally spoke late on Jan. 4, "It was truly an oh-s--t moment—and really, really painful to realize where we were," says Oistämö. Months later, Oistämö still struggles to hold back tears. "MeeGo had been the collective hope of the company," he says, "and we'd come to the conclusion that the emperor had no clothes. It's not a nice thing."
  • The deal with Microsoft was done in principal On January 8th at meetings in London.
    "We got a deal that was completely different from anything they'd ever done before, and it's because we promised to do our best work for Windows Mobile 7," says Elop. 
  • Google refused to give Nokia any advantages over its smaller partners:
    Nokia's corps of 11,600 engineers would have next to no ability to add their own innovations to Google's software. "It just didn't feel right," Elop says... "We'd be just another company distributing Android. That's not Nokia! We need to fight!"  
  • Nokia will save an estimated $1.4 billion annually by discontinuing Symbian.
  • Nokia will invest more to "protect and build" the companies low-end phone business.

  • The third pillar of Nokia's strategy, 'New Disruptions', is a:
    ...a fully sanctioned skunkworks, with teams in Helsinki and Silicon Valley, staffed by top technical talent from the discontinued Symbian and MeeGo efforts, especially MeeGo.... The goal, as Elop told a group of engineers in Berlin on Feb. 29, is once again to "find that next big thing that blows away Apple, Android, and everything we're doing with Microsoft right now and makes it irrelevant—all of it. So go for it, without having to worry about saving Nokia's rear end in the next 12 months. I've taken off the handcuffs."
  • A big part of Elop's challenge is convincing Nokia's own employees that a comeback is quietly underway:
    ...he is not above quoting Sun Tzu's Art of War. One of its guiding principles, he notes, is " 'first, you must believe in yourself.' That's a message we have embraced."

You can read the full article on the Businessweek website here.

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