The Burning Platform
"Bring me Elop."
It was April, 2010. Nokia was in turmoil. Everyone was. Everyone, that is, except Google and Apple. The iPhone's share of the smartphone market was shooting ever higher, and Google was out there just giving its mobile platform away. For free! For fu-...this wasn't how it was supposed to be. We were supposed to be able to sell the code. No manufacturing costs, minimal physical supply needed. It was brilliant. Why would you go and throw that dream away for advertising
money? It's ridiculous.
Can't think about that now, though. We've got a war to win. Apple's not going to be a problem. You can't build a dominant platform if you're the only one building the hardware. But Google? If they keep this up, they might actually be able to corner the mobile market. Control the platform by inserting yourself in the middle. Let the builders build, but make them need you.
Bill would have seen it coming. It was his
Windows Phone won't be ready until the year's almost over. By that time, Android will be huge. Way bigger than Windows Mobile. If I could stop it, I would, but that's not possible right now. No, we need to think longer-term. We need the platform and we need the hardware. If we can't sell software, we need to control the stack from top to bottom. What we need is someone we own.
"Mr. Ballmer. What can I do for you?" Stephen Elop asks as he walks into my office.
This guy. Brought him in two years ago and he's already raking in cash. Office 2010 is set to blow up when it comes out in a couple months. Brilliant hire. I need more from him, though. If this goes as planned...
"You hear about Nokia? Crazy shit, am I right?"
"Yes sir. Apparently they're looking for a new CEO. Can't say I blame them. Kallasvuo took over the biggest phone manufacturer in the world but can't even manage to dent the US market. Pretty lousy management, if you ask me."
"Oh, sure. Not like you, right? You just came on board, what? Two years ago?"
"Yes sir, two years ago in January."
"Cut the 'sir' shit. No need for that here. And yeah, two years. Yet, you took Office and showed folks what a real manager can do. You know our analysts expect to make roughly a fuck load off 2010, right?"
"Yeah. About $18b in revenue for the launch quarter is what I heard."
".....Which is why I'm firing you."
His eyes widened. He's angry. He'll calm down in a minute, but man this shit is too funny. He knows he's a money maker and he knows I'd be stupid to let him go. Of course that joke would make him furious.
But he has to go. I need him elsewhere.
"Well, not 'firing', per se. But you have to leave Microsoft. For a bit, at least."
"I don't understand. We're-"
"It's Google. It's Apple. The landscape is changing. We can't continue to charge hundreds of dollars for software that everybody else is giving away for free. They fucked the market on this one. We need a hedge. Right now, we control the world's PCs. Which is awesome. Just awesome. But Windows Mobile is tanking, and Apple's iPad crap is doing better than I'd like. We're completely absent from key markets. We don't want to be IBM. We don't want to be sitting on the sidelines for the next phase. We need to be in this game."
"So, why does that involve me leaving the company?"
"Because the company...isn't complete."
I let him digest it for a second. He's a smart man. I need to know he can understand what I want. If he can't think like a Microsoft man, he's not the one I need for this job...
"We don't have phones," he says.
He probably knows we're developing a new mobile OS. It's not part of his division, but it'd have been impossible for him to not hear a whisper of it somewhere. I can see him starting to understand, though. It's not just about the software anymore. It's the devices. It's the services.
"Nokia's wide open," Elop says, his eyes zipping back and forth. He's plotting.
"Yes, it is. Leadership is on its way out. If they're looking outside the company, you'd have a hell of a resume."
"Yeah, but Espoo's never hired a non-Finn."
"Then you'll be the first."
"And once I'm in?"
"What do you mean? You're talking like we're plotting something! No, no. You'd be the CEO of Nokia. You'd have to do what's in the best interest of the company. As much as I hate to lose you, you wouldn't be a company man anymore. You'd need to do what's best for Espoo."
"Though, as a friend, if I may offer some advice: don't go the Android route. It's ugly, it's fragmented, and you'll have a hell of a time differentiating yourself. If I were you, I'd try to find a new, more modern platform to get on board with."
A smile starts to cross his face. He gets it. When Windows Phone comes out later this year, he'll be in that seat, ready to deliver to us the biggest smartphone manufacturer in history as a strategic partner.
Which gets our foot in the door.
"Of course, Elop...there are no guarantees."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, Nokia is a struggling company. It would be great if you could turn them around by teaming up with the best mobile platform you can find. But...you know, manufacturing is a tough business."
"You'd need capital. Lots of it. Honestly, I'm not sure how much longer Nokia could hold on. Right now, they're worth, what? $45 billion? Even if you do everything perfectly, they'll plummet in value from killing Symbian alone. In fact, Nokia could end up dying off completely."
"That would be a shame."
"Wouldn't it? I mean, think of it. This company has been around for decades! And they could end up sold for a pittance in a few years."
"You know, when you say it like that, I'm not so sure I have much incentive to run the company. If nothing I do could save them, why would I want to be on a burning platform?"
"It doesn't matter if you're on the platform. All that matters is where you land when you jump off."
"And where would I land?"
He knows it's a bigger risk to him than it is to me. I want Nokia. I want their patents, their hardware, their camera tech. I want it all. Bill made this company great on the backs of PCs. I won't go down in history as the guy who ran it into the ground. I won't be around forever, but I need to know I can give Microsoft a future. I need to know that when I leave, Microsoft has something it can compete with for the next decade. Even if I have to pay for that future with...
H/t +Ryan Whitwam