Nortel, Nokia chiefs among worst ever

Your Non-Political Argument Starter of the week: Fierce Wireless has posted a short list of the worst wireless CEOs of all time.

It’s naturally subjective and decidedly Western-centric. And it’s not the kind of thing I normally care about, since I have zero experience as a CEO and it’s easy to criticize with 20/20 hindsight. But it’s an interesting pocket-history lesson of how bad decisions can cause big companies to fail.
 
The list is in no particular order, but if I had to nominate someone for the top slot, it would be someone who’s not even on the list: former Nortel chief Frank Dunn, whose accounting shenanigans not only earned him and two other Nortel execs fraud indictments, but also heralded the beginning of the end for one of the biggest equipment vendors on the planet.
 
FW lists Dunn’s replacement, Mike Zafirovski, for being unable to rescue Nortel from the aftermath of the financial fraud scandal. But while that may be justified – assuming that Nortel was still savable when Zafirovski came onboard at the end of 2005 – surely Dunn himself should be on the list for ultimately sinking Nortel in the first place.
  
As for the CEOs who did make the list, if I had to bump one of them to the top (and again, this is coming from someone who has never had to run a business of any size, but I’ve got a blog to run here), I’d go with former Nokia chief Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo.
 
FW highlights Nokia’s failure to crack the US market under his tenure, but I think Kallasvuo’s bigger failure was misjudging the direction of the smartphone market, and not understanding just how big a game-changer the iPhone was.
 
Granted, Nokia wasn’t the only handset maker to have its thunder stolen by Apple. But with Symbian easily the biggest smartphone platform even by the end of 2009, Nokia was arguably in a better position than most to steal it back. Obviously, that never happened under Kallasvuo, and hasn’t really happened under his replacement, Stephen Elop (yet).
 
Meanwhile, if all this is too negative for you, FW has also posted its list of the best turnaround wireless CEOs of all time.
 
No prizes for guessing who gets first mention.
 
Meanwhile, if you’ve got any suggestions for either list – particularly for wireless CEOs within the Asia-Pacific – send them my way via the comments box or by email ([email protected]).

 

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