Nokia – it’s the company name with an almost magical tone to it. When Finland was suffering the terrible depression and record unemployment of the 90’s, Nokia came up with one of the company’s greatest success stories, 2110, and started rocketing towards stardom. The mobile business lifted not only the company – which only a few years earlier had struggled to stay in business – but an entire Northern nation to economic success and a brand of its own. The reliable, effective, hard-working Finns; “Japan of the North” and their mysterious language, spoken only by about 5 million people.
Considering all this, it’s no wonder that Nokia’s most successful management team soon earned the nickname “Dream Team”. They seemed to be marching steadily from one victory to another and they had a superb team of employees working for them, making the dream a reality for everybody affected by the mobile giant’s success.
Certain secrecy always surrounded Nokia and this is probably one of the reasons why the company and its employees were subject to the strangest beliefs and rumours. Of course there was a good reason for the secrecy; in the hectic mobile market it was vital to protect business secrets from outsiders to avoid the possibility that competitors might get ahead. It seems to me that many people had no idea what Nokia’s business was to begin with (besides rubber boots and car tires), so when the company started its victorious journey in the mobile world, everything happened so quickly that it took everyone by surprise. It was almost impossible to get the hang of it if you were an outsider – and sometimes even when you were part of the phenomenon yourself.
I remember the first time I encountered these strange beliefs. I was in training in Helsinki, getting ready for my first job in Nokia’s IT support. During a coffee break another lady asked me: “How did you manage to sneak into Nokia? Their demands in job ads always seem so tough.” I didn’t know what to say! I had just been the right person, in the right place, at the right time and was lucky enough to be recruited by one of the best, most down-to-earth bosses I’ve had the chance to work with. I did not look for job ads, I just contacted him by email and things fell into place.
Another very funny moment occurred years later, when I had been working in R&D for several years. My R&D experience came from UI testing and error management, which of course mean nothing to most outsiders – the latter I had to explain even to insiders quite a few times. So, usually I just said I work in R&D. At one time this elderly lady wanted to know more and asked me: “So, what do you DO there? Do you, like, draw the phones or what?” It was quite funny and I imagined myself sitting by the desk, drawing phone on paper, then taking the sketch with a list of desired features to the factory: “Start delivering!” Or maybe we would have a weekly meeting to see who’s come up with the coolest design and decide which models would be worth manufacturing.
You can’t blame people for not getting the whole picture. I worked for the company for 11 years and I’m still amazed by how many bits’n’pieces were required to get a mobile phone on the market. All the patents, sourcing, testing, mechanics design, marketing, coding, …and that was just the beginning, or rather a part of it!
There are some things I’d like to bring up from Nokia’s best years. I already mentioned the people. As long as Nokia invested in people, success was inevitable. Another part of that process was teamwork. Now, I believe that the top management always influences the work culture and even the best employees can’t succeed if a company is poorly managed. For many years I had the privilege of working in NMP (Nokia Mobile Phones) while Matti Alahuhta was leading the unit. He knew how to lead people: to create the enthusiastic and inspiring atmosphere that makes people commit, contribute and excel. There was always the strong sense that we were a team, all working for the common good. This was the case even when I was still in IT support: the business needed us and we had to be there for them. The great quarterly results were always achieved with teamwork, every single piece of the puzzle doing their best. When the unit achieved a milestone, we had all reached it together.
This teamwork attitude is what far too many workplaces are missing. Whether you work in a supermarket, hospital, IT service or even a museum: you’re always part of some kind of team and you all need to work for the common goal together. In most cases that goal is a satisfied customer…no, I mean: an enthusiastic fan!