After Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, the Finnish tech giant Nokia has now announced that a person of Indian origin — Rajiv Suri — will be its new Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The appointment clearly indicates that Nokia would now focus on wireless-network equipment as it faces a new start without the phones that made it famous …
An old hand, Rajeev Suri, 46, joined Nokia in 1995. He revived Nokia’s networks business – Nokia Solutions & Networks or NSN (formerly known as Nokia Siemens Networks), which contributes close to 90 per cent of Nokia sales now. So, although he does not have a degree from a top-notch business school, it was not a tough job for the 149-year old firm to choose Suri for the top post. “Rajeev is the right person to lead the company forward,” Nokia Chairman Risto Siilasmaa said in a statement, adding: “He has a proven ability to create strategic clarity, drive innovation and growth, ensure disciplined execution, and deliver results.”
Suri has an electronics and telecommunications engineering degree from Mangalore University. He was part of the 1989 batch at the Manipal Institute of Technology, an institute which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is also an alumni of. Suri started his professional career at Calcom Electronics, then moved to ICL India and Churchgate Group of Nigeria. He joined NSN India as system marketing manager in 1995 and became its head in October 2009. Between 2007 and 2009, he ran NSN’s India business to boost revenues. One of the toughest decisions Suri had taken to revive NSN was to lay off 23 per cent of the workforce (about 17,000 employees) in 2011. In the past two years, Suri has cut down the workforce by more than 25,000 to bring NSN back to profitability. Now Suri will have to look after the two other business segments – HERE, a map service, and Advanced Technologies, a division that plans to build on Nokia’s patents for developing technology and licensing it, besides exploring new opportunities through research and development.
“Nokia’s strategy is to develop its three businesses in order to realise its vision of being a technology leader in a connected world and, in turn, create long-term shareholder value,” Suri said in Finland on Tuesday. “Our goal is to optimise the company so that each business is best enabled to meet its goals. Where it makes sense to do so, we will pursue shared opportunities between the businesses, but not at the expense of focus and discipline in each.”
Suri was born in India to Yashpal and Asha Suri, and was raised in Kuwait. He has also lived in the UK, Nigeria, Germany, Singapore and Finland. Suri now lives in Finland, which he calls his second home, with wife Nina and two sons. He drives a Maserati to work, loves watches, including his IWC Schaffhausen. People close to Suri say he has a photographic memory, is a hardcore salesman, a go-getter, a fast thinker and quick in taking actions. His industry peers point to the fact that Suri’s acceptability in his organisation, dominated by Europeans, is notable. “He has a charismatic personality,” said one of his former colleagues.
With more than 24 years of international experience, Rajeev Suri is a leader who cherishes the opportunity of transformational and turnaround assignments. Suri has spent almost 20 years in Nokia’s networks business, dealing with strategy, M&As, sales and marketing before becoming its head in 2009. He has lived in West Asia, Africa and Europe. Suri cut more than 25,000 jobs over the past two years to bring the network unit back to profit
DESIGNATION: President and CEO of Nokia
Previously, CEO, Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN)
Head of Services, NSN, Sep 2007 – Sep 2009
Joined Nokia in 1995, and has held numerous executive level positions in the company
Born in 1967, Suri is based in Espoo, Finland
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Engineering in Electronics and Telecommunications, Manipal Institute of Technology, Mangalore University, Karnataka, India. Both Suri and Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, studied Electronics and Communications Engineering at Manipal Institute of Technology. While Nadella is from the 1987 batch of the institute, Suri belongs to the 1989 batch.
In an email to fellow employees soon after his appointment, Suri described himself as an ‘international citizen’. “While the fact that my preferred cricket team comes from India may say something about my roots, I now have friends, family and colleagues in many, many countries. As a result, I tend to focus more on people than on place,” he said. In another email last week to his alma mater, the Manipal Institute of Technology, Suri had said that he spent the best time of his life there. “A great university with wonderful teachers, fantastic memories and deep, lifelong friendships … the university and teachers that made me what I am … recently you have shown your pride quite publicly, and for that I am ever so grateful,” he said.
Those in India who have known Suri describe him as extremely focused and an excellent people manager. Bimal Rath, once an HR director at Nokia and now helming a leadership consultancy firm, says Suri conducted himself as a global manager right from day-one. “He worked with cross-functional teams across geographies. Culturally he was very adaptable and he was highly respected among his global counterparts. Though the business has gone through many ups and downs, he kept the ship on an even keel.” The current VP-HR of Coca-Cola India, Sameer Wadhawan, who used to head HR for Nokia Siemens Networks’ managed services business earlier, says Suri has brought a lot of clarity into the business, is systematic, and has stayed steadfast in whatever he’s wanted to achieve. Navnit Singh, country head for India at executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, noted that it is difficult to break into the corporate setups of European companies and manage their sensitivities. “Suri is very open, transparent, and a people’s person which explains his success,” he said.
Nokia’s non-handset business swung to a 108-million-euro net profit in the latest quarter, compared to a loss of 98 million euros in the same period last year, a reflection of Suri’s efforts that included major cost cuts. But Suri still has to contend with the aggression and cost efficiencies of Chinese rivals like Huawei and ZTE, which are making deep inroads in almost every continent.
The sale of the handset business to Microsoft which added to Nokia’s cash resources by US$ 7.5 Billion, according to Suri puts Nokia in a position to consider smaller-size acquisitions to fill gaps in its product portfolio that now focuses on wireless networks. But Suri is of the opinion that all three of Nokia’s current business areas remaining within its ambit after the sale of the mobile handset business to Microsoft – in addition to the networks unit, it has navigation and patents businesses – have opportunities for organic growth, without acquisitions. “In a world where everyone and everything will be connected, there will be more and more synergies between the three businesses as we move forward,” he added. The company could look to sell combined patent and technology licences, he said, adding that it could potentially license its brand as well, and could even return to consumer electronics business in the long term, utilising expertise it still has in that area. In a conference call with analysts, he also mentioned that the company has won several unannounced contracts in Europe.