Is Time Running Out For Nokia's Stephen Elop?

| About: Nokia Corporation (NOK)

It looks like the anti-Elop faction is raising its voice at Nokia Corporation (NYSE:NOK), as some analysts believe that the holiday season is Stephen Elop's last chance to keep his job as the CEO of the company. Just as Nokia's shares have recovered from their all-time low and the company announced a phone good enough to compete with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Samsung (OTC:SSNLF), many analysts covering the company don't feel the company will turn around anytime soon, and many of the company's investors are running out of patience too with the company's management.

While the company is burning through cash, and a bankruptcy looks very possible in the medium term, Nokia's management looks and acts too calm. It is difficult to see any sense of urgency in Nokia's management as the company rolls down the cliff. One would think that Nokia's management is comfortable knowing that the company will be saved by some "magical hand" in the last minute before it goes bankrupt.

When Stephen Elop was brought in as the CEO of the company, Nokia was the world leader in mobile phones and smart phones; however, the company's market share was on a sharp decline as Apple and Samsung were stealing market share in the high-end market and multiple Asian companies were gaining market share in the low-end market.

Mr. Elop blamed the decline of Nokia's market share mainly on the Symbian operating system. He also noticed some dysfunctions in the company's operations, such as having "too many cooks in the kitchen." The company was too big, with too many offices in too many locations and too many decision makers. There were endless meetings resulting in no decisions. The company's engineers were very smart, they knew what needed to be done, but it took forever to go through many decision-makers to have them agree on anything.

Mr. Elop attempted to make Nokia a leaner and meaner company. The company would get smaller in size, decision-making process would get centralized, Nokia would listen to the consumers and the watch out for the competition. Last but not least, the company would form a strong partnership with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), which many people looked at skeptically, because Mr. Elop came to Nokia from Microsoft.

Magnus Rehle from Greenwich Consulting said: "Elop has not been able to attract customers and that is what counts. You can say that he has not had enough time, but he has been there for two years. Time is up." While the quality and attractiveness of Nokia's products improved a lot since Elop took the office, the company's marketing efforts didn't improve a bit. In today's smart phone industry, marketing matters as much as making good quality products do, if not more. Good marketing efforts can sell a bad product, whereas bad marketing can keep a company from selling really good products.

Juha Varis of Danske Invest Finnish Equity Fund said: ""The Christmas season is a lost cause. For Nokia, if there is any chance, it will be spring. After that, the beginning of next year may be the final judgment. I think that maybe the end of the first quarter is the marking point."

Michael Weyrich of AlixPartners said: "If you look at Nokia and see what they have done in the past year you can't fault them. They have done all the things you would expect them to: restructured the operations, taken costs out, simplified things in the business, and furiously launched new smart phones in the market."

The situation also has serious consequences for Microsoft. Nokia is the only company that is fully committed to Microsoft's operating system. Most other companies that produce a Windows Phone are more invested in Android (Google Inc.: GOOG) than Windows and they see Windows as a "side thing" to diversify their offerings. If Windows Phone 8 fails, this will hurt growth prospects of Microsoft significantly.

While the company's enterprise segment is doing really well, its consumer segment is struggling to find growth and Windows Phone 8 might be one of Microsoft's last chances to capture growth in the consumer segment. If Windows Phone 8 fails, Nokia might go bankrupt and other Windows phone producers might switch to Android fully, as they are not as committed to Windows phone as Nokia is. In this case, Microsoft would have to take the matter to its hands and build its own Windows phone.

Interestingly enough, Microsoft might have to pick up the "dead body" of Nokia to keep its consumer segment growing. Microsoft can't afford to lose Nokia and it will have to bail out the company if needed. Maybe Microsoft is the "magical hand" Nokia's management is hoping to save their company and this is why there isn't much of a sense of urgency within the Nokia management.

If Nokia's Lumia 920 fails, Microsoft will have to act fast, without giving Nokia a chance to switch to another operating system. If, for example, Nokia ends up firing Steve Elop and switches to Android and becomes successful, this will mark the end of Microsoft's smart phone venture. Microsoft has invested too much in its Windows Phone 8 project to just let go of it. The company will fight with everything it has to keep this project alive. Microsoft will have to pick up where Nokia has failed: the marketing.

Of course, talking about a possible failure of the new Lumias even before they hit the market is bad. This is the worst-case scenario too. Honestly, I don't think Nokia's new phones will fail. While anecdotal evidence might not have much value to some, this is the first time in a long time I'm seeing a lot of people excited about a new Nokia product.

For example, in YouTube, there is a full video of Nokia's Lumia 920 announcement and you can read the user comments underneath the video. The reaction for the company's new phone is overwhelmingly positive. I think Lumia 920 will be one of the two products that mark Nokia's comeback. The other product that encourages me about the company is Nokia Maps. I am long Nokia and I will continue to be for as long as I can.

Disclosure: I am long NOK, MSFT, AAPL, GOOG. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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