Stephen Elop: The Right Man for the Microsoft Top Job?

by Matt Klassen on September 5, 2013

With Microsoft purchasing Nokia’s mobile division earlier this week and with the latter’s CEO Stephen Elop rejoining the Microsoft fold, the popular assumption is that Elop is now the heir apparent to the Microsoft throne, a veritable shoe-in for Steve Ballmer’s CEO job. While there’s no question that Elop was likely a candidate even before Microsoft’s Nokia acquisition, the question has to be asked, is Elop right for the job?

As a testament to his business acumen—or lack thereof—there was great optimism and excitement out of Nokia’s home country of Finland following the Microsoft acquisition announcement, a rare expression of positive emotion in a market where Stephen Elop had been dubbed “Stephen Eflop”.

To be fair, however, Nokia’s downfall wasn’t all Elop’s fault, as few would argue that given the company’s stubborn refusal to change and inability to acknowledge its worsening predicament, Nokia was virtually unfixable even back in 2010 when Elop first took the reigns. But that said, does Elop give Microsoft the sort of leadership it needs, a strong hand to guide the ship and the charisma to win back the market?

There’s no question that Elop returns to his Microsoft compatriots as a bit of a hero, the only CEO in the mobile handset business to exclusively employ Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system. But where he might be seen as a hero at Microsoft, I’m almost certain the rest of the world sees his decision to hook his cart to Windows Phone as his greatest folly, a decision that almost certainly hastened the demise of the company he was tagged to save.

In fact, while Elop can be lauded for choosing a particular tack and sticking with it, his vision for Nokia’s future led to nothing more than 20,000 jobs lost and a staggering 85 percent drop in the company’s shares during his tenure, in addition to a 35 percent loss of market share.

Again, while not all of that can be laid solely in Elop’s lap—given Nokia’s adamant refusal to change over the past decade during the emergence of the smartphone market—those less than stellar numbers will be staring the Microsoft board of directors squarely in the face as they make the decision about the company’s next leader, and that sort of failure is rarely rewarded with the top job at an even bigger company.

Further, as ZDNet writer Jason Hiner notes, “Another factor that works against Elop as CEO is that about 10 of Microsoft’s 16 separate billion dollar businesses are now enterprise businesses. The company needs an enterprise leader,” and the reality is that Elop simply doesn’t have the enterprise pedigree, as the focus of his career has largely been with end user applications like Microsoft Office.

In the end, there’s no question that Elop hastened Nokia’s demise. His choice to partner with Microsoft exclusively undoubtedly killed the company, and while it’s a move Microsoft no doubt appreciates—given their entwined fates—I doubt it’ll be enough to land Elop Microsoft’s coveted CEO position.

But perhaps this deal really had nothing to do with Elop in the first place, but instead was made because Nokia stood at a crossroads: abandon Windows Phone or go bankrupt, either of which would likely spell the end of Windows Phone. But more on that tomorrow.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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