It's Nokia's 140th birthday, and we're invited to the party! The venue is in Tower Bridge, which is a handy few hundred metres from the office, and there are balloons and finger food and cocktails and everything — including an astoundingly tall female jazz saxophonist, masseurs and a variety of stands showing off Nokia's cleverness. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if the Nokia bods were let into the venue much before we were, so the cleverness stands are still being assembled quite late into the evening. But we don't care: balloons and finger food and cocktails and very tall women in glittery dresses will keep us going admirably.
Nokia's been a lot of things since it kicked off in 1865 as a wood pulp company. Rubber goods, toilet paper, hunting rifles and cables were all part of the rather unusual and mostly independent group of divisions that made up the concern, and for a long time in the 1960s and 70s the whole lot was kept profitable mostly by sales of electric cables to the USSR. You had to be flexible if you were Finnish during the Cold War. As things thawed and nervous about this dependency, the company went on a bit of a spending spree — by the mid 80s it had some 80 subsidiaries, on the basis that whatever sectors were doing badly, others would do well and keep the ship afloat. Not necessarily so, as the late 80s and early 90s showed. There was only one stellar division — telecoms — and everything else was offloaded.
It's a bit of a shame if the Finnish fondness for illogical diversity is going away. I fondly remember a trip to Helsinki to see Fiskars, a maker of knives and other sharp things. For reasons that were as inscrutable before the vodka as afterwards, Fiskars had decided to move into making uninterruptible power supplies. It still does — if only in the US: check out the Power Squid — as well as aluminium boats and estate agencies, but any question of "why are you doing this?" was met by a one-size-fits-all answer of "We have a reputation for quality and reliability that we think will be appreciated in this sector". Yes, but the same would be true of mobile phones or whale harpoons or jelly moulds.
Nonetheless, it's good to know that no matter what this decade's corporate structure fad is — I'm not sure whether we're in a 'diversify or die' or 'stick to your knitting' mood at the moment — there are always other ways of going about business.