‘Stephen Elop wasn’t just incompetent; he was evil. He appeared out of the West in his white hat pretending to be Nokia’s saviour. Instead Stephen Elop purposefully destroyed the world’s number one mobile device manufacturer and sold it off dirt cheap to his former employer Microsoft. He caused the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and single-handedly crippled the Finnish economy. Along the way he siphoned off millions of euros in salary and didn’t even pay his fair share in taxes. A more immoral and ineffectual corporate executive would be difficult to find.’
So goes a common refrain. When Microsoft quietly announced that Stephen Elop was leaving the company the internet was once again filled with such diatribes. I once described him as ‘the most hated man in Finland,’ and that is still true. Emotions are a strange thing, and, by definition, aren’t logical. Many people hate Elop and so try to find justifications for it. The reality is a bit different.
It is indisputable that Elop’s 2010-2015 tenure with Nokia and Microsoft doesn’t have many successes. Declining market share, falling sales, collapsing profit, tens of thousands of jobs lost – they are incontrovertible facts. The fantastic Merina Salminen has calculated that Nokia’s market value declined €18 million per day of Elop’s 1,020 day reign. Even when he had Microsoft’s considerable resources at his disposal he couldn’t improve the situation.
Even though Elop’s time at the helm was a failure, he did not fail on purpose. The idea that he was a Trojan Horse for Microsoft is ludicrous, and is only repeated by people either blinded by their own emotional pain.
Many of Elop’s most controversial decisions made sense when he made them. It is obvious now that going with the Windows operating system was a terrible mistake, but at the time it logically seemed to be the best option. People like to play ‘What If’ and there are many different scenarios to think about: continuing with Symbian, going to MeeGo, switching to Android, or my favourite idea of using multiple operating systems. Yet it is conceivable that none of these options would have worked. It doesn’t matter which way you steer a plane if its wings have sheared off. You’re only going down.
Now that Stephen Elop has finally left Microsoft and people are writing obituaries of his career, it is time to put these old conspiracy theories to rest. I refuted them in my book The Decline and Fall of Nokia, and so have others, such as Merina Salminen and Pekka Nykäsen. The reality is that Elop was a bad leader, but not an evil one. I think pity is a more useful emotion than hate.