What If? – The Burning Platform
There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.
“As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice.
“He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times – his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a “burning platform” caused a radical change in his behaviour.”
-Internal Nokia memo from recently appointed CEO, Stephen Elop, 2011.
(Redmond by way of Espoo… by way of Redmond? If that doesn’t make sense now, read on.)
In 2010, Nokia was on fire—and not in a good way. Apple’s iPhone was a phenomenon, Google’s Android was coming into its own and Nokia’s Symbian and MeeGo mobile OSes were … not. Not by a long shot. Newly appointed CEO, and the first non-Finn to hold the title, Stephen Elop, was between a rock and a hard place—should Nokia stick with Symbian? Should they kiss Google’s ring and join the (seeming) race to the bottom with Android? Would they pledge allegiance to Redmond in hopes that the Microsoft of old would reemerge with their own mobile platform and dominate mobile in the same manner they had with the desktop?
No matter what his decision was, it wasn’t going to be easy, and the fate of the company was in the balance. After much deliberation, Elop steered Nokia to bet the farm on Windows Phone, a fledgling mobile OS developed by Microsoft. Fast forward to today and Windows Phone is still struggling with a mere 3.5% market share against iOS’ 16.9% and the Android juggernaut weighing in at 68.1%, according to IDC.
Stephen Elop’s background is quite interesting. After studying computer engineering, he had stints with Lotus, Macromedia, Adobe, Juniper Networks and a little known company from Redmond, Washington, named Microsoft. Having held a variety of positions ranging from working in the Web/IT department of Macromedia all the way to the C-suite of Juniper Networks, Elop found himself in the position of President of the Business Division of Microsoft in 2008. Two years later, Elop joins Nokia as CEO and writes the infamous “Burning Platform” memo.
As we now know, Nokia is the flagship hardware manufacturer for Windows Phone. Despite emphatically denying that Nokia didn’t sell their soul to Microsoft, the question remains: did an inside man from Microsoft become CEO of Nokia only to tank their stock price, allowing Ballmer & Co. to buy Nokia for pennies on the dollar? Conveniently, Nokia’s share price has taken a nosedive since Elop took the reins—a 70% decrease in two years.
Dan Radovsky, a Motley Fool contributor wrote this piece asking if Microsoft can even afford to let Nokia go under. If Nokia runs out of cash, what hardware manufacturer will then partner with Microsoft? Perhaps at this point Microsoft cannot afford to let Nokia perish.
It’s an unequivocal fact that Nokia’s MeeGo and Symbian plans were not panning out for Nokia. But is it out of the realm of extreme possibility to entertain the thought that the “burning platform” was recognized as a cheap foray into hardware manufacturing for Microsoft? Maybe Nokia will rise from the ashes of the “burning platform” only to realize that the fire extinguisher was made in Redmond.
Thumbnail courtesy of Free Digital Photos.