Nadella's junior at the ‘other’ MIT picked to head Nokia

Rajeev Suri helped turnaround Nokia Solutions and Network and is picked to head up a leaner and more focused company sans its handset division. Now, he has to figure out how to battle giants like Huawei and Ericsson

rajeev suri

I recently wrote a series of pieces that profiled tech companies in the US headed up by Indian born engineer-managers . Almost all of them shared one major commonality—they were successful turnaround artists who revived the fortunes of their companies that were mired in inherently volatile industries.

Today, we can add one more person to that list: Rajeev Suri, who will become CEO of Nokia Oyj on May 1st—an appointment that was widely expected in industry circles.

Suri, born in India and brought up in Kuwait, is an electronics and telecom engineer apparently walked the halls of the Manipal Institute of Technology (the other 'MIT') at the same time its other luminary Satya Nadella did—Suri was one year junior to him at the engineering college in the southern state of Karnakata. (Incidentally, Nadella's high school, Hyderabad Public School, spawned both him as well as the current head  of Adobe's CEO Shantanu Narayen, which makes India's tech world a seemingly cozy little club.)

Having spent around two decades at Nokia's networks division, Suri is widely credited with turning things around at Nokia’s mobile-network arm, Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN) after its merger with Siemens in 2006 which was plagued by losses and which he took over in 2009.

At NSN, Suri apparently cut more than 25,000 jobs over the past two years and brought the unit into the black. Now, it account for over 90 percent of Nokia's revenues thanks to the sale of the company’s struggling mobile handset manufacturing unit's sale to Microsoft for US$7.8 billion.

"Mr. Suri has done a very commendable job in turning around NSN, in our view. Thus, we see the market being positive about his appointment," JP Morgan's analysts said.

Shedding the phone unit is probably the best thing Nokia has done for itself considering that sans it, the company posted a US$149 million net profit in the first quarter, compared with a US$135 million loss in the same period last year. Tof course, with the handset division numbers included, the company posted a net loss of US$452 million with a year-on-year drop in net sales of 30 percent, so the folks at NSN are probably breating a huge sigh of relief that Suri's college-mate now has to deal with a headache that it once owned.

Of course, this doesn't mean it's smooth sailing ahead for Suri. Analysts suggest that bigger players like Ericsson and Huawei will put a lot of pressure in upcoming years on them considering the larger warchests that they can deploy in critical research. Plus, prices of network equipment seem to be falling sharply, which will add to its woes.

Still, Suri has a few decades of experience and the confidence of his board to help him continue to bring in the good times at a resurgent and unburdened Nokia.