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. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • It's one thing to have the world in your hands – what are you going to do with it?

    Google won the patent battle against ART+COM, but we were left with little more than a toy

    Column I used to think technology could change the world. Google's vision is different: it just wants you to sort of play with the world. That's fun, but it's not as powerful as it could be.

    Despite the fact that it often gives me a stomach-churning sense of motion sickness, I've been spending quite a bit of time lately fully immersed in Google Earth VR. Pop down inside a major city centre – Sydney, San Francisco or London – and the intense data-gathering work performed by Google's global fleet of scanning vehicles shows up in eye-popping detail.

    Buildings are rendered photorealistically, using the mathematics of photogrammetry to extrude three-dimensional solids from multiple two-dimensional images. Trees resolve across successive passes from childlike lollipops into complex textured forms. Yet what should feel absolutely real seems exactly the opposite – leaving me cold, as though I've stumbled onto a global-scale miniature train set, built by someone with too much time on their hands. What good is it, really?

    Continue reading
  • Why Cloud First should not have to mean Cloud Everywhere

    HPE urges 'consciously hybrid' strategy for UK public sector

    Sponsored In 2013, the UK government heralded Cloud First, a ground-breaking strategy to drive cloud adoption across the public sector. Eight years on, and much of UK public sector IT still runs on-premises - and all too often - on obsolete technologies.

    Today the government‘s message boils down to “cloud first, if you can” - perhaps in recognition that modernising complex legacy systems is hard. But in the private sector today, enterprises are typically mixing and matching cloud and on-premises infrastructure, according to the best business fit for their needs.

    The UK government should also adopt a “consciously hybrid” approach, according to HPE, The global technology company is calling for the entire IT industry to step up so that the public sector can modernise where needed and keep up with innovation: “We’re calling for a collective IT industry response to the problem,” says Russell MacDonald, HPE strategic advisor to the public sector.

    Continue reading
  • A Raspberry Pi HAT for the Lego Technic fan

    Sneaking in programming under the guise of plastic bricks

    There is good news for the intersection of Lego and Raspberry Pi fans today, as a new HAT (the delightfully named Hardware Attached on Top) will be unveiled for the diminutive computer to control Technic motors and sensors.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021