What makes him powerful: Nokia (NYSE:NOK) CEO Stephen Elop was hired in September 2010 to chart a new direction for the company after Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo failed to move quickly enough to counter Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone. It's too early to tell whether Elop's plan to make Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone platform Nokia's smartphone platform of choice will pay off, but it is undeniable that Elop is moving the world's largest handset maker in a new direction.
His first big burst of leadership came after a months-long review of Nokia's business and culminated in his infamous "burning platform" memo, in which he described Nokia as beset on all sides by smartphone competitors. Days later Elop announced an alliance with Microsoft to use Windows Phone and to tightly integrate the companies' mobile services.
While Elop promised to support Nokia's legacy Symbian platform through at least 2016, he made the crucial decision to outsource Symbian development to Accenture. Elop has had to make other tough decisions, including slashing 4,000 jobs (on top of the 1,800 cut in October 2010) and outsourcing 3,000 employees to Accenture. However, the cuts indicate Elop is squarely focused on a leaner, meaner Nokia.
Part of Elop's somewhat-ironic "challenger" mentality manifests itself in how Nokia is approaching the U.S. market with its Windows Phone devices, going completely against Nokia's past practice of dictating to the U.S. market how its devices should be sold. Instead, Nokia is focused on competing at multiple price points, undercutting Android, and catering to carriers' needs.
Last month Elop unveiled the company's first smartphones running Windows Phone. The Lumia 800 and 710 will be available in November in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, with support from 31 operators and retail partners. By year-end, both devices will be available in Hong Kong, India, Russia, Singapore and Taiwan. For the United States, Nokia did not announce any specific products, but Elop said a portfolio of devices will be coming in early 2012.
It may be too early to determine whether Elop's Windows Phone strategy will pay off--but he is making bold moves that are refreshing for this typically slow-to-respond Finnish firm. --Phil