Nokia World kicked off yesterday. But the Finnish phone maker has been making headlines for changes in the boardroom, not its latest line up of phones. Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, OPK, has gone, replaced by Microsoft business lead Stephen Elop. A choice from across the pond, albeit a Canadian, has clearly ruffled feathers in Finland. Elop’s ascension was announced last Friday, and the first man to walk following his appointment left on Monday.
That man was Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia’s Mobile Solutions Head and the person many presumed would help Nokia finally fight back against the iPhone and Android, with a slew of new products. While Vanjoki will be present at Nokia World, and may have his ideas built into the forthcoming N9 MeeGo handset, his departure highlights the poor timing of Nokia’s change at the top.
Talk about OPK’s position has been rife since the start of summer. Making the change now is understandable to an extent, allowing Elop to be introduced at Nokia’s most important moment in the year. But on the other hand, surely this could have been handled earlier? Now, all the talk will focus on Elop and Vanjoki, not on the handsets that Nokia so desperately needs to hype up in order to do battle with its rivals in the run-up to Christmas.
So what were the other options? Well, Vanjoki for one.
It seems Nokia’s board was keen on getting in an outsider, but bringing in a design-focused leader would have been a wise move. Especially as Nokia’s top end phones have been nothing short of a disaster when stood next to, say, the iPhone 4 or HTC Legend, both of which are achingly cool and utterly desirable - something tech fanatics can easily forget is essential. Vanjoki is said to have been keen and word has it he’s leaving because he didn’t get the post he apparently craved.
Then there’s HP’s Mark Hurd. OK, controversy surrounds him, but he’s helped the computer giant to top spot in the US and was in the middle of working on exciting smartphone plans before he was forced to resign. If Nokia wanted a Stateside leader, then maybe he’d have been a better bet than Elop. After all, it seems Nokia is keen to go for a safe pair of hands rather than a maverick who can help them out of a massive financial black hole as well as gain that psychological edge it lost as soon as Steve Jobs gazumped the N95 with the original iPhone.
A leftfield choice, and one which would maybe have helped Nokia push Ovi harder, would gave been Zynga’s Marc Pincus. Young and cool, with an obvious understanding of the business world, he would have given Nokia a new impetus, although doubtless his lack of corporate credentials would have been an issue.
Instead, Elop’s arrival suggests Nokia is happy to stick with a similar approach. Go large in the developing world, offer up smartphones that can just about compete and keep hitting the mid-range hard. Time will tell if this works out, but chances are Nokia is going to have to pull out something miraculous this week in London on order to focus the headlines back onto its devices and services.