How Risto Siilasmaa Saved Nokia from bankruptcy?

Transforming Nokia

My reading note on the book titled, Transforming Nokia, The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead through Colossal Change.

I would rate the book @ 9/10★ for content but the book itself is relatively a dry read.

Risto Siilasmaa is an entrepreneur, he became Nokia’s chairman in 2012 when the company was in the brink of bankruptcy. It must have been an interesting challenge for him. Just like Superman, to swoop in and save the day. And he did brilliantly for 4 years from his appointment, the company was again highly profitable.

And the book taught us how he did it.


A little bit about Nokia

In 2009, Nokia hired McKinsey & Company to evaluate the firm’s “organizational efficiency”. The result? They ranked in the bottom 25th percentile of firms on its Organization Health Index (OHI).

In simple term, Nokia was sick and dying fast.

Historically, the chances were 50% that Nokia would be out of business in 2 years. By 2012, Nokia had lost more than 90% of its “market value” and the company were getting rid of employees by the thousands.

Most believed Nokia would soon go bankrupt, and honestly, I thought they did.

Memories of the Mighty Nokia 3310 via GIPHY


How did Siilasmaa save Nokia?

Some would attribute it to his concept of entrepreneurial leadership which he developed during his tenure at F-Secure. F-secure was a high-profile start-up, but his principles are useful for everyone.

10 Principles of “Entrepreneurial Leadership”

1. Hold Yourself Accountable

Take ownership of your situation in your company. Your position in your firm must mean more than your paycheck. If something in your area of responsibility is broken, no matter what it may be, quickly take steps to fix it.

2. Face Facts

“No news is bad news. The bad news is good news. And the good news is no news”

If we can’t understand the problems we’re up against, we can’t be effective.

Unless we have a firm grasp of the facts.


3. Be Persistent

Never give up, regardless of the difficulties.

There’s always a solution to every problem.

Our job is to figure out that solution and the best way to implement it.

4. Manage Risk

If we adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, we should be comfortable with risk. Don’t blindly accept risk; deal with it intelligently and always with our eyes wide open.

5. Be a Learning Addict

We can learn from anything that happens to us, every up and down, success and especially failures.

So, keep our mind open to new knowledge. Nobody is ever too old to learn.


6. Maintain an unwavering Focus

Whatever your company or industry, keep your focus on your products and services.

They matter most.

7. Look to the horizon


Every entrepreneur, and every executive regardless of his or her company and its stature (size) must be able to put out fires. So, keep looking to the horizon so you remain prepared for any long-term problems and can take advantage of any opportunities.

8. Build a team of people you like and respect

Simple. Surround yourself with quality people.

You’ll know you’re in trouble if you’re the smartest one in your team.

9. Ask “Why?”

Everybody always asks, “What?” Few people ask, “Why?” “What?” is an easy question to answer. “Why?” is difficult, but it’s the most important question. For example, asking what features to offer customers matters less than asking why you should offer them.


10. Never Stop Dreaming 

Drawing from a George Bernard Shaw quote, Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.”

Develop this practical dreamer’s entrepreneurial mind-set.

Paranoid Optimism

Always be mentally prepare for the most negative outcomes. Which allows you to be enthusiastic about the most positive outcomes.

A paranoid optimist is vigilant which makes them rightfully fearful about factors they should realistically fear. So, the most leader would go out of their way to envision “all the worst-case outcomes” and plan how to deal with them.

Thus, paranoia becomes a positive trait, as it is optimism. And leaders who are not optimist can’t motivate employees.

Realistic leader’s optimism derives from their real-world circumstances. These optimistic leaders feel confident that they can handle any problem or situation.


Sisu means that no matter what, you never quit or give up.

Sisu is the ultimate Finnish attribute. It exemplifies “endurance, resilience, tenacity, determination and perseverance.”

Sisu expresses Siilasmaa’s attitude about life and business.



Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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