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Stephen Elop was Nokia's second choice for CEO, says ex-chairman

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Stephen Elop Nokia CEO stock
Stephen Elop Nokia CEO stock

Stephen Elop left Microsoft just over three years ago to become the chief executive of Nokia, but he wasn't first choice for the job. Jorma Ollila, ex-chairman of Nokia who led the search for a new CEO in 2010, claims that he interviewed five candidates in the US for the job, The Wall Street Journal reports. Ollila's primary choice was a candidate who was number two "at a well-known American technology company." The mystery candidate isn't named, only described as in his 50s, but he's said to have bowed out of the application process due to personal reasons.

Elop second choice after other mystery candidate

Elop was left as the next candidate and he impressed the board by being "a good salesman and a decisive corporate executive," according to Ollila. Elop went on to join Nokia as CEO in September 2010, before axing a number of projects and focusing on Microsoft's Windows Phone software for Nokia's smartphones. Microsoft has now acquired Nokia's phone business and Elop is planning to rejoin the software giant in early 2014 once the deal closes.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his departure in 2012, Nokia's ex-chairman details some of the history around the company's decline to Finnish publication Helsingin Sanomat. "Apple concentrated exclusively on expensive telephones. At Nokia we had thought of doing the same, but the operators wanted inexpensive models instead," explains Ollila. These carriers were so important to Nokia's business that they were able to make demands for phones. "The Mobile Phones Unit once had 1,000 people in Silicon Valley, with the task of picking up on new trends of software development. But we were not successful in the way that Google and Apple were later. This is the key failure for Nokia."

"We were not successful in using Microsoft's operating system..."

While Nokia brought in Elop and focused on Windows Phone, Ollila admits Microsoft's software hasn't helped the company. "We were not successful in using Microsoft's operating system to create competitive products, or an alternative to the two dominant companies in the field," he says, while noting it's "impossible to say what would have happened to the company if different decisions had been made in early 2011 or at some other time."

Nokia now faces the task of focusing on its mapping and network businesses as Microsoft takes control of future devices. Elop will return to Microsoft once again to lead an expanded devices division at the company, but there's speculation he could even return as Microsoft CEO. Microsoft's current chief executive, Steve Ballmer, is planning to retire within the next 12 months ahead of a company-wide focus on devices and services.