Company Vitae: Nokia

The world's biggest mobile maker for years, Nokia has surprisingly low-tech roots. But Finland's best-known brand is losing the smartphone war. Here's a potted history.

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Formative years

The firm that launched a thousand ringtones began as a paper mill in Tampere in 1865, when Finland was still part of the Russian empire. In 1871, founder Fredrik Idestam opened another mill in the nearby town of Nokia and the Nokia Company was born. By the 1960s it was Finland's leading industrial conglomerate, making everything from rubber boots and bike tyres to cables and electrical machinery. It moved into telecoms and in the 1980s helped develop the GSM standard that would bring mobiles to the masses. In 1992, its bosses took the risky decision to focus on this new technology and sell off its other businesses. It worked: between 1998 and 2001, turnover increased nearly fivefold, from EUR6.5bn to EUR31bn, as it rapidly came to dominate the global handset market.

Recent history

Although the 'mobile internet' had been around for years, Apple's all-conquering 2007 iPhone showed that the future belonged to pocket-sized gadgets that were as much music players, cameras and games machines as phones. And then there are all those apps ...

Throw in Google's Android OS and Nokia faced trouble, but it tried to rest on its laurels - with disastrous consequences. Since 2007, market cap has plummeted from EUR110bn to less than EUR10bn, and in Q1 this year it posted a loss of EUR1.34bn. In September, 3,500 redundancies were announced, with a further 4,000 earlier this year.

Who's the boss?

Current CEO, ex-Microsoft exec Stephen Elop, took over in 2010, circulating the now-famous 'burning platform' memo in an effort to galvanise his staff. He ditched Nokia's outclassed in-house Symbian operating system in favour of Windows Phone 7 - Nokia's best chance of catching up with rivals, he reckons. But a group of investors is suing the firm for misleading them on the OS issue. The legendary Jorma Ollila, architect of Nokia's glory years, was CEO from 1992 to 2006 and then chairman until he stepped down last month. He believes the firm can regain ground lost to Apple, Samsung and HTC.

The secret formula

Once renowned for speedy decision-making and quirky, meritocratic culture, Nokia was a firm people wanted to work for, making things people wanted to buy. But product development has foundered and its management stood accused first of complacency, and now lack of direction.

Don't mention ...

Being number two. From 1998 to this year, Nokia shipped more mobile handsets annually than any other firm. But Samsung took its crown with a market share of 25.4% to Nokia's 22.5%.

VITAL STATISTICS
Employees: 130,000
Revenues: EUR38.65bn
Net loss: EUR1.16bn
Figures for FY 2011

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