Rajeev Suri, newly appointed head of Nokia, has plenty to tackle at the Finnish group, but one challenge relates to the part of the business he no longer oversees – the handset business that has finally transferred to Microsoft’s ownership.
As head of Nokia Solutions and Networks, Mr Suri developed the telecoms equipment business, which now makes up the largest part of “new Nokia”, more or less autonomously from the devices business. Its culture is likely to dominate the Finnish group as it now evolves. But what of the deep-rooted residual link with the handsets in our pockets?
Even if the Nokia brand is quickly stripped from smartphones, I wonder whether the Finnish group will experience the business equivalent of “phantom limb syndrome” – twitching and wincing as though the amputated devices arm is still attached to the rest of the body corporate. Read more
EE is the descendant of one of the most ridiculous brands in corporate history – Everything Everywhere, which turned out to mean Nothing Anywhere – so I feared the worst when I saw the UK digital communications group had signed a partnership with what it inevitably calls the “iconic” Wembley Stadium. Football fans already chant about “going to Wemb-er-lee”, so the brand gurus could so easily have renamed the ground “WemblEE”.
Wembley Stadium, as it will be, sEEn from the air (source: EE)
Happily, common sense and history prevailed. Fans will have to survive a blizzard of EE branding, including the illumination of Wembley’s arch in EE blue, but the press statement is clear that “the world-renowned name of the stadium will remain”. It usually does. When new names are applied to old stadiums, often either the name doesn’t stick – or the company doesn’t. Read more
BlackBerry bosses’ thumbs must be getting tired. The company’s acting CEO John Chen has banged out another open letter to “valued enterprise customers and partners”, sprinkled with acronyms and suggesting a return to the group’s “heritage and roots” in “enterprise grade, end-to-end mobile solutions”. Read more
Stephen Elop, ex-Nokia, soon-to-be ex-husband
I firmly believe boards need to be less squeamish about prying into their senior executives’ private lives, particularly when divorce is looming, because the corporate consequences can be grave. Now researchers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business have broadened the debate to suggest that shareholders should worry about chief executives’ marital disharmony, too.
Divorce, they write, could undermine CEOs’ control and influence, affect their “productivity, concentration and energy levels”, and have an impact on their attitude to risk. They cite Rupert Murdoch’s split from Wendi Deng and the divorce of Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, from his wife. News of the first, thanks to a pre-nuptial agreement, left News Corp shares unmoved; news of the second, with no pre-nup, knocked 2.9 per cent off Continental Resources’ stock price as investors worried about the fate of Mr Hamm’s 68 per cent stake in the group. Read more
A new account of “the fall of BlackBerry” in Canada’s Globe and Mail sheds light on the torment of the country’s once-mighty technology champion with some new revelations of internal rifts and missed opportunities. Four stand out for me. Read more
There is more than one way to lead in the smartphone industry, and China is at work on all of them.
No longer content to copy foreign products. China is developing brands to compete with Apple and Samsung. Xiaomi is known as its answer to Apple, and Huawei and ZTE, the equipment companies, have moved into handsets. Read more
I blame Wayne Gretzky.
Ever since the world’s greatest ice hockey player said a tearful good-bye to playing in Canada way back in 1988, his fellow Canadians have been smarting at the rules of big business.
Then, it was Gretzky’s move from snowy and quiet Edmonton to showy and glitzy Los Angeles. Now, 25 years later, the woes of BlackBerry, our one-time technological champion, have led some to wonder if national pride is again at stake. The putative bid by Toronto-based Fairfax Financial to take the company private has only added to the concern, with many analysts and investors unconvinced of the business case. Read more
Many years back, an American friend who was visiting London from New York remarked on the odd way in which people were walking around with blocks of plastic held to their ears. “Why don’t they just use normal phones?” she asked.
First came Ben & Jerry’s. Now we have a new brand: Steve & Stephen. It sounds like a men’s hairdressing salon, but turns out to be the sign-off used by Steve Ballmer and Stephen Elop in their open letter telling the world that Steve at Microsoft has bought Stephen’s Nokia handsets.
The effect leaves me feeling slightly queasy. The ampersand usually belongs to more formal pairings – Johnson & Johnson or Dun & Bradstreet – and to see it joining two first names like that gives the new “brand” a cheeky, snappy feel. Read more
What is the Finnish for “I told you so”? That is how plenty of Finns – including a large number of ex-Nokians, swept out in successive restructurings since Stephen Elop took charge of Nokia in 2010 – will greet news that Microsoft is to buy the mobile company’s handset and services business.
It won’t make any difference to them that Nokia has an increasingly important telecoms equipment business, NSN, which guarantees a future to the rump of the company. Since the radical strategy shift of the mid-1990s, when the timber-to-tyres conglomerate refocused on its fledgling telecoms operation, Nokia has been identified with home-grown phones. But a second coming under Finnish ownership for the country’s best-known consumer brand turned out to be impossible: its future will now be dictated from Redmond not Espoo.
This outcome, or a version of it, was already in the air in early 2011 when I visited Nokia’s headquarters to look at the challenges facing Mr Elop. His decision to leap from a “burning platform”, as he called it, into the arms of Microsoft as software partner for its smartphones certainly ruled out other options, such as using Google’s Android or a home-grown operating system. But a full takeover of the phones business by the US company was not inevitable.
Four elements have conspired to make it happen. Read more
Ivan Seidenberg struck Verizon Wireless deal…
…with Vodafone CEO Christopher Gent in 1999
Verizon Wireless is one of those awkward corporate offshoots plenty of experts think are lucky to survive, let alone flourish into their teenage years. As I’ve written, the rough rule of thumb is that between half and two-thirds of business alliances and joint ventures fail. Yet while the 55-45 Verizon-Vodafone ownership of the US wireless group created plenty of headaches for both parents as it grew, from a management point of view it always looked pretty mature. Read more
By buying Siemens out of their telecommunications network joint venture, Nokia has strengthened the part of its business that is doing relatively well. But it does little to stop the rise of China within the industry.
The telecoms network industry is under extreme margin pressure and Huawei and ZTE, the two Chinese competitors, continue to expand their share. Meanwhile, both Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent have struggled. Read more
Spend one-and-a-half days at a Founders Forum event and it’s impossible not to get infected by the techie-enthusiast bug. The day after last week’s big get-together I found myself beginning a Bob the Builder story with my two-year-old: “It was a busy time in Silicon Valley.”*
The Financial Times is media partner with the event, and this year sponsored two prizes. Founder of the year was won by Ilkka Paananen, chief executive and co-founder of Supercell, the Finnish gaming company behind Clash of the Clans and Hay Day, while Eben Upton, founder of Raspberry Pi, the credit card-sized microcomputer, was awarded the One to Watch prize. Read more
When Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop booked the Grand Tarabya hotel in Istanbul for the group’s annual leadership meeting at the end of January, he planned a spectacular finale. As the meeting of 200 senior executives drew to a close, musicians introduced themselves into the room, playing Ravel’s Bolero, until the whole orchestra was present for the climactic bars.
What happens when the cluster you helped create falls out of love with you? It is a question BlackBerry may be asking itself just a week after relaunching with a new name and a new phone.
According to a New York Times report, after years of being the beating commercial heart of Waterloo, Ontario, the company formerly known as Research in Motion is no longer the destination of choice for top talent. “BlackBerry is now a last resort,” it said.
And if that wasn’t tough enough for a former emblem of Canadian ingenuity, its position has been usurped either by US companies, “including Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft” or graduates launching their own businesses. Read more
Ian Livingston, chief executive of BT, told me last week more than a third of the telecoms group’s staff are now engineers – a higher proportion than ever. But whereas their expertise once covered mainly the maintenance and repair of an analogue telephone network, he now expects them to do more.
To read the scathing condemnation of Chinese telecoms equipment suppliers fired from Washington this week, you would think we still lived in another world. In that world, telecoms networks were built by national monopolies such as AT&T, France Telecom and British Telecom, and outsiders stayed away.
US national security concerns apart, China’s Huawei has one of the strangest governance structures of any multinational company: a “panel” of three chief executives each of whom rotates into the top executive role every six months.
On the issue of Huawei’s links with the Chinese military, the telecommunications equipment company has proved the equal of any western counterpart when it comes to using spin-doctors to push out a strong and consistent message that it has been maligned. But when it comes to the rotating CEOs, its founder, Ren Zhengfei (who is one of the trio), is remarkably frank that the arrangement is a bold experiment. “Even if we fail, we will not regret our choice because we have blazed a new trail,” he said in the most recent annual report. Read more
In the 1980s, British radio presenter Steve Wright used to stage phone-ins to his show from a ranting imaginary listener, “Mr Angry from Purley”.
Well, the phone lines from Purley are burning up, judging from some of the reactions to Vodafone’s agreed £1bn cash takeover of Cable & Wireless Worldwide, which was created by the demerger from Cable & Wireless in 2010. It’s rare to find a deal that has got up so many people’s noses.
Underwater: C&W – privatisation to demerger*
Investors may be happy with a 38p-a-share bid, compared with the 19.8p at which CW&W stock languished in February before an approach was made. But they are angry about the drop in CW&W’s share price since demerger, and those who enjoyed the growth spurt of the late 1990s are even angrier about the overall decline of the once-mighty Cable & Wireless group, a descendant of the Victorian consortium that laid the first submarine cable across the Atlantic . One City fund manager told the FT recently that Cable & Wireless Group was “the worst stock he ever bought“. Read more
Fujitsu’s plan to enter the European smartphone and tablet market has a 1980s ring to it. By the early part of that decade, Japanese companies had already grabbed large shares of the markets for televisions, hi-fi units, calculators, electronic toys and digital watches. These days, Europeans are more used to hearing about new Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean entrants.
But in phones, Japanese manufacturers have largely concentrated on domestic consumers, using country-specific technology and features. It will be interesting to see how many of these features travel, and how many have to be tailored to local tastes, as Japanese phone makers break out of their national silo. (There have been reports that Panasonic is also planning to launch a mobile phone for the European market* and Sony Ericsson – already present – is, as of last week, wholly owned by Sony.) Read more