Alexander Stubb, the Finnish prime minister, caused quite a stir this week, when he appeared to blame Apple for his country’s economic meltdown. Speaking on CNBC, the 46-year-old premier complained that the tech giant had destroyed Finland’s two major industries: Nokia and paper. “You could say the iPhone killed Nokia, and the iPad killed the Finnish paper industry,” he said.
Apple aficionados, and some major outlets, were quick to criticize Stubb. TechCrunch pointed a particularly bony finger, claiming that “when in doubt blame someone else.” Stubb has form: in July he told a major Swedish newspaper that “Steve Jobs took our jobs.”
But whether he meant his latest statement quite so literally is up for debate.
Toivo Vilmi, CEO of Oulu-based lighting tech firm Valopaa, believes the PM was being taken out of context: “Originally this comment is not from the prime minister, but he uses it like his own. This is not meant to be fact. The idea is that this is a humorous way to tell us we need to improve our two main industries, ICT and Pulp, but also as a country.
“The prime minister has maybe been too serious when he has given the interview,” adds Vilmi, “and it is not wise to use a Finnish internal slogan in another country – especially the USA, which is the home of Apple.”
Far from vilifying Apple, says Vilmi, Finnish IT professionals hold it in high regard. “Economic challenges in Finland are mostly internal,” he says. “We have too many politicians and other people in main positions, who don’t wake up to the global economy and don’t make real decisions to boost our economy.”
Finland’s economy is undoubtedly faltering, if not unconscious. Standard and Poor’s downgraded the country to a AA+ rating from AAA, a single-step drop that prompted pleas from Stubb to reduce debt. “Finland needs a new medium-term plan to rescue the economy,” read a statement on October 11.
Finland’s government debt will pass 60% of GDP by the end of this year, from just 33% in 2008. In June Finland’s finance minister lowered the country’s growth forecast from 0.5% to 0.2%, claiming that “overall public finances in Finland are not on a sustainable basis.”
Nokia, once the country’s pride, has been a big part of the fall. Microsoft acquired the firm’s mobile devices business for around $7 billion in April, and by July announced the loss of 500 jobs.
Nokia’s market value plummeted from €29.5 billion ($37.3 billion) in 2010 to €11 billion ($13.9 billion) last year. Until 2012 Nokia still held market leadership among handset makers worldwide, when it was surpassed by Samsung. Now smartphones built with the Android operating system, such as Samsung’s, account for 84.7% of the global handset market, according to IDC, an analyst. Windows phones, the operating system Nokias feature, comprise just 2.5% – a drop of 9.4% on last year. Apple makes up a further 11.7%.
Stubb’s comments this week are unlikely to instigate any immediate change in fortunes for Nokia or Finland. Jukka Hyttinen, CEO of Helsinki-based software company SN4, believes that the country’s economy has lacked innovation. “Apple was striving to change the world, focused on user and customer experience instead of product features and changed the Nokia dominant market,” he says. “In Finland it was too easy to concentrate on wealth and profit sharing and not pursuing the necessary – changing the world with new ideas and businesses.”
“I.T. systems are no longer bought as long term projects and technical product features will no longer matter,” adds Hyttinen. “Instead flexible, ready-made cloud systems and pre-designed concepts will grow into the markets and change the behavior of I.T. purchasing.
“Nokia and the I.T. industry have left us with lot of knowledge capital to cope with the change,” he adds. “The real question is if the Finnish government will pursue driving and backing up change, or if we keep on raising the taxes of growth company owners and personnel.
“If it’s the latter, the new ideas and innovation will be sold abroad before hitting the sweet spot.”