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Paper: Nokia boss accuses predecessor Jorma Ollila of creating in-house 'culture of fear'

Nokia board chair Risto Siilasmaa says his predecessor Jorma Ollila's heated behaviour was one reason the once-mighty mobile phone company suffered a dramatic downfall.

Stephen Elop (vas.), Jorma Ollila (kesk.) ja Risto Siilasmaa kuvattuna Nokian vuotuisessa kokouksessa Helsingissä toukokuussa 2012.
Stephen Elop, Jorma Ollila and Risto Siilasmaa in May 2012. Image: Kimmo Mäntylä / Lehtikuva

The daily Helsinki Sanomat reports on Sunday that a forthcoming book from Nokia board chair Risto Siilasmaa contains strong criticism of his predecessor Jorma Ollila's leadership style. Jorma Ollila served as Nokia Corporation chairman from 1999 to 2012, and Nokia CEO from 1992 to 2006. When he stepped down in 2012, Siilasmaa took his place at the head of the board.

Siilasmaa began his work on the Nokia board in 2008, when Ollila was still in charge. He claims that Ollila's repeated angry fits created a culture of fear at Nokia, which Siilasmaa says contributed to the dramatic downfall of the Finnish tech giant in the early 2000s.

Siilasmaa told the paper in a Sunday interview that Ollila forbid anyone from questioning his methods, and withheld information on the root causes of many of the company's problems. The current Nokia board chair says that Ollila's rages were usually limited to one-on-one meetings and phone calls, and were rarer in meetings and settings with more people.

"It was sad to see Jorma tying his identity to the company so strongly, because he then took all of the criticism of the company as a direct assault on him. This made any discussion about alternatives or future problems on the horizon difficult, if not impossible to talk about," Siilasmaa told Helsingin Sanomat.

Ollila: Claims are exaggerated and not true

The Sunday paper featured a story on Jorma Ollila's response immediately after the story on the Siilasmaa interview. He said Siilasmaa's claims were either exaggerated or not true.

"I have never felt that my personality would be tied to Nokia or that I would be one with Nokia in some strange way. The board begged me to continue as chair in 2006 in order to help Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo (the new CEO) get things into order. The final operative say was his," Ollila told the paper.

Ollila said that no one at Nokia had ever ripped their hair out in frustration or said that working with him was impossible.

"The way I approach things directly and my temperament were both well known. They were discussed openly, a facet that was always a part of the Nokia culture," he said.

Nokia achieved spectacular success in the late 90s and early 2000s under Ollila's stewardship. It eventually surpassed Motorola to become the world’s top mobile phone manufacturer.

Profits began to crumble in 2001, and by 2009 the Nokia Corporation was forced to lay off 1,700 employees world-wide. The advent of the iPhone hastened the fall, and in September 2013 Nokia announced that it was selling off its Devices and Services division to Microsoft.

The company has since focused on network services, and is hoping for a major rebound as the 5G network is rolled out in the next few years.

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