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Nokia: Anger at Elop’s pay-off spreads

Richard Milne
Matti Niemi | Folio Images | Getty Images

Finland's prime minister and finance minister joined in criticism of Stephen Elop's proposed 18.8 million euro ($25.4 million) pay-off from Nokia in a highly unusual interference from the Nordic country's government in a private company.

Jyrki Katainen, the centre-right prime minister, told Finnish TV at the weekend that such bonuses could not be justified during difficult times. Calling the pay-off "quite outrageous", he added: "Apparently the practices of rewards by large corporations all over the world are so exceptional that they cannot be understood with common sense."

Jutta Urpilainen, the centre-left finance minister, said on her blog that the award could undermine trust. "In addition to the general toxic atmosphere, it may be a threat to social harmony," she wrote.

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The intervention of Finland's top two politicians is significant as an indication of how deeply the mood has soured in the country over the deal to sell Nokia's once world-leading mobile phones division to Microsoft for €5.44 billion.

As part of the deal, Mr Elop – Nokia's former chief executive and a previous Microsoft manager – is in line to receive €18.8 million under a change of control clause in his contract for returning to his old employer.

That has ignited anger across a broad spectrum of Finns from politicians to workers and unionists and could yet undermine support for the deal.

Nokia is facing deep scrutiny on the pay-off, which amounts to approximately €1m for every €1bn in market capitalisation the Finnish group lost under Mr Elop's leadership.

Nokia said in proxy materials for November's extraordinary meeting to approve the Microsoft deal that it had amended Mr Elop's contract. On Sunday, it added that it did this to stop him resigning and to take out a non-compete agreement that said he could not work for Microsoft.

Nokia also underlined that the change of control clause that triggered the payment was customary in former chief executives' contracts as well as globally.

Risto Siilasmaa, Nokia's chairman and acting chief executive, in a statement late on Friday night, said: "The compensation that will be paid to Stephen Elop after the [handsets] transaction closes is purely based on the terms and conditions of his CEO contract, approved by the board in 2010."

Jorma Ollila, Nokia's former chief executive, was chairman in 2010 when Mr Elop was appointed but Mr Siilasmaa was a non-executive director.

Ms Urpilainen called for consideration of new rules that would make shareholders decide on pay-offs and bonuses at the general meeting. "A small group of directors is making decisions about each other [currently]," the Social Democrat leader wrote.

Mr Katainen added that there was a feeling of unfairness over the award, which comes shortly after a national wage agreement in which workers received an extra €20 a month in the first year and 0.4 per cent salary increase in the second.

The intervention of the two politicians raises the pressure on Mr Elop. Privately, some people in Finland have started raising the idea that he should return some or all of the pay-off.

Mr Elop, who became head of Nokia's mobile business on announcement of the deal with Microsoft, is set to rejoin the US company with the handsets business. It will still have a significant presence in Finland as Microsoft is planning to build a big data centre in the north of the country.

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