Nokia’s CEO Cormac Whelan: “Good leaders should always strive to find the right balance between direction and autonomy!”
This month, Katina Hristova had the honour of interviewing Cormac Whelan, who became the CEO of Nokia UK and Ireland in 2016, following the integration of Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent. Previously, Cormac was the CEO of Alcatel Lucent UK and Ireland.
He believes that this has proved to be a really exciting time to be part of Nokia, as the acquisition saw two leading global businesses pool their expertise to further drive innovation and research into the technology that connects the world.
Today, Nokia serves everyone – from communication service providers, to governments, to enterprises, and provides the industry’s most complete, end-to-end portfolio of products, services and licensing, which is designed to power connectivity and transform the human experience. Here Cormac tells us more the acquisition and what came after it, keeping up with the rapid development of technology and the next big technology wave – 5G.
What were your key objectives when becoming the CEO of Nokia after the acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent?
I took this role with the aim of successfully integrating the Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent businesses, which had previously been separate, thriving entities in their own right. My objective was to ensure it was done without any loss of business momentum, or any negative impact to our customers, and I’m delighted that this has been achieved successfully.
My role has also been to drive a growth agenda for the business, which truly harnesses the strength of our new, combined, end-to-end portfolio and to both deepen our relationships with existing customers and take Nokia into new markets in the UK & Ireland.
What daily challenges do you encounter as the CEO of Nokia UK & Ireland and how do you overcome them?
For me there’s no such thing as a typical day! I don’t have a fixed office, and instead move between our sites at London, Bristol, Fleet, Huntingdon, Solihull and Dublin, as well as meeting with customers in their various locations. This approach means that I get to spend lots of face time with both our customers and the Nokia team, which has been vital in ensuring the successful integration of Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent.
One of the challenges we’ve faced has been driving awareness of the depth and breadth of our capabilities as a new organisation, and regular, in person interaction with customers has been instrumental in helping us to overcome this. In addition to Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia has made a series of major acquisitions, such as the digital health company Withings and Gainspeed, a company that addresses cable companies, which is a market where we have had historical gaps in portfolio. It’s therefore been important that we take the time to physically talk through how the business is evolving, and demonstrate everything that we can now offer.
More generally, with the pace of technology change being faster than ever, what challenges would you say Nokia encounters on a regular basis? How are these resolved?
The speed at which the industry is changing presents a challenge in itself, but also brings with it enormous opportunities. In addition, each generation of technology is coming along faster than the one before it. For example, the gap between 2G and 3G was long, as was the gap between 3G and 4G. In contrast, the length of time between 4G and 5G is much shorter, making investment cycles very fast-paced. One also only needs to look at how fixed broadband speeds have accelerated, and we are pushing those boundaries. 10 years ago 2Mbps was a luxury, now we are helping to deliver 300Mbps. Interaction with our customers at an R&D level really helps us to address this, and ensures that we’re always up to speed with how their business is developing, which enables us to offer the best solutions to meet their needs.
We always strive to work with our customers to set the leading agenda for the future, and offer genuine thought leadership, rather than just pitching technology. We are fortunately now able to offer products, services and consultancy capabilities together under one umbrella, which helps us to play an active role in developing future strategies with our customers.
How are these challenges set to change, in conjunction with the advent of technologies and the potential future needs of clients?
Across the industry vendors are coming under pressure to deliver more for less, and this looks set to continue. As we’re experiencing CAPEX budgets decreasing, while R&D costs are increasing, vendors must find new ways for service providers to deliver services using exceptionally cost-efficient network environments and technology upgrades.
At Nokia we’ve been able to achieve this through offering end-to-end solutions that incorporate fixed, wireless and new innovations such as network virtualisation. As a single vendor that can provide optimised networking across technologies, we aim to reduce the integration problems between different technologies and different part of the networks. As a result, we can deliver more efficient network infrastructure to support our customers’ needs.
As the CEO for UK & Ireland, how do you advise your team to make the correct decisions for the company?
Good leaders should always strive to find the right balance between direction and autonomy. Through empowering people to run the business efficiently and effectively, without fear of failure, the team feels supported and are more inclined to make the right decisions. Giving this supported autonomy helps to unlock the innovation that is in all of our employees.
What have been your biggest achievements to date? What are you most proud of?
I’ve been privileged to hold leading roles within some of the world’s most innovative companies.
I launched Motorola into the consumer internet product market in the mid-‘90s. During my time as VP Marketing for UUNET, I was responsible for the branding and integration of 26 entities around the world, for what was the world’s largest ISP at that time.
I’ve also held a number of positions at BT, including VP of Global Integration, and the experience gained working on the customer side has given me invaluable insight for my current role, which I still draw on today.
I’m very proud of how, at Nokia, we’ve delivered an effective, rapid and almost seamless integration of two huge businesses, with no negative impact on our customers. Since the launch of the new combined company in January 2016, Nokia has gone from strength to strength, and we were recently selected by CK Hutchison to deploy the world’s first fully integrated virtualised cloud core network, which was a hugely significant milestone.
What do you anticipate for Nokia in the near future?
Moving forwards there will be a continued focus on driving the next generation of technology into our service provider customers, and in deepening Nokia’s diversification into new markets such as public sector and transport.
We’re seeing momentum that continues to surge for 5G, which is undoubtedly the next big technology wave. However, what’s important is not so much the technology itself but the applications and use cases that it will enable. For example, we’re partnering with Bristol Is Open in their pioneering smart city test bed that looks set to unlock enormous socioeconomic benefits for cities by solving real world problems such as traffic congestion and air pollution, or supporting the trials of self-driving cars. These kinds of initiatives will be dramatically enhanced through 5G technology, and Nokia is helping to drive innovation in this field, including establishing partnerships with carriers for 5G.
Digital eHealth will also be a major focus for us, which has been demonstrated by our recent acquisition of Withings. It’s such an exciting space with so much potential, and I’m really looking forward to Nokia’s next chapter.