It’s hard to run a company the size of Microsoft from a jail cell, and the more I think about the Nokia deal, the more I think that’s where Elop is inevitably headed. His entire tenure at Nokia is starting to look like a massive, multi-billion dollar scam.
A high ranking VP of a corporate giant becomes the new CEO of a company in a different business, in a different country. He doesn’t sell his home in Seattle, nor does his family move with him, even though he’s ostensibly going to be there permanently. Over the next three years, he makes counterintuitive decisions that abandon his new company’s core strengths, and their value plummets to a tiny fraction of what it was. Meanwhile, he maintains close ties to his former company and many of his decisions benefit them, arguably at the expense of the company he’s supposed to be leading. Then, with the market cap on his new company as low as it can get before bankruptcy, his old company swoops in and buys them, allowing the executive to “return” to his original company with resources they couldn’t have afforded before his tenure.
How does Elop not get sued into oblivion by Nokia shareholders, even if he manages to avoid criminal charges?
During his tenure at Nokia, Elop had an option. Symbian obviously wasn’t going to be a contender in the modern smartphone market. He could go with Windows Phone, from his buddies at Microsoft, or Android, which was free. He went with Windows Phone, “differentiating” Nokia damn near into bankruptcy.
But here’s the thing. An honest and competent CEO would have gone with Android. Why? Because of what Nokia was good at. Nokia’s strengths, historically, were build quality, distribution and design. If those are your strengths it’s to your advantage that everyone (except Apple) run the same OS. Then everyone has a level software playing field, and you have the better hardware. You win.
Elop threw those advantages away by locking the Lumia line to Windows Phone, a sad mess of a platform even after the botched transition from Windows Phone 7 to the completely incompatible Windows Phone 8. How many times do you see an ad or billboard with little App Store and Play Store logos near the bottom to download the app for whatever they’re pushing? Do you ever see a third logo for the Windows App Store? No, you don’t. There’s a reason for that.
Simply put, Elop did not fulfill his fiduciary responsibility to Nokia shareholders. He prioritized the needs of Microsoft over Nokia, and I think that’s because he never really stopped working for Microsoft. I think he was a Trojan horse, and the plan going in was to soften Nokia up for acquisition. There should at least be an investigation before the conquering hero returns to Microsoft.
So if Elop isn’t going to be the new Microsoft CEO (and he shouldn’t; if my supposition above is wrong then he was at best grossly incompetent), who should be? I have three suggestions that I’ll get to in another post.