Was Nokia's Elop history's worst CEO?

No, silly... he was the fall guy for years of Finnish folly


We're standing on a burning platform

Wood pays tribute to Elop for introducing urgency to a catatonic organisation. His "Burning platforms" speech and strategy focused the company on survival. It was a reasonable bet that Nokia needed big alliances to help restore its fortunes, and Microsoft had deep pockets.

What is more plausible is Wood's observation that Elop and Nokia had over-estimated the maturity of Windows Phone, and the speed at which Microsoft would have feature parity with Android. Google's Android developers simply stepped on the pedal, and in a cloud of black smoke, accelerated into the distance.

"Even a cursory examination reveals a set of important ways in which Windows Phone 7 was uncompetitive as compared to Symbian… limited support for languages such as Chinese; options for 'operator customisation' were few and far between; [and] hardware requirements were higher, implying more expensive devices," Wood notes.

When Elop burned his platforms, Symbian sales went off a cliff: leaving Nokia nothing compelling to offer for two years. And it couldn't simply pull Windows Phone out of a hat like a conjurer's rabbit, to fill the gap.

Then came another nasty surprise for Nokia: Microsoft was in the midst of moving Windows Phone from the thrown-together Zune-in-a-phone origins of WP7, based on Windows CE and Silverlight, to an NT kernel that could use multicore chips and native code. This meant a long delay. It also meant that Nokia's first few phones on Windows Phone 7, such as the Lumia 900, wouldn't be forward-compatible with a platform update issued just six months later. Apple, meanwhile, was upgrading three-year-old phones to its latest OS. Microsoft must share some blame for this – along with Elop, who should have done some contingency planning.

Nokia had to wait until early 2013 until it had a full range of competitive products in the market – the Lumia 520 turned out to be a hit – but by then the board had decided to throw in the towel and find a buyer. Without Elop's knowledge, it approached Microsoft and with contract renewal looming, told them it couldn't guarantee Nokia would stay the Windows course.

Nokia gave up on the Elop experiment before it could judge whether it had borne fruit. Faced with losing the OEM that represented 90 per cent of Windows Phone sales, Microsoft rather reluctantly stepped in.

Nadella's Microsoft today shows little sign that it is glad it purchased the crown jewels of the former phone king – and lots of evidence that it had rather not. As for conspiracy theories: perhaps it's time Finnish pundits accept that Nokia's fate lies not with backroom conspiracies or alien abductions, but with years of comfortable mismanagement. I think most do, but that version doesn't sell very well. ®

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