Friday’s announcement that Microsoft Business Division president Stephen Elop had left the Redmond company to assume the position of president and CEO of Nokia has elicited a range of responses from industry observers — some encouraging, others less so.
Writing for BusinessWeek, Aaron Ricadela, Diana ben-Aaron, and Peter Burrows point out that Elop “brings a history of iconoclastic decisions that may benefit the Finnish mobile-phone maker as it competes with nimbler Silicon Valley rivals.”
Like a number of commentators, the BusinessWeek writers underscore the relevance of Elop’s experience in software, since it is the underlying software, more than the handsets themselves, that differentiates the current generation of mobile devices.
While Dan Frommer, writing for Business Insider, also praises Elop’s software background, he takes a more dour view of his selection to run Nokia:
Elop doesn’t have consumer electronics experience, or much consumer Internet experience — and his big competitors Apple and Google have a lot of it. And Microsoft is hardly the example of cool these days, especially the Office or smartphone divisions.
Frommer sums up his view with this dismal assessment: “[Elop] sounds like another suit, and not the dreamer that Nokia needs to beat Apple and Google.”
Elop’s recent hopscotch career is certainly open to multiple interpretations. At the end of a lengthy tenure at Macromedia he succeeded Rob Burgess to become CEO in 2005 — shortly before the company announced its merger with Adobe Systems. Elop subsequently occupied relatively brief stints at Adobe Systems, Juniper Networks, and Microsoft.
Despite the eclectic background, a key theme that runs through Elop’s work is a focus on user experience. At the Wharton Business Technology Conference in early 2009 Elop unveiled a Microsoft concept video titled “A Glimpse Ahead” that presented a portrait of the next generation of connected technology. While the content of the video is interesting, its style is equally significant — a point Elop emphasized when I interviewed him for Knowledge@Wharton following his presentation:
I came from companies where the experience is fundamentally the differentiator. In the video [presented at the Wharton Business Technology Conference], you saw our focus on: What is the user experience? What is the interaction model? How can we advance that cause?
Elop also explained that at Microsoft’s Business Division he had “six strategic imperatives” one of which was “to delight our customers with unparalleled experiences.” Elop readily admitted that “Microsoft does this sometimes; other times it does not.”
This focus on user experience is key to the success of mobile devices. And at Nokia Elop may have more latitude to achieve that goal than he did at Microsoft.
Microsoft Office is that company’s largest source of revenue. Microsoft tends to approach innovation in its existing products cautiously in order to avoid undermining their rich revenue streams. Nokia — facing a serious challenge from more innovative competitors like Apple and Google — may be better place for Elop to aspire to his goal to “delight…customers with unparalleled experiences.”