HELSINKI (Reuters) - Stephen Elop must know better than anyone exactly what Nokia is letting itself in for by jumping into the eager arms of Microsoft.
Nokia’s new chief executive, who this week described the world’s largest cellphone maker as a “burning platform,” has turned to his former employer for a deal to use Windows Phone as the software platform for Nokia’s smartphones.
So it was friends reunited when Elop shared the spotlight on Friday with former boss and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to explain how the two giants have teamed up to take on Google and Apple in fast-growing smartphones.
But behind the smiles and handshakes for the cameras, Elop faces a bitter battle, not only with Nokia’s competitors but for the very heart and mind of the company itself.
“I’m here to fight,” Elop told investors at the briefing.
Elop was drafted in from Microsoft in September to halt Nokia’s decline. As president of Microsoft’s Business Division and a member of its team responsible for overall strategy, he was hired for his software know-how.
The 47-year-old Canadian became the first non-Finn to head Nokia in its 145-year history, a sign of how desperately Nokia needs to transform itself to claim back market share and the innovative edge it has lost to Apple and other rivals.
Elop has impressive Silicon Valley credentials, and much of his experience should stand him in good stead at Nokia. But the Microsoft deal means that he will now have to turn his attention to the hardware Nokia produces rather than the programing that has become so crucial to the success of smartphones.
After graduating in computer engineering and management from Canada’s McMaster University, he had a spell as chief information officer of restaurant chain Boston Chicken.
Elop got back on track with seven years at Macromedia. The San Francisco-based software house produced Web design tools beloved of Apple developers. Macromedia made the Flash video software that powered the rise of YouTube, and Dreamweaver, widely used to build websites.
It successfully pushed to get Flash into mobile devices, winning over every handset maker and service provider including Nokia. Adobe bought Macromedia for $3.4 billion in 2005.
When it was plain he was not going to become the next Adobe CEO, Elop wasted little time in moving to Juniper Networks as COO, and then on to Microsoft to run its business division — a $19 billion operation that includes Microsoft’s Office software and is the largest of the company’s five divisions.
While Elop did not develop a public profile there, Ballmer has praised him as a solid leader during the recession.
Importantly, he helped steer the company toward online versions of programs such as Word, Outlook and Excel, which users could access from anywhere, including mobile devices.
That was a tough transition for Microsoft, whose fortune is founded on software installed on desktop computers. The company announced a tie-up with Nokia a year ago as part of this drive.
Microsoft’s chief negotiator in the deal? Elop.
Elop’s low-key style may have been one reason Nokia hired him, but his eagerly awaited appearance in front of investors on Friday showed that while he’s no Ballmer or Steve Jobs, by Finnish standards he’s a showman.
Yet his approach is more in keeping with Finnish seriousness than with the freewheeling U.S. West Coast.
One passion Elop shares with the Finns is love of ice hockey, and he has been spotted watching matches in Helsinki. He is an occasional user of Twitter and sometimes tweets about hockey.
Elop, an active pilot, enjoys spending time with his family and the many sports pursued by his five children.
Editing by Alexander Smith