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Adjunct Professor, Public Relations and Communications Graduate Program,
Georgetown University, and
CEO, EnviroComm International
June 21, 2011
The CEO who metaphorically jumped off a burning platform into a dark and uncertain sea earlier this year has come up for air. He holds aloft a smartphone, the product that he says is a symbol of the answer to save his company, and he's very compelling.
If anybody gets the value of leadership communication, it certainly seems to be Stephen Elop, the 47-year-old Canadian who's been running the Finnish mobile company, Nokia, since last September.
Here's a case where — while the company's numbers are tanking and investors are retreating — the boss gives a bullish interview that personifies the Finnish word that he uses to describe the company he's leading: sisu. And, yes, this CEO takes the time to translate for the reporter that the word means "a combination of perseverance, energy and drive."
The New York Times' six-column-headlined feature in the business section (June 21, 2011) is an instructive display of the skills any chief communications officer loves to see in a media interview of the company's authoritative spokesperson.
You may recall this leader-communication case-in-progress began in a public relations sense when Elop in February got attention by way of a (probably strategically) leaked memo to employees warning that unless the company leaped boldly into innovation it was destined for fiery destruction. (More on this in an earlier blog.)
Elop would subsequently reveal that the leap he had in mind was a deal with Microsoft — the company he had just left — to get Nokia back into the mobile phone game, that it was losing, with a new cell-phone operating system from Microsoft.
That provided Elop with the communication platform that he mounted with sisu this week, resulting in media stories including the Times piece which includes a big photo that PR could prize as the example of CEO-confident body language.
Nine months into the job, reorganizing a company that eliminates 7,000 jobs, having just last month issued a second-quarter profit warning and abandoning Nokia's 2011 outlook, with a share price that has fallen 40 percent since he arrived, this chief executive stands up for his company and his leadership in a long interview with one of the world's leading newspapers (conducted in Nokia's showplace headquarters in Espoo, Finland, above the glass lobby that the Times' Kevin J. O'Brien reports once "buzzed with client activity", but now contains only "a handful of visitors") — with all that negativism, this CEO lays out the plan to win the game.
Elop essentially said old ideas are dead, new ideas will prevail, and innovation is the key. During the 40-minute interview, O'Brien notes, the CEO used the words "innovate" or "innovation" 24 times.
Nokia is "on the cusp of a productive new phase," O'Brien reports the new chief is saying. A new phone "optimized for one-hand use" is just the beginning of lean management, linking with innovation, combining with Microsoft, with some staff in the USA.
Some years ago, Fortune and various thought leaders and CEOs agreed that the biggest reason CEOs get fired is failure to execute a vision that everybody agreed was a winner.
Elop, the CEO to follow as putative model of an articulate leadership communicator, seems to know and face this fact. He described his N9 smartphone as "one step in the journey to demonstrate that we are executing."
Bruce Harrison is an adjunct professor in the master's program at
Georgetown University, Washington, DC. He and Judith Muhlberger teach
courses in leadership communications and corporate crisis communications.
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