From emotional fallout to rational analysis: How Finns saw the Nokia-Microsoft deal

After Microsoft confirmed it's buying the lion's share of Nokia – Finland's biggest company – how did the country react?
Written by Olli Sulopuisto, Contributor

The sale of Nokia's phone business to Microsoft came as a surprise to many, both globally inside the company's home country of Finland.

The sale was announced last Tuesday, when it was confirmed that Nokia was selling its devices and services business to Microsoft for €5.4bn. On Tuesday and Wednesday last week, former Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop and Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer did a tour of Nokia's biggest sites in Finland. In addition to the headquarters in Espoo, the pair visited Salo, Tampere, and Oulu, where Nokia still holds a significant presence, despite not yet completing the round of layoffs announced in July.

While the Finnish government was informed of the situation the night before the deal was officially announced, the country's members of parliament heard of it on Tuesday at the same time as everyone else.

The reaction in Finland has been first and foremost emotional, with much discussion of the importance of Nokia's meteoric rise after the years of economic depression in the 1990s and the dot-com bubble of 2000. A lot of blame for the sale has been laid at the feet of Elop, with the tabloids highlighting his €19m earnings during his tenure at Nokia (After setting up the deal, Elop has moved to Microsoft as VP of devices and services while the sale goes through).

The impact on Finland's bottom line appears to be much smaller than it would've been even a few years ago, according to statistics from research institute ETLA, when at its largest Nokia was very much the country's economic motor.

A decade ago when Nokia was the only smartphone game in town and the iPhone was a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye, Nokia was responsible for four percent of Finland's GDP, but by 2012, that number was estimated to be around 0.2 percent. At its peak, Nokia used to employ a full one percent of the Finnish workforce, but that's also now in the region of 0.2 percent. Some 40 percent of all the money spent on R&D in Finland came from Nokia in 2009, and after the sale the new estimated figure is 17 percent.

The Finnish trade unions seem divided on the news of the sale. Antti Rinne — the president of Trade Union Pro, the largest private sector union for clerical employees — highlighted that the phones will still be designed by Finns and any decision by consumers to boycott Nokia handsets after the sale will directly affect the Finnish economy.

Pertti Porokari, the president of the Union of Professional Engineers in Finland, had a different take. Porokari told the online business daily Taloussanomat that the organisation is afraid that software development work will slowly move to the US, where the majority of Microsoft's software engineers are.  

Rasmus Roiha, the managing director of the Finnish Software Entrepreneurs Association, found a silver lining, telling business paper Kauppalehti that Finnish software companies will now have two strong partners instead of just the one, and that the sale would open up possibilities for "long-term co-operation".

The ripples of the sale managed to touch even people who have left Nokia behind. The memoirs of the former Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila are to be published in October. While the publication date still stands, the book will undergo some last-minute revisions to incorporate last week's developments, according to Kauppalehti.

Microsoft, for its part, has said it will keep Finland as its R&D base for mobile, and will set up a €250m datacentre in the country to serve its European customers.

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