Stephen Elop

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Stephen Elop
Stephen elop.jpg
Elop in 2008
Born (1963-12-31) 31 December 1963 (age 54)
Ancaster, Ontario, Canada
Alma mater McMaster University
Occupation Group Executive Technology, Innovation and Strategy of Telstra
Distinguished Engineering Executive in Residence of McMaster University's Faculty of Engineering
Spouse(s) Nancy Elop (1987-) (divorced)
Children 5
Awards L.W. Shemilt Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award (from McMaster University)
Honorary Doctor of Science Degree (from McMaster University)

Stephen Elop (born 31 December 1963) is a Canadian businessman who has worked at Australian telecom company Telstra since April 2016.[1] He most recently served as the Executive Vice President of the Microsoft Devices Group business unit until 17 June 2015. In the past he had worked for Nokia as the first non-Finn CEO[2][3] and later as Executive Vice President, Devices & Services, as well as the head of the Microsoft Business Division, as the COO of Juniper Networks, as the president of worldwide field operations at Adobe Systems, in several senior positions in Macromedia and as the CIO at Boston Chicken.[4]

He is best known for his ill-fated tenure as Nokia CEO from 2010 to 2014, which included controversies such as the "burning platform" memo and the company's partnership with Microsoft, resulting in the move to Windows Phone software exclusivity. He was criticised for some of his decisions, which resulted in the company making massive losses financially and in the market.[5] As then head of the Microsoft Devices Group, Elop was in charge of Microsoft's varied product offerings including Lumia phones, Surface Pro 3, and Xbox One.[6] Since January 2016 he also has a role as Distinguished Engineering Executive in Residence within McMaster University's Faculty of Engineering, where he originally studied in the 1980s.[7]

Early life and education[edit]

Elop was born in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada,[8] as the second of three sons. His mother was a chemist, and his parents still live in suburban Ancaster.[9]

From 1981, Elop studied computer engineering and management at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, graduating second in his class with a bachelor's degree in 1986. After his first year at the University, Elop wrote the user operating manual, called the Orange Book, for the campus’s new computer system.[10] During that time he helped lay 22 kilometres of Ethernet cable around campus to create one of the first Internet networks in Canada.[4][11] In 2007, McMaster's Faculty of Engineering made Elop the second L.W. Shemilt Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award winner and in 2009, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree by McMaster.[12]


Early leadership positions[edit]

Elop was a director of consulting for Lotus Development Corporation before becoming CIO for Boston Chicken in 1992,[4][13] which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1998.[14] In the same year, he joined Macromedia's Web/IT department[13] and worked at the company for seven years,[15] where he held several senior positions, including CEO from January 2005[16] for three months before their acquisition by Adobe Systems was announced in April 2005.[17][18]

During Elop’s tenure, Macromedia continued to deliver widely used software suites like Studio 8.[19] Based on the performance of the company during this time, Elop was able to guide the company through a successful acquisition that benefited shareholders. With an exchange of $3.4 billion in stock, the acquisition combined the companies’ document management, web publishing and online video delivery tools. It proved to be a profitable move for Macromedia shareholders. After the announcement of the agreement, Macromedia shares were valued at $41.86, notably above the then current market value of $33.45.[20][21]

He was then president of worldwide field operations at Adobe, tendering his resignation in June 2006 and leaving in December,[22] after which he was the COO of Juniper Networks for exactly one year from January 2007 – 2008.[13][23]

From January 2008 to September 2010, Elop worked for Microsoft as the head of the Business Division, responsible for the Microsoft Office and Microsoft Dynamics line of products, and as a member of the company's senior leadership team. It was during this time that Microsoft's Business Division released Office 2010.[24] He became known as an operator and a change agent because of successes at Microsoft.[25] Businessweek credited Elop with pushing Microsoft to develop cloud-based versions of the company's programs, and asserted that this helped Microsoft maintain its dominance, while holding off startups looking to disrupt its traditional business model.[26]

CEO of Nokia[edit]

In September 2010, it was announced that Elop would take Nokia's CEO position, replacing Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, and becoming the first non-Finnish director in Nokia's history. On 11 March 2011 Nokia announced that it had paid Elop a $6 million signing bonus, "compensation for lost income from his prior employer," on top of his $1.4 million annual salary.[27]

During Elop's tenure, Nokia's stock price dropped 62%, their mobile phone market share was halved, their smartphone market share fell from 33% to 3%, and the company suffered a cumulative €4.9 billion loss.[28]

"Burning Platform" memo[edit]

After joining Nokia, Elop issued a company internal memo titled "Burning Platform"[29] which was leaked to the press.[30] The memo likened the 2010 situation of Nokia, in the smartphone market, to a person standing on a burning oil platform ("platform" being a reference to the name given to operating systems such as Symbian, Apple iOS and Google Android). By some in the media, the memo was seen as a wake-up call for Nokia,[31] whereas Nokia's Board of Directors saw the memo as act of misjudgment and Chairman Jorma Ollila gave bitter feedback for it at a board meeting.[32]

This leaked memo coined a term "Elop effect", a catastrophic combination of the Ratner effect (publicly attacking one's own products) and the Osborne effect (promising a successor to a current product too long before it is available).

The Windows Phone strategy[edit]

In February 2011, Elop officially announced the new strategy for Nokia, which included the discontinuation of both of their in-house mobile operating systems, shifting its smartphone strategy to Microsoft's Windows Phone. The phase-out of Symbian was to be carried out during the following years, expecting it to be finalized by 2016, but actually finished in January 2014, and plans for any MeeGo devices beyond the Nokia N9 were scrapped. The first Nokia Windows Phone smartphone shipped in November 2011, the Nokia Lumia 800, was made in the form of a device design identically similar (only an additional camera button was added) to the Nokia N9, the first MeeGo mobile.

The N9 enjoyed positive reviews for attractive hardware and a well-designed software experience-- though at launch reviewers noted that a healthy software ecosystem was non-existent and would almost certainly not develop. However Elop stuck with the Microsoft deal, saying that MeeGo development will not continue even with the N9's success, a move that was widely criticised.[33]

In an interview held late 2012, Elop stated the reason for switching to Windows instead of Android: "the single most important word is 'differentiation'. Entering the Android environment late, we knew we would have a hard time differentiating."[34] However, at the time Nokia had already begun reweighing its options and at Mobile World Congress held in February 2014 Stephen Elop took stage to unveil Nokia's first Android Phone, Nokia X.[35]

During his tenure, Elop faced vocal criticism from both industry specialists and employees.[36][37][38] In 2011, Elop announced that some 11,000 employees would have to be laid off as part of a plan to "restructure" Nokia's business, and in June 2012 it was announced that further 10,000 layoffs were in order and that several facilities would have to be closed down due to budget cuts.[39][40] Some critics, especially in Finland, started to speculate that Elop could be a trojan horse, whose mission was to prepare Nokia for a future acquisition by Microsoft.[36][41][42][43][44] When confronted with the theory by an anonymous attendee of the 2011 Mobile World Congress, Elop denied the speculation stating, "The obvious answer is, no. But however, I am very sensitive to the perception and awkwardness of that situation. We made sure that the entire management team was involved in the process [...] everyone on the management team believed this was the right decision," referring to Nokia's adoption of Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system.[44][45]

In the book The Decline and Fall of Nokia, author David J. Cord firmly rejects the idea that Elop was a Trojan Horse. He claims that all of Elop's decisions were logical when they were made, and he also cites the testimony of other Nokia executives who were part of those decision-making processes.[46]

Acquisition by Microsoft[edit]

In May 2013, after the two years that he had been granted for the transition to the Windows Phone platform, Elop was pressed by Nokia's shareholders about the lack of results compared to the competitors and the insufficient sales figures to secure the company's survival. During the annual general meeting, several shareholders voiced that they were running out of patience with Elop's efforts in putting Nokia back to the smartphone race. Elop replied that there was no turning back on his decision of adopting Windows Phone, while some analysts criticized Elop for closing doors to alternative strategies and going all-in with Microsoft's operating system. Some analysts speculated that Nokia had already lost the smartphone race to Samsung and Apple, and that if they were to regain their position in the market, it would have to be by means of low-end devices such as the Asha.[47]

In June 2013, it was reported that Microsoft had been to advanced talks for buying Nokia, but the negotiations had faltered over price and worries about Nokia's slumping market position.[48] As of June 2013, Nokia's mobile phone market share had fallen from 23%[49] to 15%, their smartphone market share gone from 32.6%[50] to 3.3%,[51] and their stock value dropped by 85% since Elop's takeover.[52] On 3 September 2013, it was announced that Microsoft had agreed to buy Nokia's mobile phone and devices business for 5.4 billion euros (US$7.2bn; £4.6bn) and that Elop would stand down as Nokia's CEO to become Executive Vice President of the Microsoft Devices Group business unit.[53][54] Elop was said to bring a unique set of skills back to Microsoft, given his varied leadership experience and proven ability to manage products and divisions at the company (i.e. Microsoft Office).[55] Nokia's devices and services business would ultimately become Microsoft Mobile in April 2014.[56]

Bonus controversy[edit]

Controversy arose around Elop receiving a €18.8 million bonus after Nokia sold its mobile phone business to Microsoft and he stepped down as the CEO.[57][58] The controversy was further fueled after it was revealed that his contract had been revised on the same day as the deal was announced.[59] Moreover, the chairman of Nokia's Board of Directors gave initially incorrect information about the contract to the public, and had to correct his statements later.[60] Shortly before his departure from Nokia, Elop had filed for divorce, which he also cited as a reason to reject a renegotiation of the controversial bonus.[61] He claimed he couldn't afford a reduction of the payoff because his wife would demand half of it.[62] Elop also enjoyed a preferential tax status in Finland, a 35% fixed-rate income tax irrespective of the size of income, while typical tax payers in Finland pay a progressive income tax.[63] Approximately 70% of the bonus costs were absorbed by Microsoft during the acquisition, the majority of which came in the form of accelerated stock awards.[64]

Criticism spread to politics, with Prime Minister of Finland Jyrki Katainen telling Finnish television that the payoff was "quite outrageous", and that it cannot be justified given the country's difficult economic times. Jutta Urpilainen, the minister of finance, wrote on her blog "In addition to the general toxic atmosphere, it [the payoff] may be a threat to social harmony".[65]

Microsoft Devices Group[edit]

In 2014, Elop returned to Microsoft as executive vice president of the Microsoft Devices Group.[66] From that point, Elop focused on the team’s “mandate to help people do more”[6] and their interest in "[putting] the entirety of the Microsoft experience in people's hands." Some major developments from the group included new Nokia, and later Microsoft-branded Lumia smartphones,[67] the launch of new products including Microsoft HoloLens[68] and the Microsoft Band,[69] and the spin out of Nokia MixRadio[70] to Japan's Line Corporation.

On 17 June 2015, Elop was laid off from his position at Microsoft as part of massive job cuts in the Microsoft Devices Group. According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, "Stephen and I have agreed that now is the right time for him to retire from Microsoft. I regret the loss of leadership that this represents, and look forward to seeing where his next destination will be."[71]


On 16 March 2016, Australia's largest telecommunications provider Telstra announced, controversially, that Elop would be joining the company in a newly created position as Group Executive Technology, Innovation and Strategy.[72][73][74] Since joining Telstra, the company's share price has dropped by around one third. [75]

Personal life[edit]

In his spare time, Elop is an avid recreational pilot.

In August 2013 he filed for divorce from his wife of 26 years, Nancy Elop from Wyoming, Ontario who he first met when studying at McMaster. They have five children: triplet girls, an adopted Chinese girl, and a boy.[17][76] Shortly after the divorce, Elop listed for sale his US$5 million mansion in Redmond, Washington which he purchased in 2008 and lived in with his family.[77]


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  75. ^
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  77. ^
Business positions
Preceded by
Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo
Nokia Corporation CEO
Succeeded by
Risto Siilasmaa