I came across this interesting article in Finland's largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (published more than a month ago on 29 Sept 2013) about Elop's tenure while Nokia CEO (the article is in Finnish of course). It is mostly a biographical story of the departing Nokia CEO but it includes an interesting passage about the Burning Platforms memo, which may ring particular bells to our readers who were here in 2011 and lived throught its aftemath. Plus it sheds some light on the negotiations with Microsoft. So let me do my translation of that passage into English (I will include the Finnish part also at the end for those who know Finnish and might want to read it to compare)
Early on Elop experienced friction with the Board. He made decisions quickly and at his own initiative and did not always remember to inform the Board, which at this time was still led by past CEO, Jorma Ollila. Elop's adviser Stephen Miles confirms that during Elop's tenure at Nokia, he and Elop discussed a lot about how Elop might be better able to inform the Board, and get it to sign onto the proposals of his management.
Nokia Board members were particularly annoyed by for example the famous memo where he compared Nokia's situation to a man standing on a burning oil platform, who had to decide whether to jump into the freezing sea. The emotional memo was published internally in February 2011, a little before the Windows partnership was revealed to the world. The purpose of Elop's memo was to awaken the organization to the necessity of change. It ended up also condemning the company's Symbian phones, which Nokia had intended to sell for another 150 million units.
The leaking of the memo into the public domain did not make it easier for Nokia sales staff around the world. Many have estimated the memo to have been very expensive to Nokia, as Symbian phone sales became ever more difficult. At the Nokia Board, the memo was seen as a severe error in judgement, and Elop was given stinging feedback from Jorma Ollila. The cooperation with the Board would improve over time. In the Spring 2011 Shareholder Meeting appointed Elop as a Member of the Board.
With hindsight we know that the selection of Windows sealed in the end the sale of Nokia's handset business to Microsoft. After a couple of years, the Lumia phone sales did not meet expectations. and Nokia's worsening economic condition forced the Board to the painful decision.
The exact role of Elop in the sales process is not fully known. He did participate in the negotiations which included members of the Board, active management of Nokia, and outside advisors. Nokia Chairman of the Board, Risto Siilasmaa has emphasized, that he led the negotiations with Microsoft. The negotiations got to speed in February, when Siilasmaa and Ballmer met at the mobile industry fair in Barcelona. One is unlikely to ever know, what kind of bilateral talks Ballmer and Elop engaged in, if any.
So what is the news here. First, that the Board disapproved of the Burning Platfoms memo. No surprise there but nice to see it now reported in Finland's largest newspaper. Also that Jorma Ollila actually reprimanded Elop about it. Good to know. Now - that tidbit of recollection.. someone once wrote a few months after the Memo, that Elop must have been spanked recently, because he had already changed his mind on about a dozen mistakes in his memo.. Remember that? Now we know who did the spanking. It was big JO.
Also, no surprise from what we've seen of Elop's style, but yeah, he clearly was doing his thing without bothering to tell the Board and the Board had to chase him afterwards about what he had been up to... So even more proof that yes, the actual damaging decisions and especially those damaging communications (Memo, timing of Windows announcement, sudden MeeGo death announcement etc) came before Elop had 'remembered' to inform the Board. Why was he doing this? He had his cool bonus that he was working towards.. Nice to 'forget' to inform your boss, eh?
Lastly, we now know Elop was personally involved in the Microsoft sale - WOW what a conflict of interest and even Helsingin Sanomat speculates that Elop may have had private meetings on his regular trips to Redmond (because contrary to his original promise, he did not bring his family from Redmond to Finland.. the family was a convenient excuse to go meet up with his pal Ballmer, especially now that we learned that his marriage was so much a wreck, that the divorce proceedings were started already in 2012...)
For those who might be new to this story or this blog - the Burning Platfoms memo was indeed the costliest memo of all time and this was the first blogsite in the world to call it damaging to Nokia, at the time when we weren't even sure if it was written by Elop. The final count of the cost of the Memo is here. Meanwhile, on Elop - his time at Nokia was a disaster. His predecessor, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo was fired after four years. Elop didn't last three years. The Nokia disasterous corporate performance under Elop is discussed here. And the most bizarre twist to the story - that Elop was paid 25 million dollars for having destoyed the Nokia handset business - yes this is true and was confirmed by Nokia that it was in his contract - that story is here. The Financial Times has just compared this heist to the worst greed we've seen on Wall Street, and counted that in his bizarre bonus package, Nokia shareholders paid Elop one million Euros for every 1.5 Billion Euros of Nokia value that Elop destroyed during his 3 years. The damage Elop achieved at Nokia is the worst management-caused damage in Fortune 500 sized-company history, worse than New Coke was to Coca Cola, worse than Toyota had with its brakes problems, worse even than the BP oil spill was to BP. If you just want the numbers to do your own analysis. Pure numbers-only Elop history is here.
So yeah, I know we are pretty well done with Elop - not quite, I have to do the final numbers of course now that we have the last Nokia Quarterly Results under Elop, and I have something quite spectacular coming up shortly on this blog (will there be pictures?...)
From Helsingin Sanomat, recreated the above translation, in original Finnis:
Alkuvaiheessa Elopilla oli kitkaa hallituksen kanssa. Hän teki päätöksiä vauhdikkaasti ja omin päin eikä aina muistanut informoida hallitusta, jota vielä tuolloin johti entinen toimitusjohtaja Jorma Ollila. Elopin neuvonantaja Stephen Miles vahvistaa, että Nokia-aikana hän ja Elop keskustelivat erityisen paljon siitä, miten Elop ottaisi paremmin huomioon hallituksen ja saisi sen sitoutumaan toimivan johdon esityksiin.
Nokian hallituksen jäseniä ärsytti esimerkiksi Elopin kirjoittama kuuluisa muistio, jossa hän vertasi Nokian tilannetta palavalla öljylautalla seisovaan mieheen, jonka on tehtävä päätös hyiseen mereen hyppäämisestä. Tunteikkaasti kirjoitettu muistio julkaistiin yhtiön sisällä helmikuussa 2011, hieman ennen kuin Windows-yhteistyö kerrottiin koko maailmalle. Elopin muistion tarkoituksena oli herättää organisaatio muutoksen välttämättömyyteen. Siinä sivussa hän tosin tuli haukkuneeksi yhtiön Symbian-puhelimet, joita Nokia oli ajatellut toimittaa maailmalle vielä 150 miljoonaa kappaletta.
Muistion vuotaminen julkisuuteen ei ainakaan helpottanut Nokian myyjien tilannetta maailmalla. Monet arvioivat sen tulleen Nokialle kalliiksi, sillä Symbian-puhelinten kauppaaminen muuttui entistä vaikeammaksi. Nokian hallituksessa muistiota pidettiin pahana arviointivirheenä, ja Elop sai siitä kitkerää palautetta Jorma Ollilalta. Yhteistyösuhde hallituksen kanssa parani sittemmin. Kevään 2011 yhtiökokous nimitti Elopin hallituksen jäseneksi.
Jälkikäteen tiedetään, että Windowsin valinta käyttöjärjestelmäksi sinetöi lopulta Nokian matkapuhelinten myynnin Microsoftille. Lumia-puhelinten myynti ei parin vuoden jälkeenkään vastannut toiveita, ja Nokian heikkenevä taloustilanne pakotti yhtiön hallituksen kipeään ratkaisuun.
Elopin täsmällinen rooli myyntiprosessissa ei ole täysin selvillä. Hän oli mukana neuvotteluryhmässä, johon kuului hallituksen jäseniä, Nokian toimivaa johtoa ja ulkopuolisia neuvonantajia. Nokian hallituksen puheenjohtaja Risto Siilasmaa on korostanut, että hän johti neuvotteluita Microsoftin kanssa. Neuvottelut pääsivät vauhtiin helmikuussa, kun Siilasmaa ja Ballmer tapasivat Barcelonan matkaviestintämessuilla. Sitä tuskin saadaan koskaan tietää, minkälaisia kahdenkeskisiä keskusteluita Ballmer ja Elop keskenään kävivät, jos kävivät.
Full article at Helsingin Sanomat website here.