Nokia CEO on predicting the future: Use data, customer feedback and instinct

Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri. Image: Nokia

LAS VEGAS – Nokia’s chief executive said a mix of business data, customer feedback and “gut feel” are the key ingredients to directing his company toward the future.

“We’ve tried to be good at predicting when technology milestones will come,” said Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri. “Because it’s very important to our business. Otherwise you start to lose a ton of R&D way before the curve. And being too early isn’t good either. So that’s what we’ve tried to do with small cells, with cloud, with 4.5G, 4.9G.”

In an interview with FierceWireless on the sidelines of the recent CTIA Super Mobility trade show here, Suri said he relies on Nokia’s market position, alongside a wide range of other signals, to help him direct the company’s focus.

“We’re a very data-based company,” he explained. “We have a very strong interlock between our sales organization – Customer Operations, we call it – and our business groups. So we have this interlock process that allows us to get all this data.”

Added Suri: “Of course I use that. But there’s a lot of instinct, gut feel of the business. I’ve been around 30 years in this business, so that gut feel helps a lot. I’ve seen this before, I know what it’s going to be like. So I tend to be able to be good with predictions.”

Suri added that he works closely with Nokia’s customers in order to ascertain what their concerns are and where their business is headed, in an effort to discern where Nokia needs to spend its attention. “I tend to be very customer focused, so my schedule reflects that. I’m on the road a lot, I meet a lot of customers, and they give me a lot of ability to suss out what’s going to happen,” he said.

And, not surprisingly, Suri argued Nokia alone has a unique view into the global wireless marketplace that gives him a bird’s eye view of where the sector is heading now and in the future. He said Nokia is the industry’s only global company that works on both the network and the device side of the business (Nokia is in the process of licensing its brand to a smartphone maker, and it recently acquired a digital health and wearable provider called Withings and released the Ozo virtual reality camera). Suri noted Ericsson is a global infrastructure vendor but doesn’t have a handset business, while Huawei doesn’t have a significant presence in key markets like the United States.

“That allows us to see the broader game. And that allows you to get a much better mindshare from the operator,” Suri said. “Because they want to listen to you and say, ‘Well you know the end game much better.’”

Of course, Nokia and much of the rest of the world’s wireless infrastructure market is on the downswing. The company posted a second straight quarterly loss due to decreased carrier network investments worldwide as well as expenses related to its acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent.

Nokia said it plans to regain its financial footing by cutting even more costs. The company raised its cost-saving target to $1.34 billion by 2018, up from the $1 billion it had previously targeted. Already, Nokia in April said it planned to cut thousands of jobs worldwide, including a reported 1,000 positions in its homeland of Finland.

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Article updated Sept. 12 with clarifications.