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A Deep Dive into Nokia’s Evolution, Growth, and Brand Strategy
by Daniel Newman | February 9, 2023

On this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series, I am joined by Shaun McCarthy, President of North American Sales at Nokia, to talk about Nokia’s strategy and what’s ahead for the future.

Our conversation covers:

  • Shaun’s first impressions in his exciting new role
  • Key sales and corporate strategies at Nokia
  • Current market opportunities
  • What sets Nokia apart from their competitors
  • Customer impressions and success stories
  • What’s ahead for Team Nokia

It’s a great conversation, and one you won’t want to miss. To learn more about Nokia, check out their website here.

Watch the video of our conversation here:

Or stream the audio here:

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Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Webcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this webcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.

Transcript:

Daniel Newman: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast. I’m your host, Daniel Newman, founding partner, principal analyst at Futurum Research. Excited for today’s interview series. Going to be talking to Shaun McCarthy, a friend of mine from the past that continues to be making big things happen in the connectivity mobile space, and first time on the podcast in a new role at a new company. Without further ado, Shaun, I’m not going to waste any time. I’m just going to bring you in. Welcome to the show. How have you been, my friend?

Shaun McCarthy: Hey, thanks, Dan. It’s great to be here. I’m having fun as always. How are you?

Daniel Newman: Hey, it’s good to see you. This industry definitely has lasting power. We say there’s chairs and people change chairs. In your case, you made a big move up, Shaun, really excited to see, you joined Nokia in the role of president of North America sales. I want to talk a little bit with you about that today. But I do got a comment, because I was going to start with a little bit of small talk. Is it just me or does it look incredibly cold out there behind you? I’m in Texas, I put this jacket on when I saw your background. I was actually quite fine before.

Shaun McCarthy: Yeah, no, I think last time we did one of these video podcasts together, I was living in Denver and I’ve since moved back to my roots up in New Hampshire, and it’s actually very cold out there today. I think it’s going to be negative 13 degrees tonight. So it’s a day to stay inside and be warm if you’re in New Hampshire.

Daniel Newman: Hey, I was in Denver this week and it was like one degree.

Shaun McCarthy: Yeah, it’s cold.

Daniel Newman: I was in Boulder and everyone’s like, “It’s not normally this cold.” I’m like, “No, just every time I come here it’s this cold.” They’re like, “It’s going to be 50 this weekend.” And I’m like, “Yeah, it’s always going to be 50 after I leave.” That’s the trick of going to Denver or the Great Northeast or my hometown of Chicago, where I swear it’s colder than anywhere else on the planet, but that’s why I moved down here to Texas. So, let’s start out with a little big picture, Shaun. Like I said, you took a big chair over at Nokia, but what was the driver? Why did you make that decision to come over and join the team at Nokia?

Shaun McCarthy: Yeah, no, thanks, Daniel. Really, it just came down to what I saw as a pretty interesting opportunity. Nokia is really a unique company in the space that I play in, which is the traditional telco vendor space. When you look across the playing field of all the big, strategic vendors out there, the exciting technology providers out there, you quickly find there’s three categories of companies. There are mobile networking companies, there are traditional networking companies, and then there are software application companies. Actually, if you look everywhere outside of China, there’s no one that plays in that full spectrum of capability, except Nokia. So it was a really interesting opportunity to join a company that can deliver outcomes for customers that no other single vendor on the planet can because of the full broad scope of their portfolio. That was probably the biggest selling factor for me, that got me most excited about the opportunity.

Daniel Newman: Of course, any time you make a move, you always come into it with a set of ideas, this is what it’s going to be. Then you get in the chair, and I’ve been watching you in the chair and it’s been mostly airplane seats, but I’m thinking you’ve done some stuff in between, and then you start to get a sense of what you’re really up against. I’m guessing, based on your enthusiasm, the social posts, a little bit of interactions that we’ve kept in touch throughout the time, you’re feeling pretty good, but now that you’ve had the chance, you’ve met the sales people, you’ve met the international teams, you’re starting to hear the story, you’re getting in front of customers, what’s got you most excited?

Shaun McCarthy: Yeah, I mean, listen, I’m as excited inside of Nokia as I was entering the role. If anything, more excited about the opportunity. I’d say, first and foremost, any company, it’s the people. I mean, technology’s technology, but the people are what make a company and Nokia puts people at the heart of the company. I’m just really impressed by the amount of talent and the passion that aligns with my passion. The passion for customers, focused on customers and delivering customer outcomes. So we’ve got a great team here. There were some surprises, I will say, I knew Nokia was a really strategic vendor, specifically to the big CSPs, the big mobile providers in North America.

But I didn’t realize, A, how entrenched we were in terms of aligning and partnering with these customers, but also how it was a true partnership versus that supplier vendor relationship. I think that comes down to, A, the breadth, we’re critical in so many different areas of the network. But also the radio network is such a critical part of the mobile suppliers, the mobile providers’ strategies, having really tight alignment and partnership with radio players and the investment that they need us to continue to make there. So we invest about $4 billion a year in R&D. It’s just an incredible amount of money. Having this partnership and this alignment is really critical for our customers. That was a big, big surprise to me. But the team is amazing. The portfolio is firing on all cylinders. We’re number one or number two in every market we play in, in terms of technology capability, and continue to focus on trying to get to number one in all of those areas. And then the customers, the customers really view us as strategic partners. It’s been great. Yeah, I’m really excited.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack there. The R&D comment always really excites and entices me when I think about companies that invest big in R&D. Nokia doesn’t always get the recognition in this particular space, but probably should. A lot of the innovation that we experience when we’re running around connected on our devices anywhere in the world, we’ve sort of taken it for granted. I talk about it a lot sometimes on the device and the handset side. With Qualcomm, we talk about it a lot from the lens of all the technology that enables an Apple phone to be an Apple phone, or a Samsung, whichever it is. And when it comes to the infrastructure required to enable an operator to do the job, Nokia’s a company that is turned to, like you said, number one, number two, in almost every major market on the planet.

But a lot of people, at times, they think about the company, they remember the old phones. I mean, when they think of Nokia, they think about the navy blue… I think you guys have done so much to change that. Talk about that. Talk about the strategy now. Because I like that it’s kind of IBM, and people still think that IBM is a PC company and it’s not. You guys have a lot of that sort of same DNA right now that you’ve really pivoted, really changed, and you’re doing really important things and it’s not necessarily what the brand historically was, but where it’s going. So, what is that strategy now?

Shaun McCarthy: Yeah. It’s interesting you say that, because Nokia is a 157-year-old company and started off making tires. No one thinks about that anymore, right?

Daniel Newman: Well you got past that.

Shaun McCarthy: Right? Now, our generation, we all grew up with the Nokia phones and so we think about that, but the next generation doesn’t. So, we’re doing a lot to reinvent ourselves as a company and make sure that, as we do that, we need to do a good job of making sure people understand what we do today. By the way, in the US, we cover 90% of the population from a mobile standpoint. Seven out of 10 fiber connected homes, the fiber is delivered via Nokia technology. People are accessing the internet, people are being connected by Nokia and they don’t even know it.

Daniel Newman: To be clear, though, it’s because you guys are not just selling hardware in infrastructure. You also have a lot of intellectual property that you license too. So, there’s two different ways they’re buying your hardware, but sometimes it’s not always on a logo. They’re licensing your IP, which ends up in products that you guys are contributing to.

Shaun McCarthy: That’s right. All the major handset players likely have Nokia intellectual property inside of them as well. That’s a whole other section of our business. But from a strategy standpoint, first off, it all starts with purpose. Our purpose is we make technology that helps the world act together. What does that do? That enables accessibility, closing the digital divide, it enables sustainability, it enables productivity, the digitalization that needs that, and transformations that are all happening.

So, how do we go execute on that purpose? It really comes back to our CEO, Pekka Lundmark, who came in, I think in 2020 timeframe, and basically came in to turn the company around and bring the company to profitability. He put in place this sort of reset, accelerate, scale, strategy. Reset was really about re-looking at how the company is structured and organized, and also getting the portfolio where it needs to be, bringing the portfolio… We had lost some share in the RAND space. We had different areas of the portfolio where we’re not best in class. What we’ve done, we’ve largely caught up in all of those areas and in some cases we’ve even moved ahead in those areas. So, it was sort of reset of the portfolio.

Then about a year ago, he shifted us into this accelerate mode. Now, the revenue and our results, we doubled, our growth doubled in 2022 from 2021. So, he’s put us into this accelerating mode and where we continue to be in that accelerate mode and eventually we’ll transition into that next scale phase of the strategy. But the strategy’s very simple. It’s like focus on the customer, understand the customer’s business, and make sure you can deliver outcomes for that customer, and ideally deliver outcomes that no one else can do because of the full breadth of our portfolio. That comes down to what the strategy’s about, and there’s a huge focus on North America in terms of that strategy. North America is the most important market for us, and that’s why I’m really excited about our ability to really drive growth and drive outcomes for our customers in North America.

Daniel Newman: Just lean into that a little bit, because Nokia has a huge and well-understood brand across Europe, because obviously one of the largest, most innovative tech companies in Europe. And it’s also that way here in North America, in US, but doesn’t always, because it’s not a US-based company. So, you coming over, making the leap, I remember you talking to me privately about how excited you were, I won’t say much more than that, but you really had identified that giving the brand a boost here in the US, North America, was going to be so important and why you were so excited to have the chance to really lead that role. Talk about the market opportunity, what you’re focusing on, the big bets that you’re making and how North America’s going to pan out under your leadership.

Shaun McCarthy: Yeah, it’s almost like the biggest secret of how invested we are in North America, and specifically how invested we are in the United States. It’s the most important market for us, North America. We have 10,000 employees in North America. We have 7,500 of them roughly in the US. So, we’re making tremendous investments into this market. It’s about 30% of our revenue today.

Just to give you a perspective, we have 165,000 square foot of R&D lab space in the US – a huge, huge investment. That’s like three football fields of lab space in North America. Because it’s such a critical market and we continue to increase that investment, someone used the term, and I don’t know if I would use that term, but someone used the term like, “You’re almost like a dual citizen, Shaun.” In some aspects, we are, because we’re a Finland-headquartered company, but this is a critical market that we continue to invest in.

And listen, it’s an interesting market, too, because we are a major leader in the communication service provider market, the CSP market, specifically the mobile providers, but also the traditional wire line communication service providers. The strategy is continue to do more with those, continue to take share with those, drive outcomes and drive their success, which in turn will drive our success. But there are adjacent markets that we’ve been investing in for a few years now that are really coming to fruition. The enterprise market is a huge growth area for us. We’re hyper-focused on continuing to protect our investment and double down on our investment in the enterprise space.

There’s a few things happening in enterprise space. There’s your traditional connectivity, there’s the data center play in the enterprise. Those are, I’d say, traditional enterprise place for a networking company. The more exciting spaces, what I call the digitization of operational technology organizations. IT went through their digital transformation. OT is now going through their digital transformation. A lot of that is around how do you leverage private wireless solutions? How do you leverage MEC and bringing compute and bringing AI and ML close to these operations and changing the way operations happen in these organizations? Like, driving additional productivity, driving additional safety. You’ve heard me say before, it’s not about private 5G, it’s about the outcomes that private 5G enables. That’s a huge growth area for us. Then the other growth area for us is the web-scale hyper-scaler business. That’s an area where I think we have just a tremendous opportunity to continue to grow our share, that we announced a win with Microsoft, we have a lot of exciting activities cooking there. It’s just tremendous growth in these hyper-scaler data centers. There’s just so much growth happening there. That’s something that we’re going to continue to invest in and listen to the customers and bring the best solution to the table and hopefully earn more share.

Daniel Newman: Despite the macro, all the trend lines that you’re pointing to have long-term strength. You and I have talked for a while, it’s a little tougher out there right now. Cloud businesses are slowing, enterprise is slowing. But like you said, when you’re share-taking, that’s always an opportunity. Every salesperson knows, and I know you’re the president, but as… I’m an entrepreneur and I always say, “I’m really just a sales guy, you know, you’re always selling your business.” But share-taking is an opportunity in every market. In these markets where you have some really strong product and innovation, and you have some differentiation, there’s a great opportunity for you to grow even in a tougher macro. And speaking of differentiation, talk about how you’re doing that. How are you looking at differentiation from, say, Ericsson? That’s a company I think that, often Nokia and Ericsson get stacked up right side by side and people want to know, what’s the difference?

Shaun McCarthy: Yeah, yeah. Listen, I think that’s one of the things that it can be a little frustrating is when we get compared to Ericsson, because they play in this one silo, which is an important silo, don’t get me wrong, and it’s a big silo, but our portfolio spans this whole spectrum that they don’t play in. Then there are the traditional networking companies that don’t play over here in the RAND space.

Listen, we’ve continued to try to innovate and we take, like I said, $4 billion investment. To be fair, we were behind a few years ago. We made some product decisions without getting too geeky, but it was around, do you use FPGAs versus system-on-a-chip technology? We made some decisions that led to feature gaps as well as price performance gaps, and it hurt us. But if you look at what’s happening when we talk to customers, all of a sudden, they’re saying, “Hey, well, you’ve caught up, or in some cases you’ve passed ahead.” There are certain capabilities where we feel like we’re hearing from customers that we’ve passed ahead. That’s around coverage and capacity, generally. That’s fundamentally the game in that space and ability to execute, ability to move fast and execute.

We’re winning in that market. We are the market share leader in fiber deployments. We’re doing a lot in the software space as well, where we continue to win new franchises inside of the Core, the Packet Core, the IMS Core, those are really the software brains of any network. Then we have a lot of adjacent capabilities in those areas where we have security. I was like, “Nokia is a security company?” Well, we’re actually experts in 5G security. So, understanding how these networks are spun up, we’re laser-focused on not being a big, broad security company, but securing the 5G network. We’re doing really cool things there. We’re doing cool things in analytics, we’re doing cool things on helping our customers open up their networks with something we call software as code, to help customers monetize and drive APIs into the networks and spin things up.

A good example would be, let’s say, Uber wants to create their own MVNO, so giving Uber all the APIs. Uber’s not a customer or that’s just a use case example that I think people can grasp. But those are the types of things that we’re creating the opportunity for our customers to either grow their existing revenues or help our customers create net new revenue, so that we’re focused on the customer outcome. In turn, it leads to goodness for us as well.

Daniel Newman: As you should be. The security thing’s an interesting point, by the way, because, A, security is massive, it’s a really large opportunity, whether it’s ransomware or threat surface management, the edge is obviously such an opportunity for black hats and those that are trying to commit cyber crime, cyber fraud, and you play such a large role. I’m saying a lot of times we think about securing the data center. Well, the data center’s a very small surface relative to all the opportunity. So, playing there and being very focused is an opportunity that I think you guys could definitely lean into as a company.

By the way, most of the large tech companies are the biggest, I mean, Microsoft, you mentioned the partnership. Microsoft is the largest cybersecurity company in the world, and a lot of people don’t realize that, because they aren’t necessarily branded for that if you think of office and cloud. But security’s got to be part of your core DNA, it just does nowadays. You can’t put products out there and not have thoughts about how you make sure they’re safe and secure and you can’t just leave that up to everyone else.

Shaun McCarthy: Yeah. It can’t be an afterthought, security, you got to think about security upfront and build it into the products. But what’s unique about us is we know… As the world moves to more and more software, and the core of networks is becoming software, so the brains of the network become software, we play and understand what’s happening at that sort of almost that cloud software platform layer, as well as the network functions. So, when you understand what’s happening with the network functions, they’re getting spun up, they’re getting spun down, you understand what’s happening at the cloud layer, we’re able to deliver security capabilities that a traditional security company might not be able to do, because they don’t really understand, they don’t have visibility, they don’t understand what’s happening at those network function layers.

Daniel Newman: I’ve got a couple questions left for you. One is a bit of a Dan’s favorite questions to ask new leaders in companies, and this is especially in roles that are customer-facing. I asked you the question earlier about your impressions and how you felt now that you’ve gotten around. But you’ve also been out now around and you’ve probably gotten in front of some of the most important customers, you’ve sat in meetings. Maybe you’re even starting to talk in them. I’m guessing you were probably, if you were like me, in the beginning, you’re a sponge, you’re listening and wanting to make sure, “Yeah, exactly.” I mean, you may have the biggest title in the room, but you also know what you don’t know. Smart people like yourself tend to have that quality.

But as you’ve been listening, doing that listening tour, you’re probably starting to get a sense of how your customers feel about the brand and the company. Talk a little bit about that. What were you hearing? What surprised you? Any big innovation breakthroughs that customers are thinking about and really pulling Nokia in to be the main partner to help?

Shaun McCarthy: Yeah. I think the best way to answer that is to share some of the cool things we’re doing with-

Daniel Newman: Yeah, give us names, details, links, or anonymize. I mean, that’s fun, too.

Shaun McCarthy: There’s the now, which I can talk about in a second here. Then there’s what’s emerging in the future, which is some really cool stuff. I’ll be honest with you, the metaverse was a little bit buzzwordy for me before coming here and really spending time with the team. But the metaverse, every time I hear folks talk about it and I kind of peel back the onion, it gets more and more interesting and exciting to me.

The metaverse economy is supposed to be, I think it’s eight to $13 trillion by 2030. That’s the projection. Now, that’s a big, broad scope. We view it end up getting segmented into three different types of metaverses. There’s a consumer metaverse, there’s an enterprise metaverse. Consumer metaverse is gaming and those types of things. Enterprise metaverse might be maybe you’re taking conferencing in a different way. Then there’s the industrial metaverse, we think we’re going to be the big leader and a big major player in the industrial metaverse, which is, that’s where all the digital twinning comes in.

By the way, the traffic, by 2027, the industrial metaverse traffic is projected to exceed the traffic of mobile handsets. That’s actually a mind-boggling statistic when you really think about it, because the traffic is like nothing today. It’s almost like chatGTP went from nothing to… In a few weeks. We see that happening with the industrial metaverse and we are really, really well-positioned. This is a traditional connectivity, that’s obvious, but we’re building a lot around software platforms, tooling, enablement. Again, it comes down to the fact that we play all this broad role. We’re not just this point player in this piece of connectivity or that piece of software. We’ve got this broad capability. We’re really excited about that opportunity, which is super early and emerging.

But we’re doing some really cool things with customers and there’s one, I can’t share the name of the customer, but a major utility player. We just closed a deal with them and the problem they want to solve for is when the windstorms come or any storm comes and the power line goes down, it starts a forest fire. So, we built a private network for them, we leverage our IoT solutions, and we built a platform, and this bunch of use cases are going to continue to add to the platform. But the first use case is, it prevents forest fires, it stops, shuts the power off when the sensor triggers to the network. So, really cool use cases like that. That falls into that private wireless use case and we’re doing a lot with great partners.

Kyndryl is a partner we’re doing a ton of work with. We continue to do more and more with them. They’re a great partner because we bring a lot of the technology together. But as you know, connectivity is connectivity, but then you got to bring the MEC in and you need to deliver, build the apps and put the pieces together to deliver the outcomes for the customer. So, we’re doing a lot in that space. Closing the digital divide is something I’m really passionate about. So, creating a level playing field, if you live in some little small town in Kansas, you should still be able to get the best education. You should be able to get the best job from wherever you are with the internet. If we ever have another pandemic, you should be able to continue to have… You shouldn’t have to sit in a McDonald’s parking lot to get access to the internet so that you can be in… I mean, these are real things that have happened. So, we’re hearing these amazing things for customers as we continue to just drive these outcomes for them, if that helps.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, did that help? Of course it helped, Shaun, I got to wrap it up, but I do want to say a couple things. I just want to double click on a couple things you said. First of all, the emerging applications in the metaverse, I like that you brought it back to pragmatism. After CES, I went on CNBC and I talked about the metaverse, because everyone thought the metaverse was going to be this huge thing. Then the stock market went down and then it was no longer an important thing anymore.

We’ve seen similar waning interests in things like sustainability, and it’s unfortunate that sometimes companies, when times are good, are doing the important things, and then when times get rough, they cut them back, because they’re not as directly appliable. But the thing you mentioned is these technologies can be directly appliable to an experience in the future that becomes more monetizable and more valuable, whether that’s analytics-driven sustainability, where people understand where it brings shareholder and stakeholder and customer value, or how you can improve material supply, material supply chains to get more efficient, but sustainable materials.

On metaverse, though, you mentioned like the digital twin, the ability to test a product in a fully digital, autonomous, synchronous environment so that you don’t have to build as many cars and smash them to know whether they’re going to be safe, to be able to design the next version of a bicycle to be lighter weight and more robust without having to build as much prototype, use as much materials, as have much expense, or surgeons figuring out how to perfect a complicated procedure in a digital twin to be able to reduce the cost and save lives.

What I mean is when you take these technologies and you take them out of the lens of crypto and the weird metaverse of floating around and talking to your friends on Facebook in an alternate reality, and you look at it more through the lens of the real, meaningful ways these texts can be applied, Shaun, it’s really important. Companies like yours that are helping develop the connectivity, and mobility, and the throughput, and the backhaul, and all that infrastructure required is actually how these things end up happening on our devices.

So, the work you’re doing is very important. The opportunity for Nokia is palpable, and I do hope that under your leadership, the company can continue to grow and shine and compete. I always say a competitive and healthy ecosystem drives the most innovation, and so I’m excited to see what’s in store, I’m excited to see you at MWC. We’re going to stand up live. We’re going to have another video, you, me, and Pat Moorhead, on the Six Five, but for this episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast, Shaun, thanks so much for joining me. Congratulations-

Shaun McCarthy: Thank you.

Daniel Newman: … on the job and all the work you’re doing at Nokia.

Shaun McCarthy: Yeah, thanks for having me. Great seeing you, Dan.

Daniel Newman: All right, everybody, thanks for tuning in today. Hit that subscribe button. We’d love to have you back for all the interviews with me and the other folks across the Futurum Research community, so many great interviewees and, of course, in-depth conversations about the most important topics to you, the person that cares about tech and the future. For Futurum Tech Podcast, I got to say goodbye now, though. So, thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you all later.

About the Author

Daniel Newman is the Chief Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio