Q&A: Nokia UK and Ireland general manager Conor Pierce

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Paul Withers speaks to one of the firm’s European heads about the issues facing it and what the future holds with Windows Phone

What have you made of Nokia World 2011?
It’s one of the most amazing moments in Nokia’s history. Our partners have said to me that they are seeing a new Nokia and it’s the most aspiring version they’ve seen over the years. They’ve told us we have the right tools and attitude to tackle this challenging marketplace.

This is a journey, not a sprint. I’ve seen our product portfolios for 2012 and 2013, and if you think this is a cool and iconic device, what we’re bringing is better in terms of the new materials and innovations.

We’re not just launching a device or new category of Windows smartphones; we’re actually relaunching Nokia in smartphones. People will actually be surprised that the Lumia 800 will be a very affordable device.

We understand O2 will not be stocking the Lumia 800. What’s the latest on your partners?
We’ve worked with all the partners as best we can to ensure that this is a very new retail execution where if you go to a store, you’ll be blown away. That takes a lot of partner commitment and confidence in what we’re doing. We do it to their benefit as well because we want to bring them choice. We have not been able to strike this deal with everyone, and that is not specific to the UK. It will not launch with all partners.

Are you concerned with the current low market penetration of Windows Phone?
I see it as an opportunity because now we have a blank sheet of paper. It is there in the market but hasn’t got much traction so we will only do our best work with Windows Phone. The intention is not just to be the leaders in Windows Phone and have some points of differentiation, it’s also to create an ecosystem that brings value to our partners. The more people that play in the ecosystem, the greater the innovation and the more value it is to the consumer.

Apple and Android have benefited from their extensive apps stores. Is Nokia in a position to compete?
There’s definitely confidence from developers. It’s about quality, not quantity. I don’t necessarily see that in all of the players, and that causes inferior experiences. Our competition could concentrate on quality because then you create a consumer mindset that you’re going to receive a quality application. If you don’t, it’s to our advantage because that’s what we’ll do.

Samsung, Apple and BlackBerry have all been named as manufacturers that have benefited from Nokia’s demise in the B2B space. What must Nokia do to regain traction in that market?
I wonder what they would have said two weeks ago when they couldn’t access the services they are reliant on. Some of our competition are in challenging positions and those challenges could give them opportunities but also give us opportunities. When you’re in this position you can either do the same things harder, or try to do something different. The latter is what we’ve chosen.

You say you want to be number one in what is an incredibly competitive market. Can Nokia really regain that lost ground?
We have definitely come from a position of leadership in smartphones and we have to keep that edge while renewing ourself. The culture we’re building at Nokia is radically different to what we’ve done before. It’s built on urgency, accountability and empathy. There are two types of company. One is at the height of leadership, not self-aware and will have problems in the future. The other is very self-aware, knows it and is doing something about it. What we’ve proven today is we’re the latter.

And how about the B2B channel? Will this play a big part in your new strategy?
I know the level of interest in the Lumia 800 and already have a number that is pretty high in terms of the number of devices we could sell today into B2B, through Ingram Micro, and that would really surprise you. That’s without any real push on B2B. There is definitely interest there. We’re not here alone. Microsoft is hugely respected and has an enormous footprint with its Office programs, so mobilising that through Ingram Micro and its resellers is where the opportunity lies.

Many of our readers will remain sceptical. What’s your message to them?
I call out to them to seize the opportunity, and I dedicate myself and my team to supporting them. The Nokia Partner Network is my way of connecting with them. I miss that and want that back. I established that in Turkey and it was a really powerful way of keeping our finger on the pulse. We’ve come out roaring and we’re back. We’re highly dependent on their success because if it’s not successful for them, they won’t be supportive of us. For us to understand what success means to them, we need to have this dialogue. I’m really looking forward to celebrating with them.

What about tablets? Can we expect a Windows-based tablet in the near future?
Never say never. This market is currently overcrowded and fragmented. If you’re going to do something new, you need to ensure you have a very relevant and strong point of view. We’re building an ecosystem, and when that happens we’ll be able to leverage this point of difference.

Finally, how do you summarise your first seven months as UK and Ireland general manager, given the changes?
I’m really impressed with the fighting spirit in the team. Looking at where Nokia was to where we are now has quite an emotional impact. The right team will deliver the results.

Full report on Nokia World 2011 in Mobile News issue 501 (November 7, 2011).

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