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Mobile

Nokia CEO Must Channel Fighting Spirit

HELSINKI, Finland -- Rajeev Suri, the new CEO of Nokia, must channel the Finnish fighting spirit embedded in the vendor's culture if he is to successfully reinvent the vendor, according to experienced Nokia-watchers.

Following the sale of its handsets division and the unveiling of a new corporate plan, Light Reading contacted a number of individuals who have tracked and analyzed Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) for years to ask them what they think of the company's new strategy and the appointment of Suri. (See Nokia Ushers In New Era, Retires NSN Name and Rajeev Suri: The Right Choice for Nokia.)

Tomi Ahonen, former Nokia executive, industry analyst, author, speaker, and rated the most influential expert in mobile by Forbes in 2011, said there is a Finnish fighting spirit more evident in the more experienced staff in the Networks division (formerly NSN) than in the younger handset team that is now part of Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT). (See Microsoft Officially Closes Nokia Buy and Microsoft's Elop Denies He Was a Trojan Horse .)

"The Finnish employees of NSN/Nokia today will be heroic in their willingness to sacrifice," believes Ahonen, as they will be driven by a key rivalry. "Now, again, the number one rival is not Korean -- Samsung -- or American -- Apple. It's those Swedes from Ericsson!" added Ahonen, who predicted the demise of the Finnish giant's handsets business in 2011 in his First Analysis of Nokia-Microsoft Alliance.

Ahonen believes Suri is an excellent choice, and predicts that in a year or two there will be good news coming from Nokia.

Rajeev Suri: Can he channel his inner Finn?
Rajeev Suri: Can he channel his inner Finn?

Peter Vesterbacka, CMO at Angry Birds creator Rovio Entertainment Ltd., agrees with Ahonen. "I think they have a great future and Rajeev is the right guy for the job."

And Suri's experience during recent years will work in his favor, believes Karri Anttila, editor at industry blog AndroidSuomi (AndroidFinland). "I think he [Suri] is a good choice in a way he knows the company and has been working there for years. He has been leading the money making part of the old Nokia and knows the networks business."

Anttila, though, wonders if Suri can adapt to running the broader Nokia business that includes mapping and locations application unit HERE and the licensing unit called Technologies, and help those units (as well as the Networks business) develop further.

And Markus Leikola, a writer and columnist with political and financial columns in a leading daily and weekly newspapers in Finland, and a weekly radio show on YLE Puhe, questions whether Nokia now has a corporate culture that will encourage change and innovation. Nokia has a history of reinventing itself, he notes, and since its decision to focus on mobile in the early 1990s became known for pioneering the concept of reshaping consumer segments annually, combining frontline marketing with even more rapid R&D, and pushing manufacturing costs constantly down.

Leikola wonders how much of that culture remains in the company, as not only are there "new faces" among the "top brass," there has also been "a major sweep in the middle management, too."

Undeniably there are fewer Finns among the company's directors, and Leikola wonders how the Nokia board should be oriented now that the company has changed so radically. "How should it be different [beyond] just the nationality dimension of the governors?"

Paolo Borella, a former Nokia employee and a director at apps developer funding and training specialist AppCampus, believes the main consideration has to be whether the CEO is the right person to develop the vision of the board. "It doesn't make any difference where the person comes from. As a foreigner living in Finland, and considering Nokia one of the big telco players in the world, what's wrong with a foreigner leading a global company?"

Borella believes Suri is the right leader for Nokia, and that Nokia has a good base, focus, and the requisite liquidity to be able to make strategic investments. "It's good to see that Nokia has made bold decisions, preparing for actions in the future."

— Susan Fourtané, special to Light Reading

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