The Nokia Story – The Rise, Fall & Transformation of a Cell Phone King”

From Defeat to Reinvention!

Posted by: Nicky Verd Comments: 0

This was Forbes Magazine Cover 16 years ago. On November 12th, 2007, Forbes magazine ran a Front Page featuring Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo (Nokia’s then-CEO) holding a Nokia series 6XXX flip phone.

The title on the Front Page reads: Nokia, One Billion Customers — Can Anyone Catch the Cell Phone KING?

2007 was the year when it was almost impossible to imagine that any of the competitors (if there were any) would ever catch up with Nokia. 

For over a decade, the tech giant reigned as the world’s biggest handset maker and, while it was at it, it was also the primary engine of Finland’s economy.

Nokia was the undisputed king of the cell phone market. Because of its dominance, the company was inert to change and refused to acknowledge the shift the industry was making. 

In the same year (2007), Apple announced the original iPhone, but Forbes did not see the revolution yet and was admiring Nokia’s almost-monopoly. RIM’s BlackBerry too loomed unbeatable and supreme.

Innovative tech companies did not only catch NOKIA(the cell phone King) but crushed the cell phone King — ouch! It ended in tears. This goes to show that no one is too big to fail.

Today, the iPhone is the most popular and recognizable smartphone on the planet, while the cell phone king (Nokia) and blackberry are nowhere to be found. Kids won’t even know those brands. 

Apple now has over 1.8 billion active devices worldwide. That is an incredible number of devices! Steve Jobs once said he’d be happy if iPhone captured 1% of the US mobile phone market. But today, more than 25% of the world’s population owns an Apple device. That’s just mind-boggling!

What Really Went Wrong?

Before the era of smartphones, back in the day, anybody who owned a mobile device owned a Nokia — thick as a brick, reliable, and durable enough to serve as a medieval bludgeon…(wink)

Nokia is one of the oldest brands in the world, founded in 1865 and in 2007, the clear winner and King of the mobile market was Nokia. Everybody’s first cell phone may have been a Nokia phone, but that’s no longer the case today.

Nokia’s doom was itself. I believe that if they weren’t so complacent and resistant to change they would still be in the cell phone business today. 

If they had jumped on the Android train a lot sooner, their mobile phone market would be completely different today. The cell phone king would still be alive even if not on the throne. 

So, how did Nokia fall so far?

Lack of innovation, complacency and a slow reaction to change or competition was responsible for Nokia’s downfall.

Everything else was fine. They even came out with the Nokia preview with a big camera. Nokia was OK in every other aspect except they undermined Android. Nokia got too complacent and dropped the ball completely —  probably never will regain the glory the company once had.

So, here are some questions for you: 

  • Are you on par with the AI tech revolution? 
  • Are you empowering yourself for this shift in paradigm? 
  • Is your business agile enough to disrupt from within? 
  • Are you stuck in the old ways of doing things?

“We now live in a world where change has changed. Change used to be gradual but change is now rapid and exponential. Companies that don’t disrupt themselves become outpaced or even wiped out, the same goes for individuals who resist change, refuses to reinvent/upkill themselves and try new things.” ~An Excerpt from Disrupt Yourself Or Be Disrupted

Reinventing From Within.

History tells us that Nokia started as a paper mill in 1865, through the 19th century the company expanded, branching into several different products. In 1967, the Nokia corporation was formed. In the late 20th century, the company took advantage of the increasing popularity of mobile phones and eventually became the cell phone King.

After the collapse of the cell phone king, Nokia was able to transform itself once again — this time from a mobile phone maker to a telecommunications infrastructure company. Today, Nokia is cashing in on the infrastructure evolution.

Nokia Africa, recently partnered with Liquid Intelligent Technologies (LIT) to deploy new digital infrastructure connecting Southern and Eastern Africa with an optical transport network connecting Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

This will increase network capacity across the region and enable faster internet speeds — a step in the right direction to transform Africa’s digital infrastructure.

So, Nokia is a pretty good example of reinvention. Nokia has gotten pretty good at reinventing itself over the years. Not everything is a bad lesson with Nokia. There are also good lessons to learn from Nokia. There are many companies that died and are forgotten but Nokia is still standing — a giant in its own right.

Image: Pymnt

Nokia isn’t dead — just evolved its business. Yes, they missed the smartphone revolution but they are now powering a new world of digital infrastructure, driverless cars, telemedicine and much more. Nokia is a very different company today than it was in the heyday of its simple, durable, adorably chunky phones.

By and large, it no longer makes things consumers can buy. Today, its familiar all-caps logo is mostly found on network processors, routers, base station radio access units, and other components of the largely invisible infrastructure that undergirds the mobile internet.

Disrupt Yourself Or Be Disrupted!

Nokia remains One of the best case studies on what happens when you refuse to disrupt yourself. The story of Nokia and these other brands are a huge lesson for business leaders and pretty much everyone.

This picture reminds us that nobody is invincible.

March 1998: “How Yahoo! Won the Search Wars” (Fortune)

Sept 1998: Google was Founded

Feb 2004: Facebook is founded (only for Harvard students)

In 2006: Facebook became open to the general public

Feb 2007: “Will MySpace Ever Lose its Monopoly?” (Guardian)

Nov 2007: Forbes Cover: “Nokia. Can Anyone Catch the Cell Phone King?”

June 2007: iPhone was released

It doesn’t matter how much money you have, how many customers you have or how big you are. If you don’t innovate and evolve, the market takes you out.

Also, the image tells us that, maybe, everybody in 10 years could be everywhere.


  • When the media starts crowning you King — the end is near! Take that as a call to self-disrupt.
  • Complacency will catch up with you no matter how big you are.
  • Adopt, adjust and accommodate to the changing time and scenario.
  • Do not undermine new innovations coming into the market.
  • No one is completely safe in the free market. Only companies with agile business strategies and the best solutions in their fields will survive.
  • Big corporations have to be willing to transform and reinvent from within. Just like Nokia did — from a paper mill to the world’s cell phone king, and now to the biggest network infrastructure company we know today.
  • This is also true for our individual lives too. We become stale with doing the things we do at work and unless we keep learning, upskilling and updating, we’d become obsolete. 

In my Book, Disrupt Yourself Or Be Disrupted, I’ve highlighted that “Digital disruption aka 4IR is not about new Apps or new technologies. It is about a new era, new ways of thinking and new ways of doing business.”

I hope Nokia’s story serves as a reminder that it doesn’t matter who you are or how big you are. If you don’t disrupt yourself and evolve, you will get killed!

Does this article bring up any memories? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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