Character Study: Nokia’s New Chief vs. the Old vs. Steve Jobs

Embittered Nokia has just ousted well-known figure Olli Pekka-Kallasvuo and replaced him with Stephen Elop. It’s a business decision, but who these guys are matters: Will the new CEO’s character bring Nokia back to life in its industry?



Embittered Nokia has just ousted well-known figure Olli Pekka-Kallasvuo and replaced him with Stephen Elop. It’s a business decision, but who these guys are matters: Will the new CEO’s character bring Nokia back to life in its industry? Below, a look at the vital bio points for OPK, Elop, and go-to golden CEO Steve Jobs, just for kicks.

The Old Nokia CEO: Olli Pekka-Kallasvuo

  • Age: 57.
  • Nationality: Finnish. Lavia, 1953.
  • Former positions: President, CEO Nokia. CFO Nokia, 1992 onwards. A “variety” of roles at Union Bank of Finland prior to Nokia.
  • Education: Masters Degree in Law, and Honorary Doctor of Law from the University of Helsinki.
  • Character: His Nokia biography lists him as enjoying “playing golf, tennis and reading political history.” Some say he has a thick skin, and he’s noted he wants to press on with what he knows is right, no matter the criticism. He interviews with a politician’s slickness–or so it seems. Friendly, but competitive, he’s noted he’s “not really comfortable talking” about himself.
  • What he brought: Nokia to its knees. Well, not really, but it’s easy to blame OPK’s bull-headed decisions to press on, despite criticism, for the slow innovation pace inside Nokia, with the company swiftly losing the lead in the smartphone world.

The New Nokia CEO: Stephen Elop

  • Age: 46
  • Nationality: Canadian, 1963
  • Former positions: President, Microsoft Business Division. COO Juniper Networks. President Worldwide Field Operations, Adobe. President and CEO, Macromedia (also, COO, EVP of Worldwide Field Ops and General Manager of eBusiness Division.)
  • Education: Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering and Management, McMaster University Ontario.
  • Character: Reading transcripts of MS presentations, Elop seems ready to crack gentle jokes. Unlike many folks at his level, he also seems comfortable talking about the competition, including naming them. Having five kids has taught him “patience is a virtue” according to Kara Swisher, who also noted he was comfortable making cheeky, seemingly reality-defying statements about Microsoft’s plans to be “interoperable.”
  • What he brings: Extensive experience as a manager, from a diverse number of positions inside a group of high-ranking tech firms.

The Competition: Steve Jobs

  • Age: 55
  • Nationality: American. San Francisco, 1955.
  • Current position: CEO Apple. Board member, Walt Disney Company.
  • Former positions: CEO, Pixar Animation Studio. Founder CEO, NeXT. Co-founder, CEO Apple Computer.
  • Character: Accomplished public speaker, technology evangelist. Stubborn, and quoted in Fortune as “one of Silicon Valley’s leading egomaniacs.” Larger-than-life persona, responsible for the so-called “reality distortion field.” At Pixar, he seemed “mature, mellow” and didn’t meddle with the artist’s work–seeming to know when to keep his expertise quiet. He’s also determined, and would seem to have a quiet but powerful temper–given his handling of the Gizmodo iPhone 4 affair.
  • What he brings: Visionary genius, demonstrated with a huge number of patents and successful products under his belt. Considers himself a team player, citing the Beatles: “Four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts.” Charismatic, to the point some observers are concerned about Apple’s future under a different leader when he departs.

Apple, and of course the rapidly rising Android phone army, driven by Google, is responsible for some of the industry changes that turned into woes for OPK, and which are serious challenges for Elop. The stand-out facts from these biographies is that both OPK and Elop are much more experienced in terms of managing businesses and business process-derived thinking than they are at actual technological advances. This is compared to Jobs, and of course the tech gurus behind Google–Sergey Brin and Larry Page. This may place Nokia’s big competitors in the smartphone game at a significant advantage: Their heads can understand both the technology and its implications for users, and may be able to spot innovations arising inside the company’s R&D at an early stage–picking out those that can turn into world-beating final products.

Maybe Nokia didn’t read our guide to reinventing itself, after all.


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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)