Stephen Elop is a Genius

Apr 19, 2012
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It's easy to hate on Nokia. The company's ruinous financial results have seen the Finnish firm's share price hit a fifteen year low; reviewers responded positively to the new Lumia Windows Phone range, but smartphone-savvy customers were still swayed by more established Android and iPhone options. And so it's easy to hate on CEO Stephen Elop, a cuckoo to some who inveigled his way into Nokia and then sold out the family silver - Symbian, MeeGo, the old guard of loyal execs - from under their nose. As the stock tumbles and the company contracts, though, make no mistake: Elop is no bumbling fool.

After sales warnings earlier in the month, many predicted Nokia's announcements today would be the silver lining. In fact, that glimmer of hope came not from the bitter statistics but the subsequent postscript that the company was revitalizing its sales team.

That team was designed to handle a bustling, sales-swollen behemoth at the top of its game. Now, Elop is recreating Nokia as a leaner start-up. Gone is executive vice president of sales Colin Giles, and so is the position he's held: from now on, the regional leads report directly to the head of markets, Niklas Savander. "As a result of reducing layers," Savander said of the change, "we can increase the speed at which we execute sales activities and improve the collaboration between our business groups and our team on the ground."

Nokia's track record these past few years has been frustrating, aggravating. Back when the company was pushing out brilliant hardware running Symbian, we cried out for Android instead. Nokia was never a write-off, it was never "all bad"; it had become the leader in "we'd buy this, if only…"

Problem is, "if only…" doesn't do much to sell phones. The difference between Nokia and other firms - other struggling firms - though is the swell of love many still have for the company. It's equal, perhaps, to the stockpile of cash Nokia still has in the bank and, along with that nest egg, it's equally essential for the company's survival.

Enthusiasts are just desperate for a reason to champion the firm. Like all fans, they want to cluster together with other, like-minded people. They want to talk about Nokia hardware and how it cuts a different track from that of rivals; they want, just like Apple fans, or Samsung fans, or others, to adopt being a Nokia user into their identity.

[aquote]The fans may not like him, but he talks about the same core things that they do[/aquote]

Elop knows all this. He may be from outside the company; he may not even be Finnish, much to the chagrin of some; but he also knows how to talk to the enthusiasts. They may not like him, or everything he's done with Nokia, but he talks about the same core things that they do: the company's future in no uncertain terms, its uniqueness, its refusal to kow-tow to the Android status quo.

What he also brings - and what those fans struggle with - is rationality. Elop isn't wedded to the old Nokia, and so he's unafraid to slice away at what by now is so obviously gangrenous: at least, to those with some degree of distance. The layers upon layers of subcutaneous fat that was Nokia's striated sales structure; MeeGo, starved of direction through mis-management but, so vested with "old Nokia spirit", that the stalwarts still struggle to let go.

The Nokia of tomorrow may not look much like the company today, or in its halcyon time several years back. Then again, that period didn't look much like the Nokia which made rubber galoshes in the late nineteenth century, nor indeed the gas mask specialists of the early twentieth. If any firm knows reinvention, it's Nokia.

Smaller, then; leaner, and more responsive. Losing weight isn't easy, and there's a lot of sweat shed along the way. Elop's fitness regime may leave shareholders breathless and fans uncomfortable, but it's one that's essential if Nokia is to get in shape with the mobile industry of today.


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