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Rescuing Nokia? A former exec has a radical plan

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Interview A couple of months ago, a book appeared in Finland which has become a minor sensation. In the book, a former senior Nokia executive gives his diagnosis of the company, and prescribes some radical and surprising solutions. Up until now, the book has not been covered at all in the English language. This is the first review of the proposals outlined in Uusi Nokia (New Nokia - the manuscript) and draws on three hours of interviews with its author, Juhani Risku.

It’s very, very timely – and even if you don’t follow Nokia, mobile or telecomms it’s a fascinating exercise in business analysis and organisational studies. Enjoy.

[If you’re in a hurry – use this handy jump list:
Nokia Research » Symbian » Marketing » Dual CEO model
Design: contextual » London Office
People: Kallasvuo » Vanjokki » Aho » Ojanperä » Ahtisaari » McDowell]

Juhani Risku is 53 and was independently successful before he joined Nokia – trained as an architect and industrial designer, his company had offices in France and Paris as well as Finland. He spent nine years at Nokia from 2001 and his various roles at the company included design, usability (he was head of Symbian user experience design) and Forum Nokia. He was also head of Nokia Showroom – the last place before the operators make their decisions on buying the company’s network systems.

What’s evident is his affection for the company, which is itself an expression of Finnish culture and philosophy. In our talk, he often slipped into describing Nokia with “we”. In his scorecard, he gives the company high marks for logistics, manufacturing, sourcing and R&D. For Risku, Nokia remains “one of the best companies anywhere on Earth”, and its core talent and assets should see it in good stead. It needs to change, but doesn’t need to throw away its essentially Finnish approach to doing business, as others advise, says Risku. So what’s wrong and how should Nokia fix itself?

The diagnosis is largely one that others have made. Essentially, Nokia has forgotten how to bring innovative products to market. This is despite a rich R&D base, which has pioneered many of the innovations competitors now feature. Instead, a risk-averse bureaucracy has grown up that stifles innovation – it makes progress slow or non-existent. For example, he cites Maps as an example of where a huge investment was bypassed by faster-moving competitors, and by using engineers, not designers, in product development.

This diagnosis may be familiar, but the proposals quite radical. Risku proposes a dual-leadership role with an innovator – a Finn who understands the corporate culture – in a kind of “Steve Jobs” role. This would clear the many obstacles that stand between the lab and product concept and products. There would be a bloodbath of middle managers – starting with 300 to 500 staff at senior VP, VP or director level. This he calls a GRO program, or Get-Rid-Of.

But surprisingly, Risku doesn’t recommend a culture transplant, of bringing in Americans. A sub-text to so much Nokia criticism today is that it doesn’t do business the American way. But doing so would be a disaster, he says – “aggressive and arrogant” wouldn’t work. Both Olli-Pekka and leading internal candidates are competent and could mentor their successors – but new thinking is required.

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