SAN DIEGO NOKIA-FINN REACTS TO MICROSOFT DEAL

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – SAN DIEGO

DATE: Sept 10th, 2013

Jari Juntunen has worked at Nokia's San Diego R&D for the past two years.

Jari Juntunen has worked at Nokia’s San Diego R&D for the past two years.

Jari Juntunen, 48, has worked at Nokia virtually his entire professional career – 21 years. The last two years he has been working at Nokia’s San Diego Research and Development Center. Along with his wife Agneta and a nine-year-old son Daniel, the family has made their home in “America’s finest city”.

Now that Microsoft has bought Nokia’s cell phone functions for 7.2 billion dollars (5.4 B euros), Finntimes went to San Diego to ask Jari Juntunen, what he thinks of the deal and how it affects Nokia.

Jari Juntunen’s job description is test manager. His team of about 30 people test out new cell phone apps.

-Many people here read Finnish newspapers, like Kauppalehti and Taloussanomat. All kinds of coffee table conversations have been swirling around for quite some time now, Juntunen acknowledges.

Nokia Research and Development Center in San Diego

Nokia Research and Development Center in San Diego

A lot is on the line. We are sitting at an outdoor patio of a German coffee shop. At the next table there is a group of Romanians, who have come to work at Nokia’s San Diego R&D Center, having previously worked for the cell phone maker in Finland. Juntunen estimates that people of at least 30 different nationalities work for Nokia here. Among them are some one hundred Finns. Their very livelihood was put to question as Nokia’s fortunes fell.

-We heard the news about the Microsoft deal simultaneously with everybody else. All of a sudden my calendar was filled with different in-house information conferences. They basically told us the same things that had already been stated in press releases.

-The message was that there was an offer to buy Nokia from Microsoft that was accepted. Then, they explained how the regulatory approvals will go and what will happen during the time before the authorities are expected to deliver an opinion. We will continue as before, and so will the design work, the engineer tells.

Juntunen is happy about the Microsoft deal.

Juntunen is happy about the Microsoft deal.

There were no Microsoft people at these briefings, nor was there any talk of lay-offs. The mood among the Nokia employees was upbeat.

-I would say that more than 90 per cent of employees were in a very positive mood. This was a very good outcome, if you compare options. We were aware of the cash situation of the company and the fact that there wouldn’t be enough money indefinitely. There was a limited amount of money to invest. And, unfortunately, it was also evident in the phase the Lumia products have spread. Now, we got together with a company that has money. Hopefully, the result is that the Lumia ecosystem will grow and spread further, Jari Juntunen opines.

Juntunen is optimistic about the future.

-I see a lot more positive than negative things . When you have been with the firm for more than 20 years, you’ve seen ups and downs. For me personally the discontinuation of the Symbian operating system three years ago was a bigger shock than this. We’ve been working with Microsoft  for about the same time now – three years. Our collaboration has steadily improved. By know we know how each partner operates. Now that we are one and the same company, we can talk freely about everything without certain bureaucracies.

How about possible lay-offs to eliminate duplicate positions between Microsoft and Nokia?

-I see this thing the other way around . Microsoft has always been a software house. I think that people at Microsoft are more confused than us at Nokia. Microsoft has now purchased the knowledge of what Nokia has to offer. The deal comes with hardware know-how and phone factories. They are totally new things to Microsoft. Press statements have told who will be the leaders of a new unit. Joe Harlow and Stephen Elop will continue. Microsoft will probably move people to the new unit. So I think that the confusion is greater there than on our side.

According to Juntunen, this is an unusual business deal.

-This is going to be exceptional to the normal transaction. The fact that the big chiefs from Nokia will continue and not be replaced by Microsoft people, I think, is a clear message that Microsoft has admitted that Nokia can make good cell phones. They don’t want to mess that up. Barricades have been removed and now we will be making phones faster and better.

Juntunen has worked his whole life in the phone business.

Juntunen has worked his whole life in the phone business. On his spare time he likes to play golf.

There is also a question of work visas, on which most foreign-born Nokia employees work in the U.S. – what will happen to these employees, including Jari Juntunen himself, when Nokia no longer is their employer but Microsoft?

-Our green card process is so far along that I think I will have it in my hand before the authorities approve this trade. Thus, the visa thing is not to touch me personally. There is no certainty yet how the immigration officials will see this. Since all the functions of the unit will move to another company, Microsoft, the most likely scenario is that the visas would follow along with it.

Juntunen is eager to continue working under the new employer.

– Of course it is a bit bittersweet to lose the Nokia name. After the completion of my studies, with the exception of a few internships, I have worked my whole life at Nokia. The company is familiar and so are the people. But I love the phone sector. It is a fast -paced business that never stops. I like it. If my contract continues, such as the higher-ups are saying, I see no reason why I should get into something else.

San Diego is a home to thousands of Finns. Many were brought there by Nokia. Now that the cell phone maker is no longer headquartered in Finland, will this stream of Finns to San Diego come to the end?

-I don’t think so. It has been stated clearly that the core functions of the phone business will remain here. San Diego is going to continue as one hub, even if the sign on the roof will change. Also in Finland, the R & D centers remain. I do not see any reason why the flow of Finns to San Diego should peter out.

NOKIA 2

NOKIA FINNS OF SAN DIEGO

Who are these rather insular people? A typical Nokia employee in San Diego is an IT engineer. He is a male in his 30’s or 40’s with a Finnish wife and two small children. The family usually owns a large, comfortable house in the San Diego suburbs, such as Escondido, Poway, Rancho Bernardo or Rancho Peñasquitos. The mother, who oftentimes herself is highly educated and was working in Finland, typically finds herself at home with small children in San Diego. She is instrumental in looking after them, driving them to school, hobbies, etc. There is not a whole lot of cultural or other “city” activities in these sleepy, far-flung suburbs, only houses, strip-malls and business parks. Typically all kinds of exercising is on top of their agenda. These elite Finns’ immigrant experience differs greatly from previous generations and the vast majority of today’s immigrants. The Nokia Finns start out with H-1B-visas (exceptional ability), arranged trough the company attorneys. Later on they will become eligible to receive a green card and citizenship. There is hardly any financial hardship, since the Nokia employees enjoy ample salaries and perks. However, that doesn’t help them assimilate into the American society any faster than anyone else. At least in the beginning, these newcomers tend to stick to other Nokia Finns and organize activities together. They also spend long vacation times in Finland, which prolongs the assimilation process into the American society. Eventually most Nokia Finns end up staying permanently in the United States.

Jari Juntunen chats with other dads while waiting for his son at Rancho Bernardo Suomi-Koulu (Finnish school).

Jari Juntunen chats with other dads while waiting for his son at Rancho Bernardo Suomi-Koulu (Finnish school).