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Nokia's chairman to step down next year

Wed, 05/04/2011 - 6:37am
Nokia, the world's largest phone maker by volume, has started to look for a new chairman to succeed long-time leader Jorma Ollila, who will step down next year.

Ollila, a global star during the dot-com era, led Nokia's transformation from a rubber boots and TVs conglomerate into a giant mobile phone company in the 1990s, but the Finnish firm has recently lost out in the smartphone market to newcomers Apple Inc and Google Inc.

"It was a tough year, and I expect the year ahead to be a tough one too," Ollila told the annual shareholders' meeting on Tuesday, adding he was ready to continue for 12 more months.

"I am committed to continue at the job and do my bit. Throwing in the towel due to earlier difficulties is not my way of doing things," Ollila said.

Ollila is the last top manager at Nokia who took part of raising it to the top of the phone industry in 1990s.

"For a long time he did a great job at Nokia, but then he made some mistakes that cost shareholders a fortune," said John Strand, founder and chief of Danish firm Strand Consult.

"Under Ollila, Nokia was slow in smartphone development, not active in the fight with Apple and Google and failed to succeed in the United States," Strand said.

Ollila joined Nokia in 1985, was chief executive between 1992 and 2006 and has been chairman since. He is also a chairman of Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

"Ollila's overall record as CEO of Nokia was outstanding, although he struggled to sustain the company's leadership in the United States during the first half of the 2000s, and some of Nokia's problems in that valuable market can arguably be traced back to Ollila's reign," said analyst Neil Mawston from Strategy Analytics.

PAINFUL SMARTPHONE MOVE

To turn around its smartphone fortunes, Ollila last year replaced his old colleague Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo with Canadian Stephen Elop, a unit chief from Microsoft Corp.

In February Elop compared the company with a burning platform in a widely leaked memo when he unveiled a shift in strategy in smartphones by adopting Microsoft's unproven operating software in preference to Nokia's own Symbian platform.

Elop on Tuesday reiterated that Nokia would receive billions from Microsoft as part of the deal, including substantial payments for the use of patents.

Shares in Nokia were 0.8 percent higher at $9.31 in afternoon New York Stock Exchange trading.

Uncertainty over the success of the Microsoft deal has driven Nokia shares down 25 percent since the deal was unveiled, and the stock is trading at a mere third of what it was worth three years ago.

"It has been very painful to be a Nokia shareholder for the past several years," said shareholder Pekka Voutilainen.

Ollila, who owns 700,000 shares in the company, agreed.

Ollila is a highly respected business leader in his native country, but several smaller shareholders said he should take some responsibility for Nokia's failures.

"If Elop was hired to put out the fire, Ollila is the one who lit it," shareholder Matti Virtanen said at the meeting.

($1=.6773 euros)

(Editing by Greg Mahlich and Gerald E. McCormick)

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