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Students Dialogue with Advisory Board Members: Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman of Nokia
Jul 13, 2020

Daniel Cowen, GMBA Class of 2017 

Mr. Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman of Nokia since 2012 and former interim-CEO, credited with saving a company once thought headed for bankruptcy, gave us a thrilling lecture on his life, entrepreneurial philosophy and a unique insight into how a large global business can completely realign its industry sector and associated goals. 

Mr. Siilasmaa opened his session with a long self-introduction in Chinese, and he revealed learning the language is his new hobby. He characterised his passion for entrepreneurship as a “burning feeling inside you to do something and change the world,” and he also discussed George Bernard Shaw’s observation that, “there are some who see things as they are and ask why, others see things that never were and ask why not?” Mr. Siilasmaa put this into practice by founding his first company at the tender age of twenty-two, helping people and companies strategically position themselves to take advantage of the nascent world of personal computers. He described making this company succeed in Finland when the country had no venture capital firms, paying himself last each month, sometimes with nothing left for him at all. Following this he enumerated his ten yardsticks of entrepreneurship, and emphasised that it is a way of life, not merely a job, nor a profession nor a role. 

The second half of the session focused in great detail on the sale of Nokia’s handset division to Microsoft – a huge departure from Nokia’s traditional business, which had previously represented 25% of Finland’s exports and 4% of its GDP. Mr. Siilasmaa discussed how the deal with Steve Ballmer and the Microsoft team broke down on a number of occasions, but how small gestures like flying to Seattle just for a weekend showed their interest and commitment to a deal. Mr. Siilasmaa offered fantastic insight for SEM students, and we look forward to welcoming him back to future Advisory Board events. 


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