Leadership profile: Jenni Lukander

The Nokia Technologies president talks frankly about handling conflict and the need to give everyone their voice in a changing corporate culture

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“The fact that Nokia Technologies has been so successful at monetising Nokia’s IP portfolio has certainly raised our profile within the company,” says Jenni Lukander, with admirable understatement. As president of Nokia Technologies – one of the Finnish network company’s four business units – she leads more than 400 people across offices in North America, Asia and Europe, and enjoys direct access to Nokia’s C-suite. When Nokia makes decisions regarding its business strategy, it first turns to Lukander.

With a 2020 annual turnover of €1.4 billion and a healthy profit margin of between 70% and 80%, Nokia Technologies is best known for licensing out the telco’s substantial patent portfolio, as well as its technologies and brand – making it a key contributor not only to the bottom line but also to a deep well of strategic expertise. “It is important that we as IP specialists at Nokia Technologies are active in the company’s internal dialogue,” Lukander maintains. “We explain to other business units the value that intellectual property brings to their own business and to Nokia as a whole. I definitely feel that intellectual property and innovation are very high on Nokia’s agenda.”

Last year the company invested more than €4 billion in R&D. While Nokia Technologies works closely with R&D and various other business units, it is particularly aligned with Nokia Bell Labs, the main research team. “At Nokia Technologies, we take care of converting Nokia’s R&D effort into new intellectual property, much of which we share with the rest of industry through licensing,” Lukander explains. “It is a virtuous circle: the profits of our licensing-out activities are invested in R&D, which leads to new inventions that we can either monetise or use to strengthen the businesses, generating profits. Then the cycle starts again.”

Although Nokia Technologies conducts some R&D activities of its own, mainly in the area of multimedia, the bulk of Nokia’s R&D efforts takes place outside the unit. “We clearly have a voice in the discussions of how much and where Nokia should be investing in R&D going forward. Because of our knowledge of the IP landscape in different sectors, we may spot challenges or opportunities that others in the company would not. In addition, we focus on what assets Nokia needs in the longer term.”

Nokia’s three other business units – Mobile Networks, Cloud and Network Services and Network Infrastructure – also have business relationships with some of Nokia Technologies’ licensees. Naturally, each unit’s interests will vary in such situations. Yet Lukander is not one to shy away from conflict. “The best way to address any internal disagreements is through open dialogue to try to come to the best solution for the company,” she argues. “Giving everybody their voice and comparing different perspectives brings out the best in people and allows you to find the best solutions.”

When it comes to motivating her team, Lukander has whittled it down to two key principles. “First, offer them a variety of exciting, challenging tasks,” she asserts. “At Nokia Technologies, we have lots of highly educated, very intelligent people – they like to stretch themselves intellectually and to learn new things. Second, let them work in diverse teams with other talented people. It’s very motivating when people from a different professional background – lawyers, engineers, business people – can bring their different perspectives together in a fluid, transparent dialogue. Open teamwork is the best way to find optimal solutions and many team members will tell you that it is the most rewarding part of their work.”

Lukander learned the importance of teamwork at a young age and cites handball as a major influence on her business practice now. “It taught me how to behave as part of a team and how to contribute in the best possible way to the team’s performance. I loved the game, and that background helps me in my current role as team leader. I also learned that to achieve things you need a star team, not a team with a few individual stars. As team leader, you want to enable the team to be powerful by ensuring that all team members bring their best to the table.”

She also cites parenthood as another formative experience. “They say that the first child trains the parents and then the parents raise the other kids,” she laughs. “There is some truth in that. Being a parent teaches you a lot of different skills and is extremely rewarding.”

In her professional life, Lukander continues to learn a great deal from co-workers and team leaders. “I have had the privilege of working with great individuals, highly skilled professionals and excellent leaders who are also genuinely good people; that has probably taught me the most about good leadership. I think workplaces with lots of hierarchy, lots of internal politics or even management-by-fear instil negative feelings in people and I try to avoid such a style of leadership.”

Teamwork, open communication and learning on the job are not only good motivators, they are also essential elements in Lukander’s endeavour to grow talent and guide future leaders. “When I leave, at some distant point in the future, I want to ensure we have a team and a business that will continue to perform well with the next leader. I focus a lot on having enough talent in the team and developing people. That way we grow our collective knowledge and know-how so the transition from one leader to the next becomes easier.”

Diversity in a diverse company

Having offices across North America, Asia and Europe means that Nokia brings together people from a variety of national, cultural and professional backgrounds. It is also diverse in the sense that a significant number of employees are there as a result of acquisitions and have thus brought their own corporate culture to the table.

Between 2013 and 2016 the organisation underwent dramatic changes. In 2013 it acquired Siemens’ shares in Nokia Siemens Networks. Then, in 2014, Nokia – which at the start of the 21st century was the world leader in mobile phones – sold its handset business to Microsoft. Over the following two years, the Finnish telco bought Alcatel Lucent and divested its mapping business. This transformation was a crucial learning experience for Lukander, who joined Nokia as a lawyer in 2007. “When you make massive changes to a company like we did, it has an impact on the culture within the company,” she reflects. “One day you lose tens of thousands of colleagues and a little later you are welcoming tens of thousands of others.”

In the face of dizzying changes, Lukander has always tried to remain positive and stick by her values. “I advocated and put into practice the culture that I think is most sustainable and brings the best result: approach new people with respect, create an open dialogue and listen to them, try to understand where they are coming from and assume the best of intentions in people.” She is clear that this is not just her personal preference, it is company policy. “At Nokia, we stress the importance of openness, transparency and respect for people. That’s the best way to create a ‘One Nokia’ and a ‘One Nokia Technologies’ mentality among team members, old and new.”

Lukander speaks passionately about the importance of integrating people at Nokia Technologies – but is clear-sighted about the accompanying challenges. “We see our diversity, our different backgrounds and skills, as an asset that enriches us and allows us to find better solutions. But you have to handle diversity right. That is why Nokia focuses a lot on D&I, making sure that we value all kinds of individuals and that everybody has the right to be heard in the conversation.” All managers are trained on D&I, including how to navigate biases. The organisation also has ambitious targets with regard to gender diversity. “Whereas the number of women in the global workforce of the technology sector is around 20%, at Nokia, we have set ourselves the goal of a minimum of 26% female external hires by the end of 2021. At Nokia Technologies, 42% of the leadership team are women.”

What subjects did you study as part of your academic education?

Law.

If you could acquire in one day all the knowledge of any degree of your choice in order to become even better at your job and be a better leader, which degree would you choose?

Mathematics. I have always loved maths, but I was interested in many subjects, so I chose to study law. I think we will always need great mathematicians and understanding maths will help you to make better decisions. All study subjects are interesting and useful, they all serve some good purpose, but if I were given the choice now, I would go for maths.

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