What was it about working at Nokia that stuck with so many of us long after we left the company? Why are 27 356 of us posting our musings and memories of our time at Nokia on the alumni group on Facebook? These are some of the questions I asked myself after Verena asked me to write something for this blog after I posted this👇on the “Beyond Nokia” group earlier this month.
I wrote this from my client’s office in Johannesburg after I had just walked in and heard a colleague chatting to a customer on the phone in Portuguese. It reminded me so much of my days at Nokia.
Now, before I go any further, let me just say I’m a total Nokia fangirl. I was a fan before I started working there and long after the Microsoft debacle. So, let’s be clear that this is not an objective opinion. These are my thoughts on the company that I know wasn’t perfect but that I loved nonetheless.
I was at Nokia for five years between 2005 and 2010. I started there when I was 25 years old and still in the early part of my career. In previous jobs, I was the only person in the company responsible for marketing, so I knew that my next role needed to be bigger, something where I could grow and learn from other marketers.
In January 2005, Nokia’s third attempt at establishing an office for their mobile phone division in Africa finally succeeded. The Johannesburg office had been going for less than 6 months and they were growing rapidly. I took a shot at a role advertised in the newspaper (how old school!) and after a 6-month process of multiple interviews and assessments, I was offered the role of Retail Marketing Manager, Sub Saharan Africa. At the time, there were less than 20 people working in the office.
I remember the day Leanne from the recruitment agency phoned to tell me I’d got the job. She whispered conspiratorially over the phone “You got it….” and it took me a few moments to process it. Then I started whooping and dancing around the room like a crazy person. Hashtag true story. Two weeks later, I started at the shiny new Johannesburg office.
We had an expression at Nokia that we used to tease new recruits with: we compared onboarding at Nokia to drinking water from a fire hydrant – definitely an accurate description. I joined a fledgling team of marketers none of whom had been there more than a few months except for our fearless leader, Mika, a typical Finnish Nokia veteran. Mika was hugely passionate about the Nokia brand having had over 20 year’s experience in the company. His enthusiasm for the potential of the African continent was contagious. It was the perfect combination for marketing success here. Our team knew nothing about the brand, but we learned fast. We realized that that was the only way things were done at Nokia. Fast.
On Day 1, I was introduced to Grant and Vithesh, our sales guys, who immediately issued me with instructions on point-of-sale material that was required URGENTLY, and could I please have it delivered to Angola and Mozambique next week. Later that day, I was told to be ready for market visits to informal settlements in Johannesburg. On Day 2 we were on the road. Day 3, I was told to check that my passport was current and a few weeks later I was on a plane to Nigeria and Ghana to meet customers there. It was an absolute whirlwind and I can confidently say that things did not slow down one bit the entire time I worked there. After five great years, I resigned from my dream job (no really, it was my DREAM JOB) driving Nokia’s social media and digital campaigns in the Middle East and Africa, leaving behind a team of hundreds in the South Africa office and a network of offices all across the continent.
This was why:
I look back on my time at Nokia with fond memories and am proud to say I’ve avidly followed the company’s journey in the years since I left and still count many Nokia colleagues as friends. I remained relentlessly (stupidly?) brand loyal, purchasing the Lumia 1020 as my last ‘true’ Nokia device even though the store salesman spent 45 minutes trying to talk me OUT of buying it, punting the virtues of the Samsung ‘equivalent’. * sigh *
After 2 years with a Windows phone, I caved and bought my first iPhone. I don’t love it as much as I did my many, many Nokia devices, but it’s not bad.
So, what was it that left many of us ex-Nokians with the fond feelings we have towards the brand all these years later? Here are some of the things that did it for me:
1. We were all so proud to work at Nokia. We succeeded often and we succeeded as a worldwide team. It was awesome being part of that success.
2. Getting a new phone every few weeks and being the first to try prototype phones. (Best perk ever.)
3. Commitment to excellence. In everything we did, we tried our very best.
4. We. Worked. HARD. And no matter how tough things were, everyone always gave 100%.
5. Knowing our tech was changing the world and being part of cutting edge tech developments.
6. Sisu (Google it.)
7. If you were ever stuck with something, you could always find SOMEONE in the world who did the same job as you and ask them for help.
8. Getting to understand so many different cultures around the world and hearing different languages in the office every day. (This really was such fun.) Finnish culture, in particular, made an impression on me.
9. An incredibly supportive company culture. Our office in Johannesburg grew fast – at least two to three new people joined every single month that I was there. One month, over forty new people joined – insane! But despite the fast growth, you always knew that new hires were going to be good people – professionally and personally. Everybody got along. Office politics were minimal. A spirit of co-operation was pervasive. It didn’t matter which Nokia office in the world you walked into, the vibe was always the same. Nokians actually cared about the company, its people and products.
10. Getting to travel the world. I feel so lucky to have been able to visit these countries while I worked at Nokia: Ghana, Nigeria, Finland, Kenya, Mozambique, Portugal, The Netherlands, The United Arab Emirates (at least 20 times!) Germany, Lebanon, United Kingdom, France and the United States of America. Not bad! And my list is short compared to some of my colleagues.
All in all, a happy time in my life and career.