21. Stephen Elop, CEO, Nokia - Most Powerful People in Wireless

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Stephen Elop, CEO, NokiaWhat makes him powerful:, Nokia (NYSE:NOK) CEO Stephen Elop has faced a year filled with grim financial news and weakening handset sales. However, Elop has been nothing if not fully committed to using Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone software as its primary smartphone platform. And while sales of Nokia's Lumia Windows Phones line have not yet taken off (fewer than 10 million since they were first released in Europe in November 2011), Nokia and Elop are banking on Windows Phone 8 to jumpstart sales.

Nokia has racked up at least $1 billion in net losses in the last four quarters. The company lost its crown as the world's largest handset maker by volume in the first quarter to Samsung Electronics, the first time in 14 years Nokia did not hold that title. Despite that humbling experience, Elop has pushed forward with the Lumia strategy as well as Nokia's Asha line, aimed at young consumers in emerging markets in a bid to shore up market share as Symbian fades away.  

On the Lumia front, Nokia has in some sense been limited by its partner Microsoft. Nokia's first U.S. flagship Lumia product, the 900 for AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), ran Windows Phone 7.5, which meant that it did not have a dual-core processor, NFC support and could not be fully upgraded to Windows Phone 8. Despite the promise of a major marketing blitz from AT&T, the Lumia 900 launch in April was a small blip on the radar, and Nokia sold the same number of phones in North America as it sold in the first when the 900 wasn't on sale—600,000 units.

While Elop has been executing the company's devices strategy—including by brining Windows Phone to China--he's also had to adjust Nokia to the new reality that it's not the smartphone king anymore and it's not 2006. Nokia announced in February it would cut 4,000 manufacturing jobs as part of its efforts to streamline its production of smartphones and then in June said it would cut 10,000 more workers.

With the launch of Nokia's first two Windows Phone 8 devices, the high-end Lumia 920 and mid-range 820, Elop and Nokia are getting a chance to show off the full range of Nokia's refinements, including its PureView camera technology, Nokia Transport service for mass transit and City Lens augmented reality service. Getting Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) to sign on as a Nokia partner was a major (and necessary) win for Nokia's U.S. comeback story.

Nokia is not out of the woods by any means, and investor pressure on Elop is growing for the Lumia strategy to show results, as Symbian sales have fallen off faster than expected. Elop has put in place a strategy to make Nokia relevant in smartphones again. Now he and the company need to convince consumers to buy in.--Phil

Special Report: Top 25 Most Powerful People in U.S. Wireless 2012