The recent spat of bad news about Nokia brings pause. Two years or so ago I met with the CIO and staff, and presented them with dire predictions. If it wasn’t mid-winter, they would have thrown me in the lake. Even then I was prepared for an ice bath. But there was no question that they respected my assessment, and there was an air of inevitability in the conversation. At the time (with Burton) they were particularly peeved at Gartner and its negativism toward their business strategy. My (now) colleague Nick Jones has written and blogged extensively about Nokia’s predicament, and options; for the most part spot on.
How this is playing out has been obvious for at least four years, and was certainly accelerated with the introduction of the iPhone (and now the Android). But that’s all easily said in hindsight.
In the greater scheme of things, this is not about Nokia, but about Finland and the Finns.
Finnish identity is tightly coupled with Nokia’s fortunes, as is Finland’s economy. Back in the day (in business school), the discussion around ethical considerations for a company that was the predominant employer in a town was always interesting. It is even more interesting when it’s a one company country.
Helsinki, and the Finnish people, eat, sleep, breathe Nokia. Sure, there is a lot of other industry, but in recent years Nokia has been the symbol of Finnish prosperity, resilience, and re-inventiveness. The story of logging to boots to cell phones is phenomenal. But one thing that also struck me about the Finnish culture during my visit, was their focus and determination. A striking image for me from Hesinski was the number of elderly setting out on slick ice and snow with the aid of walking sticks. Similarly, Nokia will find its walking stick, slip a few times, and move on. Nokia will probably not survive as the company we know today.
Certainly, betting the ranch on the Microsoft Windows Smartphone strategy is the longest of Hail Mary passes (sorry for that American football metaphor). But the eco system of startups, knowledge, expertise, and sheer innovation surrounding Nokia breeds transformation. In this case it will be the transformation of a country, not only a company; and Nokia may very well rise again – don’t count them out; it just probably won’t be in the market as they have defined it.
Sounds likes like the setting for a new addition to the Finnish epic: the Kalevala. Like Väinämöinen, the stewards of Nokia, and Finland, have their work cut out for them. But they have been here before.