Once the pride of Finland, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) has lost its once-elevated position, not only in the ranks of the world's biggest high-tech companies but, more ominously, among Finns. Disappointed and hurt by the company's recent performance and actions initiated by the management to reduce operating costs, Finns who used to see Nokia as the pride of the nation are quietly uncoupling the image of their country from the world's perception of its best-known corporate entity.
Finns, who once proudly associated themselves with Nokia's heritage, nowadays view the mobile phone-maker as just another multinational enterprise. Finland and Nokia, it seems, may be parting ways. The country's headquarters will still be in Finland, but for Finns, this is no longer the iconic company they considered a national model.
Nokia was founded in 1865 and became the pride of a small nation with its transformation into the world's biggest mobile phone manufacturer. The company became a global leader and one of the strongest Finnish brands. With it, a strong sense of national pride was born, too. Nokia used to be the one and only brand in Finland. Today, Finns don't talk much about Nokia, and many even prefer phones from its biggest rivals, especially products from Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL). What has happened?
To start with, many Finns have lost their jobs, thanks to the new reorganization strategy being implemented by Nokia. The company has contributed to an increase in Finland's unemployment rate, and with it, other social problems, including a perception of damage to the nation's image.
The new manufacturing plant in Vietnam recently announced by Nokia means a likely reduction in the number of employees in the Finnish product development centers in Oulu and Salo, a city that entirely spins around and totally depends on the company. (See: Nokia Plans for Growth Despite Dropping Sales .)
Last month, Nokia announced that it will lay off 1,400 employees in Finland -- over five percent of its workforce in the country. There have already been 1,900 job cuts since last year. This is a huge loss for a country the size of Finland. With a population of 5.4 million at the end of 2010, Finland felt keenly the recent job cuts at Nokia, and future layoffs would seriously affect the society as a whole. Nokia’s suppliers in Finland will be affected, too, doubling the effects nationwide. No wonder Finns don't want to talk about Nokia.
Most of the Finnish press is very quiet about Nokia at the moment, partly because of the summer recess and also because Finns don't seem interested in talking about this painful subject. Some of the Finnish afternoon papers have written mainly about the bad stock market situation, or the dismissal of people in Nokia factories.
The Finns who shared some of their thoughts on Nokia with me agreed the company seems to have lost its meaning as a national icon. They feel they have lost the flagship that once made them proud. One Finn told me: "Nokia was considered a national crown jewel, and it is a bit of a shock for many that it actually is a multinational company with a non-Finn as a CEO. It's maybe a little comparable to the UK in the international politics by the time the dust of the Second World War had settled; amongst the winners, but definitely not an empire where the sun never sets anymore." As a Finnish resident, I feel the same way.
The last straw would have been if recent speculations CEO Stephen Elop was planning to move Nokia’s headquarters to California's Silicon Valley had been true. When the reports first cropped up, there was a feeling of discontentment that could be felt in the streets of Helsinki. Nokia’s spokesperson dispelled the rumor. I was told Nokia's headquarters will remain in Finland and that there were no plans to change that. At last, some good news!