Home Former Nokia Exec Claims CEO’s “Burning Platform” Memo a Hoax

Former Nokia Exec Claims CEO’s “Burning Platform” Memo a Hoax

Consultant, author and most importantly, former Nokia executive Tomi T. Ahonen, is claiming that the widely-reported memo sent from new Nokia CEO Stephen Elop to Nokia company employees may be a hoax. According to Ahonen, there are several parts of the memo that “don’t ring true” – and not just odd turns of phrase, either, but “astonishing errors” and “obvious missing pieces.” He believes the memo may in fact be an out-and-out hoax put forth by an American mobile analyst, or someone who shares that same point of view.

Nokia’s “Burning Platform” Memo

To catch you up, Engadget first reported on the details of this memo, reportedly sent from Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop to employees in order to “shake things up” at the company. Then, in an update to the original blog post, Engadget said they had heard from multiple, trusted sources that the memo is, in fact, real.

The full memo is available here. We won’t repost it on this site, but you should certainly click through and have a read.

The name of the memo – the “Burning Platform” as it’s now being called – comes from the line below:

“We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven’t been delivering innovation fast enough. We’re not collaborating internally. Nokia, our platform is burning.”

To outsiders not closely following Nokia’s moves in the mobile industry, the memo seems legit, the typical rallying cry of a failing empire determined to climb back on top. It’s certainly not the first time such a memo has been seen. Yahoo’s peanut butter manifesto from 2008 is another memorable example of an internal company document leaked to the press, with a similar message: we must change or we’re doomed!

Former Nokia Exec Pokes Holes in Memo, Calls it a Hoax

But Ahonen says this particular memo has holes – glaring, gaping holes that make it sound like either the memo is a hoax, or worse, Elop has no idea what he’s talking about. (Ahonen’s betting on the former, however). He says the memo sounds like a U.S. analyst writing what he wishes Nokia would say, from a U.S. viewpoint.

The full breakdown of these errors is here, but these are the notable bullet points:

  • The memo claims Apple owns 61% of the “over 300 dollar phone’ segment: Ahonen says this is patently wrong, and is based on U.S. market share, not global market share.
  • The memo mentions Apple and Google, but not Chinese brands like ZTE, Huawei, G’Five, etc., all of which compete on the low-end handset front with Nokia devices.
  • A top Nokia competitor is Samsung. With its highly successful bada OS, which has passed Nokia in dumbphones in Europe and is gaining in Asia, and especially China, is ignored. That makes it sound like the CEO doesn’t understand Nokia’s competition or how Samsung is moving into the smartphone space.
  • Elop supposedly writes Nokia “missed big trends.” But Nokia watchers know that the company was ahead of the curve on many trends. Perhaps it executed poorly, says Ahonen, but it did not “miss” them. Some examples he gave of where Nokia has innovated, often first: touchscreens, Internet phones, consumer smartphones, gaming phones, an app store, maps, mobile money, near field communications and dual SIM phones. Ahonen says there’s no way a Nokia CEO would be unaware of these innovations.
  • The memo says Nokia is “years behind,” but on what? Ahonen says the Ovi App Store is second to Apple’s, Symbian S^3 is on 5 million handsets and NFC is already on handsets (in other words, years ahead). The problem isn’t that Nokia’s behind, but that it is executing poorly, which is the message a Nokia CEO would want to send out, Ahonen claims.
  • Qt, a major initiative to simply development for Nokia phones and a centerpiece of Nokia’s strategy is not mentioned in the entire memo.
  • Android now leads in smartphones, the memo says. This refers to the Canalys numbers from Q4 2010, which Ahonen says is not true (…yet).
  • The memo says there will only be one MeeGo phone in the market by the end of 2011. What’s odd about that statement is that it’s only February. The CEO could accelerate MeeGo development if he wanted to.
  • The memo makes no mention of Nokia’s MeeGo partner, Intel or DoCoMo, Nokia’s largest partner in Symbian.
  • The memo calls North America a “leading market.” Ahonen says that the most advanced market is Japan, then South Korea, then other Asian economies, then Western Europe.
  • When discussing markets and loyalty, the memo neglects to mention China and India, despite the fact that Nokia has been losing market share in those countries.

A Hoax? Taken out of Context? A Misguided CEO?…Or Real?

There’s a lot more to each item above, of course, but the bottom line is that the memo doesn’t sound as if it was written by a Nokia CEO…unless “Nokia is led by a delusional psycopath who willingly suspends reality,” Ahonen writes. While that might be taking it a bit far, there are certainly some valid points made here.

A third possibility – besides the memo either being a hoax or written by a “deluded” CEO – is that the memo is real, but this is only a part of it, taken out of context. Perhaps these items were in the memo under a heading “others are saying this about us,” Ahonen says.

And of course, despite what Ahonen believes, there’s also the possibility that the memo is entirely real, as has been reported. It’s up to you to decide if you agree with that.

Legit or not, the memo’s overall message – that Nokia has changes to make – is on point. Nokia needs to reveal its smartphone strategy and needs to do it quickly before it falls further behind in that market. The question on everyone’s mind today is whether Nokia will continue with MeeGo, partner with Microsoft or Google or do some sort of combination of all those things. Whatever the case may be, it sounds like next week’s Mobile World Congress will reveal some interesting answers regarding Nokia’s plans.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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