When former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop took over the Nokia CEO position in 2010 and then announced the following year that his new firm would adopt Microsoft's flailing Windows Phone platform, critics decried him as a Trojan horse sent from Redmond to prep the firm for a takeover. Just a few years later, that takeover is complete, and although Microsoft is about $7.5 billion lighter as a result, the real winner here may be Stephen Elop: His take of the takeover spoils just hit $33 million.
Elop came under fire last year when Nokia revealed that he stood to gain about $26 million in severance pay, thanks to the early termination of his contract. Of course, that early termination came because he engineered the sale of Nokia's core businesses—devices and services—to Microsoft. Under terms of the deal, Microsoft will pay about 70 percent of Elop's severance, while Nokia pays the remainder. Elop also earned a base salary of $1.5 million per year while at Nokia.
But thanks to fluctuations in the Nokia stock price since the Microsoft acquisition was first announced, Mr. Elop will in fact earn $33 million in severance, not $26 million as originally calculated. This includes $5.5 million in cash.
The cynical will charge that Elop's golden parachute is incommensurate with the financial performance of the firm he ran for three years. But although the adoption of Windows Phone will always remain controversial, it was the right move, and Nokia innovated at an astonishing rate under Mr. Elop. Looking at Nokia's prospects before Elop's arrival—which involved dead in the water technologies like Symbian and Meego—and its other possibilities afterwards—Android, basically—it's pretty clear the firm couldn't have done any better than it did. Had Nokia adopted Android, it would have become another HTC- or Motorola-style also-ran with even smaller market share.
It's also worth pointing out that by adopting Windows Phone, Mr. Elop created a business for Nokia that was worth an astonishing $7.5 billion to the one company on earth that would and could buy such a thing. A Nokia based around Android would have failed even more quickly and would have been worth less. Google sold Motorola Mobility for less than half Nokia's price, about $2.9 billion, in a very similar sale. And in both cases, the selling company kept the firm's important mobile industry patents.
As for the Trojan horse claims, Mr. Elop says that the critics have him all wrong.
"I have only ever worked on behalf of and for the benefit of Nokia shareholders while at Nokia," he said during a live Q & A last week. "Additionally, all fundamental business and strategy decisions were made with the support and approval of the Nokia board of directors, of which I was a member."