What if…Steve Job were running Nokia now…what would he do?

What if…Steve Job were running Nokia now…what would he do?

When Stephen Elop took over Nokia he described their position in 2011 as a burning deck.  But it has been a burning deck of a ship still under heavy fire…as its main opposition, Apple, goes from strength to strength and the Android flotilla gathers momentum.

Just how does a company extricate itself from such a situation?

A good place to look for an answer is a past example of a company that has managed a successful turn-around in comparable circumstances. By a twist of fate…one of the best examples is Apple itself. In the very early days of the PC Apple found itself in a not too dissimilar position. Just look where Apple is today…fabulously wealthy.  Surely there is some pointers in one of the industry’s great “come-back” success stories that could guide Nokia’s strategy today?  So…if Steve Job were alive today and running Nokia…what would he be doing?

The first steer from the Apple story is that this it is going to be a long haul to turn things around at Nokia. A winning strategy has to begin with setting realistic expectations. Telling shareholders that a turn-around will take 4 years and managing to do it in 3 is far better than offering to turn things around in 18 months and it turns out to take at least 3 years…shareholders rarely forgive a string of broken promises.

There are probably three elements of the Steve Job story that have a direct read-across to the Nokia situation:

(i)                 Maintaining a strong brand – In the early days of the PC market Apple was struggling to survive with its minority operating system on its own hardware. Apple was kept alive by a sizable hardcore of fanatically loyal customers. Steve Job had understood that this sort of brand loyalty is based on strong values…including great product styling.  There is a hardcore of Nokia fans (I am one of them)…what are the values Nokia needs to keep building into its products to hold onto their stubborn loyalty?

(ii)               Securing some strong niches (defensive strongholds) – When Apple was being trounced by Windows in the business world there was one industrial sector…publishing…where Steve Job ensured Apple retained a strong profitable grip. It provided a redoubt to first of all survive and then attack from. Is there one or more strong niche areas for Nokia to seize as its own? Nokia’s own thinking in this direction is demonstrated in their new 41MP camera phone…the Nokia 808.  The choice of Windows for its smart phones may allow Nokia to thrive particularly well in the business market at the expense of Blackberry. It may still be early to talk of strong niches whilst Nokia still has ambitions to battle across the entire consumer front…but they are not necessarily incompatible.

(iii)             Passion for the detail –  Executive influence is enormously powerful in a corporate world. What the man at the top demonstrates as his Number 1 priority becomes the number 1 priority for all those of ambition down the chain. For Steve Job it was a passion for the product down to the smallest detail. Nokia shareholders may like to hear the man at the top talking about cost cutting and profits…what is most likely to get Nokia back to health is the man at the top being obsessive over products coming out of the door…not just the flagship products but every product carrying the Nokia name. We know Nokia has the passion…but have they the obsession over every detail..?

A point that deserves a special mention is the sheer ease of use of the Apple iPhone.  Those with long memories will recall that this one of the unique selling points of Nokia in early days of the mobile phone?  Customers loved the intuitive interface of the early Nokia phones. They stole market share from Motorola because of it. So the formidable Steve Job has not just stolen Nokia’s market share but done so with what was once Nokia’s own unique selling point. Perhaps this is where Nokia fight back has to start…a re-discovery of their roots that first put them on their path of mobile phone success. One of the great paradoxes of filling a company full of super intelligent design engineers and marketing folk (as Nokia does) is that they often lack the capacity or empathy to see how simple folk (most of us) struggle to cope with even the simplest software based products.

And on the subject of discovery it was encouraging to hear Steve Elop, at their annual shareholder’s meeting, make reference to the hidden gems in Nokia’s own R&D labs…perhaps the glimmer on the horizon where Nokia can move from catch up to leap frog.

It is not easy to think clearly on a burning deck. All that noise. In the same circumstances I suspect that Steve Job would hold his hands over his ears to blot out the cacophony of concerns over short term performance and set his sights firmly on the horizon…and the limitless potential for a brand as well regarded as Nokia.


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