Nokia Oyj:n historia 13
[A history of Nokia plc 13]
Helsinki: Edita, 2001. 334p. + 326p. + 334p., ill.
€ 65 (US$ 57), paperback
(three volumes in a cardboard box)
I order a coffee and open my laptop, reach
into my pocket for my Nokia mobile phone and connect with the internet.
The infrared function opens up the connection and I read my e-mail.
I browse the net for a while, write a few messages and glance at
the headlines in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper. Five minutes
later I shut down my computer, switch off my phone and look out
of the window into a darkening October evening in Manhattan. Downtown
you can still sense the unpleasant smell of the fallen World Trade
I was in this same place ten years
ago; back then communications like these were merely the stuff of
science-fiction. I would call home from a land-line phone
but as a poor researcher I could only afford reverse-charge calls.
E-mail existed, but it was not yet widely used. In those days the
only people who carried or dragged mobile phones around
were yuppies and self-important businessmen.
Now Nokia's huge neon sign shines
amidst the advertising jungle on Times Square and its cellphones
adorn the display windows of every electronics shop. Parisians,
Londoners and Berliners also talk to each other through Nokia's
This aside, do people in general around the world know where Nokia
is from? In a globalised economy the presence of the world's leading
companies can be felt everywhere and yet they have no homeland,
no history or national ties. Their respective values are determined
daily on the stock exchanges of New York and London. Global enterprises
are at work and making profit 24 hours a day in every time zone.
In Finland, Nokia is by far the largest
corporation in the country and the flagship of the economy. The
value of its shares accounts for over half of the Helsinki stock
exchange, and thus any rise and fall in the company sways the economy.
Nokia's research departments, factories and offices have sprung
up in different parts of the country and where Nokia decides to
establish itself, that place seems to become automatically blessed
with affluence and prosperity.
Finns have a very sentimental view
of Nokia. Its reputation and honour are guarded like a national
treasure. I even notice myself secretly checking out the choice
of mobile phone made by other people in the café. Do they
have a Nokia model or an American Motorola? Amongst them might even
be a few Swedish Ericssons in their brightly coloured cases.
Ten years ago Finland had sunk into
the deepest financial depression in its history. The Soviet Union
had broken up and Europe was moving at full speed towards federation;
trade with the east, which for so long had supported Finland, crashed
and currency-stabilising loans lapsed. Nokia also fell into a struggle
with death: the company had skyrocketed during the 1980s from little
Finland into the European electronics markets under the guidance
of its charismatic managing director Kari Kairamo. Nokia's young
engineers were energetic and inventive. Computers, television sets
and mobile phones were being sold all over the world, and within
Nokia there was always talk of ongoing training, innovation, corporate
strategies and market shares. Finland was rapidly becoming a prosperous
nation at the peak of technology. Kari Kairamo marketed Nokia's
shares with the simple slogan that could be translated as 'Grab
a piece of Europe'.
Finns wanted to leave behind them
the stuffy Russianness, Stalinism and the all-consuming party politics
of the 1960s and 70s. Young people were getting to know Europe on
Interrail tickets; ten years later this same generation would be
buying millions of mobile phones, internet connections and computers.
The young marched over the heads of the older generation into the
era of communications, in which mobile communication, rapid data-transfer
and constant change were to replace traditional tall factory chimneys
and assembly lines.
The rise of Nokia was cut dramatically
short towards the end of the 1980s, when, instead of producing mass
profits, its huge investments in the European consumer electronics
markets caused enormous losses. The shareholders began to panic.
Kari Kairamo felt that he was being left alone and made his own
solution in autumn 1988: the burnt-out managing director took his
Nokia had been set back on to square
one. Simo Vuorilehto, with a long career in the forest industry,
was appointed as the new managing director. Over a century of history
came to an end when the water power of the Nokia rapids the
company takes its name from its home town in Southern Finland
was sold off. The same happened to Nokia Data, which had been responsible
for shaping Nokia's image. The company tried to sell off consumer
electronics, reaping terrible losses, but no one wanted to invest
in an industry which had long since been pronounced dead. Nokia
was severely overhauled; everything which was not needed was dispensed
with. The largest enterprise in Finland was now to be sold off entirely
to both east and west. The Dutch company Philips expressed an interest
in the possibility, but long negotiations over an agreement eventually
broke down. Neither was Nokia good enough for the Swedish company
Luckily, the deal was off: Nokia found
a precious lifeline, along which it clambered back towards the future.
One of the departments of the old Helsinki Cable factory had in
the 1960s been renamed 'the cancer ward': all Nokia's research and
development of new products was concentrated here. The name was
a crude way of describing the losses which the electronics production
and research had brought about for the company. However, despite
these financial losses, Nokia had acquired ability, skills and self-confidence.
The young and courageous Jorma Ollila had been assigned the task
of directing Nokia's mobile phone units. He brought together the
company's innovators, economic gurus and young talent, and results
gradually began to emerge.
Nokia developed new and competitive
products; its mobile phones were not just phones, but symbols of
a new era. They offered their owners social status, which included
mobility, freedom and continuous communication. Nokia was now marketing
itself under the slogan 'Connecting People', an idea with which
the interrailing generation of the 1980s found it easy to identify
and Finns, who have often been branded as 'silent types',
all of a sudden had rather a lot to say to each other on the train,
in the car, in department stores, cafés or restaurants. With
a mobile phone people were constantly accessible.
People trained in mobile phone technology
were harnessed from universities and polytechnics. The high costs
of research and development programmes were covered by borrowing
money and applying for funding from the state. Nokia made itself
an integral part of Finnish high technology research units. The
development of Oulu University, in the north, would never have happened
had it not been for Nokia. The same can be said for Jyväskylä
University and the technical high schools in Otaniemi, Lappeenranta
and Tampere. Nokia soon became the darling of state-funded technology
policies: the company has received continual high levels of funding
for research and development work carried out at the National Technology
Nokia succeeded in resolving its crisis
at precisely the right moment. The governments of Europe had monopolies
over telecommunications and there was space on the free market for
a few aggressive operators. They offered their customers new services,
the most popular being the internet and mobile phones. Nokia was
able to offer these growing markets a device at the very peak of
technology: the GSM mobile phone. In a matter of a few years the
Finnish electronics company become one of the pillars of the global
economy; it also sidelined both its rivals Ericsson and Motorola.
Jorma Ollila's Nokia is fresh, fast, innovative, hard-working and
global. Humility and perseverance are qualities inherited from Nokia's
history, but the company does not bow before of the threats of the
world's markets. In its history spanning over a hundred years the
company has been in terrible difficulties on many occasions, but
it has always managed to get through one way or another. Ollila
has created out of the multi-faceted enterprise of the past a vast
but well-trimmed electronics company.
This new Nokia is looking towards
the future without the burdens of the past; the task of writing
its history is just as daunting in size as the company itself. The
collaboration between Martti Häikiö and his co-writer
Juhana Aunesluoma is an attempt to document the history of Nokia
from the 1860s to the present day. There are in all three books,
with the total number of pages approaching a thousand. A fourth
book is yet to appear: an abridged version of the whole project
The company started life during the
1860s in the province of Häme, by the Nokia river, amidst great
forests and lakes, as a wood pulp and paper manufacturer. These
products were taken to Russia, where there were plenty of markets
and ready cash. Soon afterwards the family was joined by the Finnish
Rubber Factory, producing galoshes and rubber boots for the needs
of the great neighbour to the east. Later on, the Rubber Factory
specialised in manufacturing bicycle and car tyres. A third branch
of the range of products came from the cable industry. There was
a market for this in Finland itself; being a geographically vast
country it needed an electricity and communications infrastructure.
As such, the Nokia of today was born
of forestry, electricity, cable and rubber manufacturers. Nokia's
history is full of people who were instrumental in shaping Finnish
industry, of whom a few names have disappeared into the mists of
time. As Häikiö and Aunesluoma describe Nokia's journey
through the ages, they are also describing Finland and the history
of the Finns through the ravages of time. They could have written
even more about the past, but no doubt the glitter of electronics
has been difficult to resist.
I return once again to Manhattan: technology has done away with
distance, time and place. Terrorists make effective use of the instruments
of modern technology. Although many people may have planned to close
off borders in the light of the events of 11 September, in practice
this remains impossible. The world has opened up and it cannot be
shut again without even more horrific repercussions.
The story of Nokia is intrinsically
linked to the opening up of the world. Ten years ago Nokia was almost
entirely under Finnish ownership, today Finland owns but a few per
cent. Its head office is still in Finland and even the slightest
suggestion of its moving somewhere else would create the most almighty
uproar. The success has been astonishing, but Finns have nonetheless
not become blind to the riches this has brought about to surprisingly
many Nokia executives; the new stock option multimillionaires awaken
envy and even disgust in Finns. The nation wishes to see a Nokia
which is humble, hard-working and grateful. As such, it is still
every Finn's own corporation.
Translated by David Hackston
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