The first thing that sprang to mind when I saw that Nokia was handing over its mobile handset crown jewels to Microsoft in exchange for just a few billion dollars was that this was a classic corporate Trojan Horse maneuver. (See: Nokia Sells Devices Business to Microsoft .)
Is it just a coincidence that a former Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) executive became Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) CEO in late 2010 and, less than three years later, the former global handset market leader announces the sale of its core business to the software giant?
When it comes to conspiracy theories, this isn't up there with presidential assassinations or alien landings, but hey -- we're limited to Close Encounters of the Microsoft Kind.
So, what might lead anyone to even think this was a stitch-up job? Here's the background, for those who haven't kept an eye on Nokia in recent years.
In 2010, Nokia, having failed to deliver a decent smartphone strategy, was getting spanked by the likes of Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and the Android brigade. So, a new CEO was appointed -- former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop. (See: Nokia Dumps CEO, Hires Elop.)
He began his tenure by highlighting, in October 2010, Nokia's "unpolished gems," such as the MeeGo mobile device operating systems. Months later, in February 2011, such gems were cast aside, and the Symbian platform mothballed, in favor of Microsoft's Windows Phone OS and a host of other Microsoft's applications and services, such as the Bing search engine and adCenter for advertising services. (See: Nokia Unveils Major Revamp.)
Following that move, more Microsoft executive talent was hired to bolster the Nokia management team. (See: Nokia Adds Another Microsoft Vet.)
Since then, under the stewardship of Elop, Nokia has continued to lose market share, reported multiple quarters of major operating losses, has handed over the market leadership crown to Samsung Corp. , and now sold what's left of its handset business to Microsoft for a sum that would have been scoffed at only a few years ago. (See: Nokia Loses Its Mobile Crown.)
For Nokia staff and investors (who have seen the value of Nokia's shares half since late 2010), Elop's time at the helm of the Finnish firm looks nothing short of a disaster. That's not a view shared by Elop or his old mates at Microsoft -- just see this joint letter from Elop and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about the takeover deal and partnership. Any layperson reading that would think Nokia was still in the ascendancy.
The future is uncertain for all involved, yet Elop looks set to be rewarded by Microsoft, which he will rejoin as part of the acquisition. Could he even be in line for Ballmer's job? (See: Euronews: Nokia CEO Tipped for Ballmer's Job.)
So, has Microsoft got what it wanted all along? And was Elop the right man in the right place to help deliver the goods?
Crazy, mindless conspiracy theory, right? Right??
— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading