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Former Nokia Employee Blames Failures on 'Soviet-Style' Bureaucracy

If you're wondering why Nokia hasn't been able to keep up with Apple, RIM, and Android in the smart phone wars, consider this tale of frustration from Juhani Risku, a manager who worked on user interface designs for Symbian from 2001 to 2009. He tells The New York Times that his team had offered 500 proposals to improve the Symbian interface. Not one got approved.

“It was management by committee,” Mr. Risku said, comparing the company’s design approval processes to a “Soviet-style” bureaucracy. Ideas fell victim to fighting among managers with competing agendas, he said, or were rejected as too costly, risky or insignificant for a global market leader.

The piece goes on to cite several other missed opportunities, including a proposal in 2004 for an Internet-ready touchscreen phone--a good three years before the first iPhone arrived. It went nowhere.

Risku said he also pitched a 3D user interface in 2002--seven years before Samsung and LG would do the same. He got shot down, but Nokia still beat the competition to market, in 2006. Overall, Nokia still maintains a hefty 40.3 percent share of mobile phone sales worldwide, but in the U.S. (where smart phone sales are skyrocketing) its share has dropped from 35 percent in March 2002 to 8.1 percent in April of this year.

Can Nokia’s new CEO, Stephen Elop, turn things around? He wouldn't comment for the Times piece, as he's spending his first two weeks on the job meeting with employees, suppliers, mobile operators, and software developers. Well, now they have plenty of conversation fodder.