With the advent of 5G and IoT impacting the business world, one company who is at the forefront is Nokia.
Business Leader Magazine spoke with Cormac Whelan, Nokia’s UK and Ireland CEO about the benefits of 5G, the company’s acquisition of French telecommunications company Alcatel-Lucent and what the business strategy is next for Nokia UK & Ireland in the future.
What inspired you to go into business in the first place?
I’ve always been interested in business. As a teenager I used to work in the office where my dad worked and probably from the age of 13 I’ve been doing office jobs from delivering in vans, to credit controls. When the computer age happened, I ended up being distracted and completing a degree in advanced computer programming, although originally, I wanted to do a business degree.
How did you rise up to become UK and Ireland CEO for Nokia?
I was working at Alcatel-Lucent, which I joined in 2011, taking up a global sales role. I, then, went up to manage what is now Nokia’s largest customer in the UK, BT, who I used to work for. The CEO then left the business in 2013 and I got the role of fronting the UK and Ireland operations for Alcatel-Lucent. With the advent of Nokia’s purchase of Alcatel-Lucent in February 2016 I inherited the role of both Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia’s CEO for UK and Ireland.
What were the key objectives for you when you came into the role?
The biggest challenge we had at the time was the fact that you had two very large companies coming together but they operated in two very different parts of the infrastructure space.
There was a large amount of people who came into the company in the UK, but what was most important was momentum, it would be very easy to get too focused about integration, teams, people and all those kind of things, but I knew the most important thing for us was to maintain momentum externally.
We put a huge amount of effort into making sure a lot of the work was done in advance of the deal closing so that day one every customer knew who their account manager was and who to communicate with.
I’ve been in some large mergers and acquisitions before where the people within the company have become very internally focused about other people’s roles and what the future means for them, it’s the leaders’ job to be very strong and clear on the strategy, goals and organisation structure.
Momentum can be very hard to sustain how does a business leader maintain it?
It’s very hard particularly at scale. The bigger the business you are, the bigger the deals you do, the more customers you serve, it’s a bit like the boat on the sea principle. As you’re going fast, you gain more speed over the top of the water, but as you slow down the resistance around you gets stronger and it’s very hard to get going again.
It’s really important to maintain momentum on all fronts. You also need confidence, in the employees that they know the strategy is clear, they know where they are going, and that confidence and credibility shows to the customers that what you’re bringing them now will be better than before the merger.
What are your key objectives moving forward?
It’s two and a half years after the acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent and that sounds like a long time but in the scale of a very large merger, it’s not, these are two companies who have come together at $13bn (£9.9bn) each. With roughly 111,000 people coming together, so we’re talking super scale integration on a global basis.
Most importantly, you still need to maintain the confidence and credibility of employees to bring on that journey, because things don’t change very quickly, some things happen up front, but a lot of things happen over time.
How is the advent of 5G and IoT impacting the business world?
It’s still on its way. We’re coming out of the hype faze, which will last another six to twelve months, but it’s looking at what it will bring.
Fundamentally, the difference is, in the past, 3G came along and gave us much more data, 4G came along and in theory was meant to be more, but actually just replaced 3G. But when 5G comes along it is not a direct replacement for 4G.
In fact, it’s more of an aggregating technology, you must have 4G and WIFI with other capabilities, to give it a true quality experience. But it is going to bring some new capability.
There’s lots of talk about autonomous vehicles and they require very quick response time if you’re going to use them over a mobile network, and 5G will enable us to have that. It will allow new applications in robotics, automation and much more.
It will also bring, from a business point of view, the ability to provide what is essentially a mini network for customers using applications along with heightened security.
It’s a challenge to convey to people what the return of investment will be, but we are getting there. I think that we’ll see 5G used for high capacity, dense population areas with high percentage of traffic.
Please tell me your thoughts on Rich Communication Services and how it could transform the business and consumer world?
I think the jury is still out on this one. It’s been talked about for a while, over a decade now, since around 2007, but have yet to be adopted on a truly global scale. I think there’s still some commercial questions to be answered about its motives, how pays for the functionality and how does it compete both technically and commercially with OTT (over the top) messaging services like WhatsApp.
What has been your biggest achievements with Nokia?
Success is always a combination of many different things, on both the external and internal fronts and involves many other people. There’s nothing I do which doesn’t involve a few other people to make stuff happen. I’m also one cog in a very big Nokia wheel so I don’t think there’s any one thing that makes us achieve without it being a team effort. I would point back to momentum, it’s been my drive since day one in this job, and it’s my job to not disrupt it.
What’s the future vision for Nokia?
Nokia’s ambition has always been to push the barriers and capabilities of its technologies not just for us but for the good of all.
It’s been a company which has always looked at how technology can serve a greater good. With the acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent we’re now a true end-to-end solutions provider in that infrastructure space and we believe that capability is crucial for our customers in that 5G world where mobile, optical, fibre and software all combine to bring that next generation experience.
We will continue to drive and push the barriers and continue to innovate.