Häikiö, Martti
Nokia Oyj:n historia 1–3
[A history of Nokia plc 1–3]
Helsinki: Edita, 2001. 334p. + 326p. + 334p., ill.
ISBN 951-37-3467-6
€ 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 Center towers.
     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 mediation.

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 own life.
     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 Ericsson.
     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 Agency.
     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 in English.
     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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