Nokia disposes of Withings and yet another Technologies President

Nokia has indicated that Gregory Lee’s main job was to get rid of Withings, so now that process is complete he’s moving on.

When Lee was poached from Samsung Electronics North America less than a year ago the messaging was that his consumer electronics expertise would take Nokia’s re-entry into the consumer space to the next level.

“Gregory’s passion for innovation and operational excellence, along with his proven ability to build and lead global consumer technology businesses, make him well suited to advance Nokia’s efforts in virtual reality, digital health and beyond,” said Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri at the time.

Withings, which had only been acquired the previous year, was clearly meant to be a cornerstone of this consumer tech effort, so imagine Lee’s dismay when, at the start of this year, Nokia announced it was ‘reviewing strategic alternatives’ for its digital health division. By the start of this month that process concluded flogging it back to the bloke they bought it from was the best strategic alternative, which kind of called Lee’s position into question.

“Gregory came to Nokia, made a clear-eyed assessment of our consumer business and incubation activities, and took the bold decision to refocus Nokia Technologies on licensing,” said Suri. “As part of that effort, he assessed strategic options for Digital Health, which led to the sale of that business. Given that, we have agreed that his work at Nokia is done. He leaves the company with my great appreciation and thanks.”

So the official line is that the guy they brought in to head up its consumer tech business quickly concluded Nokia shouldn’t be in the consumer tech business. OK, fair enough, but that’s a pretty strange narrative. A simpler explanation would be that, by the end of 2017, Nokia realised (once more) that it couldn’t hack it as a standalone devices player and that Lee just had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Nokia’s confusion about what to do with the devices IP it kept hold of when it flogged the handset division to Microsoft seems to have manifested itself in turmoil at the top of the Nokia Technology division. Ramzi Haidamus was brought in from Dolby in 2014, oversaw the brand licensing idea, but cleared off after two years, just after the acquisition of Withings, indicating he maybe disagreed with the move.

They then brought in Brad Rodrigues, but only ever named him as ‘Interim President’ of Nokia Technologies and he lasted a year or so before moving on not long after Lee came on board. Now, were told, current Nokia Chief Legal Officer Maria Varsellona has been handed this poisoned chalice, a move that makes sense if the division is reverting back to patent trolling, which seemed its most likely strategy from the start.

We all make mistakes. Nokia thought it could re-enter the devices market in a narrower, more targeted way through Withings and at the same time position itself to capitalise on consumer IoT when it starts to take off. It then had to be reminded the hard way that devices are no longer a core competence and Lee has been unfortunate to be at the helm during that process.