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Stephen Elop by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail/Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Stephen Elop by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail/Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

THE LUNCH

Stephen Elop: Putting Nokia back in the race Add to ...

Two-and-a-half years later, Nokia came knocking and he was made CEO of the world’s biggest mobile phone company, complete with a $6-million (U.S.) signing bonus.

At the time, Nokia was a mess. It was losing market share and value at alarming rates. The iPhone and Google’s Android phones were quickly making Nokia’s clunky gadgets irrelevant. In the United States, the Nokia brand has been all but eradicated. As late as 2004, Nokia had controlled as much as 40 per cent of the American mobile phone sales.

Mr. Elop’s arrival did nothing to halt the rot, at least at first. The shares fell 47 per cent in 2011. They’re down again this year, taking the plunge since the 2007 peak to an astonishing 75 per cent. Apparently, investors are not convinced that Mr. Elop’s decision to ditch Nokia’s home-grown Symbian operating software in favour of Microsoft’s for all its new products will work.

Indeed, I ask Mr. Elop why he went only with Microsoft, which has been a perennial dud in the mobile space, instead of hedging his bets by glomming on to both the Microsoft and Android operating systems. “Focus,” he says. “If you have a multiple-hedging strategy while you’re going through a significant transformation, then what you’re saying is that everyone in the company gets to decide what’s important. The focus gets divided.”

As for Microsoft’s newest mobile software itself, Mr. Elop beams. He pulls out four of Nokia’s new Microsoft-powered Lumia phones, one of which, the Nokia 808 PureView, has a 41-megapixel camera, enough to give photos disturbingly clinical definition. The Lumia phones are sleek, fast, attractive and are winning awards. The high-end Lumia 900 won the best smartphone award at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. The PureView won the best new device award at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February. The Lumia 800, Nokia’s first Microsoft product, and another model called the Lumia 710, sold more than 1 million units in the last quarter of 2011. Mr. Elop declines to update the figure, but his smile suggests sales are strong, though undoubtedly nowhere near iPhone or Android levels.

Shortly after Mr. Elop joined Nokia, he used a brutally honest internal memo to employees – promptly leaked – to read them the riot act. He said Nokia is “standing on a burning platform” and that only a radical overhaul of culture and technology would save the one-time corporate champion.

Mr. Elop won’t say whether the worst is over for Nokia. “Very hard to predict,” he says.

But he’s optimistic, to the point he’s ready to douse the “burning platform” metaphor. He already has a new metaphor and it is Lasse Viren, Finland’s most famous runner. Mr. Viren fell in the 10,000-metre event in the 1972 Munich Olympics, picked himself and went on to win gold and set a world record. “That’s us,” Mr. Elop says. “We’ve stumbled, we’re back on our feet and we’re running again.”

_____________________

CURRICULUM VITAE

ROOTS

Born 1963 in Ancaster, Ont., now part of Hamilton.

Graduated in 1986 from McMaster University with a BA in engineering and management.

PERSONAL

Based in Helsinki, but circles the globe about three times a month, without benefit of a company jet.

Wife Nancy and their five children, aged 13 to 20, live in Redmond, Wash. The 13-year-olds are triplets, all girls.

PASSIONS

Mr. Elop is an avid recreation pilot.

Mobile phones galore. He travels with a dozen and uses each one.

Hero

Lasse Viren, the Finnish long-distance runner who fell in the 1972 Olympics and went on to win gold in the 10,000-metre event (Mr. Viren won four golds in the 1972 and 1976 games).

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