HELSINKI, Finland – The 1990s were the years that transformed Nokia into the company we know today. Jorma Ollila became President and CEO in 1992, and the first GSM handset was launched, the Nokia 1011.
With handsets that you could actually carry in your hand the company was ready to divest Nokia rubber boots, cables and TVs into separate enterprises, and concentrate solely on telecommunications.
It was an important year for other reasons too – the world’s first satellite call was made on a Nokia handset. And the Nokia theme tune sprang to life from the new 2100 handsets.
We trawled through the Nokia archives and dusted off this account from Joe Milligut, an aspiring and slightly patronising 22-year-old British entrepreneur on his first visit to Nokia World in 1994…
“By the time I get to speak, the audience is dwindling. They’ve never heard of me, but that doesn’t deter me from sharing my vision.
“It’s a new era. A new dawn. A new Nokia.” I tell them. “You’ve put aside the things that divided us, TVs, rubber boots, paper. Now we can move forward together. One company united in one common goal – to bring better telecommunications to the world…..no matter what class, or color.”
I have to say the guys on the floor at Nokia World look dubious, but I pull the chairs together so that we can all sit around and drink a cappuccino. I’m desperate to win them over and show that I totally get them.
“This is like Friends isn’t it?” I say. They all frown, maybe they don’t get Friends in Finland yet. I spell it out to them: “We have changed, and the world has changed.”
It seems like a good moment to raise my eyebrows and smile modestly. Even though I do have some great business ideas, I want them to know that I’m still plain old Joe from a little suburb of North London called Hampstead.
“You know, I’m a pretty straight kind of guy, and I don’t want to make overblown comparisons – but this is the 1990s. What about democratic elections in South Africa? What about Bill and Hillary. Tony and Cherie?”
Oh dear, blank looks all round.
“Never mind. What about our new Nokia theme tune? To be honest, now isn’t really the right moment for soundbites, but here at Nokia World in 1994 I feel the hand of history on our shoulders….”
I pull out my new 2100. Thank god its not the size of the old P30, but its still spoils the line of a nice double breasted jacket. I point, “This is Nelson.”
At that point, a guy called Heimo pipes up to join the conversation: “My girlfriend’s is called Monica. Monica the mobile, because it has to be the best. She is also obsessive about keeping it clean and has a special case for it”
“Oh, maybe you people have heard of Friends, after all,” I say. “No, I call mine Nelson the Nokia, in honor of Nelson Mandela. He is my inspiration. If he can become the new President of South Africa, we can sell Nokias across the globe. Do you know the first GSM call in communist China was made on one of our handsets…”
Heimo says: “Whatever! If you ask me it’s pretty dumb, naming your phone. If I named mine it would be Joey, because it’s strong, handsome and all the girls love him. By the way, you forgot the chocolate sprinkles on my cappuccino. When will you Brits learn how to make a decent coffee? And can I get a Danish to go with it?
“Er, yes, of course, sorry. Heimo, is that your name? Well I’m sure you could be right. All I’m saying, or trying to say, at least, is, well, as Nelson would say: ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’ ”
At this point, I realized that I may have just gone a bit over the top. Heimo stood up and turned to me.
“My heart is telling me you want to order some new 2100 phones,” he says.
“Er, yes, that’s right,” I splutter.
“Now, you are talking my language,” says Heimo. “But my head is wondering if you are Hugh Grant in disguise? You are too late for the wedding, my friend. Nelson Mandela already has a phone. So does the cast of Friends.”