July 8, 2020

Stephen Elop: A Massive Presence in Technology



This article is dedicated to my beloved engineer and extraordinary leader in technology: Stephen Elop.


Stephen Elop is leaving Microsoft. It’s not that I am surprised. I have predicted his leave at the time Microsoft had decided he is not the CEO. He had stayed longer than I thought he would.

This is a dark day in Micosoft history none the less.

I don’t know Stephen personally, unfortunately, but as a fan of technology, I think I know him quite well.

Because of my educational background, I have know of Stephen since his Macromedia days.

I started to watch Microsoft since early 2000s. Well, back to the DOS days, as a programmer I did MSC for many years before jumping on Visual Studio. Big events around Microsoft, I generally have a certain level of understanding. I have never been a fan of Bill Gates, gosh, does he ever need a fan at all. Who is a fan of Albert Einstein? He is in a different dimension. I really start closely following Microsoft technology since about 2006. Stephen joined Microsoft Business Division in 2008.

I wasn’t paying much attention to Business Division, especially MS Office, for one, it was not consumer oriented, for another, it was too successful.


Stephen Loves Nokia

Stephen started catching the media attention since his move to Nokia. That was obviously a friendly move between Microsoft and Nokia. There were countless media coverage, but you didn’t have to look too closely to know that move had the understanding of both Microsoft and Nokia’s directors.

If anyone at this time brings up the Trojan horse notion, please shut up, be shameful of yourself, because that shows childishness and stupidity.

Nokia needed someone of Elop’s caliber and a close relationship with Microsoft to turn around their mobile business. And more importantly, Microsoft’s collaboration and support. Stephen knew exactly what he was up to.

The first product under Stephen was Nokia Lumia 810, and the Lumia brand. I couldn’t hold my tears of excitement when I watched the first Lumia ad featuring Lumia 810, please check my post here: A Windows 8 Ad That Stands Out. Lumia 810 was an outstanding smartphone from Nokia. It combines Metro interface from Microsoft and Nokia’s hardware innovation and build quality in hardware. More importantly, Stephen had changed Nokia’s culture. People from Nokia loved him, Windows Phone fans loved him. Event some of Symbian fans, who hated the fact Windows Phone took over Symbian, started accepting him.

Before we go any further, I would like to bring up a story from New Times bestseller book: “The Art of Think Clearly”. The story is called “Success Monkeys”, it goes roughly like this: Putting a million monkeys in the stock market, let them buy and sell as they will. Monkeys, as you know, do it randomly. But regardless, at the end of the session, approximately half of them made money, the other half lost. Then the winners go to next round. After about 20 sessions (You can do the math, if you want), one outstanding monkeys get things figured out 20 consecutive times. That’s amazing, right? However if you know about monkeys, some may smarter than others, their intelligence don’t matter in the stock market. You can always find 1 million lowest intelligence monkeys, there is always one who does it right every time.

What the story tells us is attaching people’s excellence to success is wrong in many cases.  Before the burst of tech bubble in 2000, CISCO’s CEO was the god of everything in the media’s eyes, the same person became evil of anything after that. If Lumia 810, 910 and subsequent Lumia was a success, people would have written a different story about Stephen Elop, but they didn’t. I own a Lumia 920, it’s still in many aspects better than most smartphones today, let alone those icrap and Samsung garbage.

People questioned the strategy of choosing Windows as a sole platform. Lets make it clear, Nokia had chose the path before Stephen had the job in Nokia. The entire process including getting support (financially and technically, if you remember) from Microsoft was a package deal. There is no chance that Stephen Elop alone said, hey, lets go Windows Phone alone. They had chose Windows Phone, I am glad they did, otherwise there would be more garbage on the market.


Stephen Loves Microsoft

There are two people in Microsoft I like for a life time, this is one, the other being Steve Ballmer. They both love Microsoft, even more than I do. Regardless, Stephen’s back to Microsoft was a tragedy. It’s was a sad story in technology. I find out something was wrong after Steve Ballmer announced his leaving, and Stephen wasn’t named CEO, instead, the directors formed a committee to search for a new CEO. At the time, Stephen was already back to Microsoft. I thought Stephen Elop was the only one in technology who was qualified for the job: from understanding of all around Microsoft technologies, businesses to cultures of both Nokia and Microsoft. He was in a unique position to take on that job. No one, even today, has remotely the same qualification for that specific CEO job as Stephen does. Naturally, I thought bring Stephen back to Microsoft was by design, so did the entire media in the world. Instead, it ended up to be given to someone who almost no one knew about.  Stephen was given a small sum (15million). Talking about the money, Finnish people were very unhappy about it, but to be clear, there wasn’t 1 cent coming from Nokia. I suspect that had a lot to do with the settlement of CEO thing.

I thought he would leave immediately, I don’t know if that’s part of the deal or anything, but there is no way in the world that someone like Stephen would be comfortably reporting to someone a lot junior than him. I haven’t heard of Julie Larson-Green for quite a bit, but if you ask Julie or Terry Myerson, or Qi Lu, I doubt any of them wants to. Given a comparable position, they would leave in a heart beat.

I don’t know how the decisions in Microsoft was made, it was sad story to tell for sure.


Stephen Is an Engineer

Stephen Elop started off as an engineer. As an engineer myself I love the profession more than others. His passion for engineering tracks back all the way to his college days in McMaster Unv. You can tell the way he is talking, the systematic style of organizing words, the honesty to technology. You don’t see anyone like Stephen.

Many had questioned his decision to release the famous “Burning Platform Memo”. As many media had to agree, he was just too honest. You can’t tell a 300 pound girl she is fat, you have to say she looks great. But as a CEO, his job was not to please anyone. There were too many Symbian people in Nokia, no one wanted to change. No surprise because the entire Nokia mobile was built for Symbian. Should the Lumia phones catch on in the market, everything he said would be gold, Finnish would love him the way they love their heroes, but it didn’t work like that, so there goes the Finns.


Stephen Is a Wonderfully Nice Person

I said I don’t know him personally, but I read a lot about him from a variety of sources, including a local publication from his home town Hamilton, Ontario. If those can be trusted, I think that’s a person I respect.

I remember he said this during an interview: “Assume best intention from the others”. I keep that in my heart. If everyone hold this as a rule for themselves, a half of world’s problem wouldn’t have existed. Many don’t even know what that means.


Stephen Is my Hero

I love technology, but I am not a fan of any single person in technology, not even Bill Gates, but there is one person I respect the most, who is Stephen Elop.

(Speaking of Bill Gates, what the hell are you thinking right now, Bill? You passed on a great leader, and got a junior you have to supervise to his work?  But that’s your company.)

Stephen Elop, you are my hero. I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog without your work in Nokia. This article and the website are dedicated to you.



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