Ed Cholerton is the new chief executive of Nokia's North American operations, and he has a lot on his plate.
Cholerton took over the business on January 1 from Ricky Corker, who essentially received a promotion to be Nokia's new chief customer experience officer (CCXO) for the entire company. Cholerton and Nokia's other regional chiefs will report to Corker under the company's new organization and leadership structure that incoming CEO Pekka Lundmark is implementing.
Cholerton, who will continue to reside in Nokia's North American headquarters in Dallas, explained that his remit will be slightly different from Corker's. Instead of overseeing all of the Americas, as Corker did, Cholerton will focus only on the US and Canada. Further, Cholerton said he won't handle the services side of the business that Corker did; that operation will report directly into Nokia's centralized leadership team.
Nokia's restructuring, Cholerton explained, will allow him to more carefully focus on managing and growing Nokia's equipment sales to North American network operators and others. He said his direct reports are split among five operator areas: T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, other US operators, and Canadian operators. The remainder of the 10,000 employees under Cholerton's purview will report up through that structure.
The below discussion with Cholerton has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Light Reading: What is the first thing that you're going to work on in your new role?
Cholerton: My job immediately prior to this was managing the AT&T account for Nokia. But I don't know the rest of the business as well as I need to. So my first priority is – I'm trying to set them up this week – is to meet with the new customers, which is a tall undertaking.
I'm a huge believer that job No. 1 for me is customer advocacy. I've got to know those people and they've got to know me. From their perspective, what's working and what's not?
Light Reading: Nokia is undergoing a significant reorganization. How is that affecting the company's North American operations?
Cholerton: You're right, we're having a lot of changes.
We were too overladen with processes and bureaucracy and that sort of thing. And we had a lot of issues where Nokia's decision-making was not as crisp as we might've wanted it to be, because we did have a lot of people involved in every decision, and that did slow us down a little bit.
I think our general objective, and a lot of what you're seeing right now, is frankly managing efficiency that helps us move faster. And we know we have to move faster.
Light Reading: What is your most important agenda item for 2021?
Cholerton: Obviously we want to grow our business. We've had a pretty good record over the last couple of years here in America. And we've got to broaden that out and make sure that we're delivering things like C-band [products].
I think that's my most important goal, just making sure I'm taking care of our customers, growing our business and making sure that we've got the right portfolio.
Light Reading: Nokia in its most recent quarterly report said that it lost share at a major North American customer. Can you say which customer that was, and what you might plan to do about that issue specifically?
Cholerton: I'm not going to tell you which one it is.
But I will say this: The breadth and depth of our business across all three major US operators was strong and continues to be very strong. I think most people would kill to have the book of business that we have now.
Obviously we're not perfect, and in some cases we're pedaling uphill, but business is still quite large with all of them. And I think we have a good, healthy relationship.
Light Reading: What is your outlook on the market in general and on Nokia's position specifically for this year and next year?
Cholerton: I'm actually bullish on both.
I think a lot of people thought we were going to have more pressure in 2020, with COVID and everything else. And some spending shifted for sure. And some people's usage patterns have changed, with people working out of their homes and that sort of thing. I look for that to continue in 2021. And frankly many of the shifts that COVID caused, people haven't really fully adjusted to it yet. So there's still plenty of room to go there.
I do acknowledge that we're going to have to find some way to help our US partners right now, because they can only do so much. They can only take so much leverage. They can only spend so much. So we're going to have to find a way to help them there.
But business is good. Our products are good. We're doing well. I'm pretty optimistic.
Light Reading: Let's quickly cover some of the hot topics in the industry. What do you think about open RAN?
Cholerton: I think it's actually one of our strengths. We're highly supportive of open RAN. The devil's in the details, obviously, but we're not going to resist it. And one of the reasons that we're not going to, is because we think our products are pretty good.
We're not afraid, I guess is our point.
Light Reading: What is your take on small cells, in the near term and the long term?
Cholerton: I think it's got a big future.
Light Reading: The US Department of Defense has some fairly significant plans and activities around 5G. What are your thoughts on that?
Cholerton: We're involved in some of those [activities]; I'm generally supportive of that. It's a big potential market for us, frankly. Obviously our expectation is that they not use it for commercial purposes, but we're for it. We're helping them now.
Light Reading: The auction of C-band spectrum has topped $80 billion. What do you think about that?
Cholerton: The US needs it. But I just worry that the size of the investment that the operators are making is going to suppress the [network] build. The build is more important, I think, to the US than the money going directly to the [US] Treasury.
Light Reading: What is your general take on private wireless networks, both for 4G and 5G?
Cholerton: I think it's a big deal. We already have [sales] deals with two of our major operator partners [AT&T and Verizon] and we expect a lot more.
It runs the gamut on applications. Public utilities especially seem to be very focused on this.
But we think they're [private wireless networks] going to be a big deal. We've already booked business both directly and through operator partners.
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