It was a sunny December afternoon in 2016. After an intense year of writing, we were close to finishing the first full draft of our book about the rise and fall of Nokia’s mobile phone business and we were on a call with our editor, Adam, to talk about practical things like schedules, cover design, marketing and the production process.
As our discussions were drawing to a close, Adam asked us if we had a title for the book. Funnily enough, whenever we write, we’re so immersed in the detail of the story and its analysis, that the title is the last thing we think about and this time was no exception. It’s also difficult to come up with a just few words which will accurately and fairly encapsulate the scope and spirit of a book.
We threw a few ideas around and then Adam put forward the suggestion ‘Ringtone’. We both immediately liked the idea. Although all phones have ringtones, there was something special and enduring about ‘that’ Nokia ringtone. It had heralded the arrival of the mobile phone as a mass consumer good that changed all of our lives forever. To a whole generation it was synonymous with mobile phones. It was instantly recognisable all over the world. Its astonishing ubiquity for over decade symbolised Nokia’s dominance of the industry. And it still makes people smile when they hear it today.
During our research we had come to realise not only are there still legions of fans of Nokia phones around the world, but Nokia seems to be one of those rare companies that people feel a genuine fondness for and connection with – even though it might have been fifteen years since they last bought a Nokia product! (Something HMD should be able to capitalise on with its new range of Nokia-branded phones which capture the innovation and style of Nokia’s heyday.)
It also speaks volumes about a company when so many of its ex-employees remain passionate about it. From what we have seen and experienced of the network of ex-Nokians, there seems to be more of the energy, drive, dynamism and sense of belonging associated with the alumni groups of universities and business schools than is typical for a corporate entity. It’s amazing to see that years later, a sense of identity and belonging is still so strong amongst ex-Nokians.
Our book of course, wouldn’t have been possible without the passion and generosity of a large number of ex-Nokians who patiently answered our questions and shared their thoughts, insights and time to help us understand what had driven Nokia’s spectacular growth through the 1990s and early 2000s and the factors that had later contributed to its decline. Even though many of the people we interviewed had moved on from Nokia some years ago, it was striking how much they still cared about Nokia and what had happened.
The generosity of ex-Nokians has continued since our book’s publication. We’ve heard from a number of people with detailed accounts of their own experience and perspectives – sometimes filling in gaps, sometimes agreeing with our analysis and sometimes disagreeing. That people care so much about the company they used to work for that they are prepared to do this is quite a rare phenomenon in our experience. We are grateful to everyone who has read Ringtone and then got in touch with us.