The Asia Pacific region is the world’s fastest growing market when it comes to cell phone services. Right now, Nokia is the indisputable market leader in this region, and it is Urpo Karjalainen’s job to make sure that things stay that way. Meet the Senior Vice-President of Nokia’s customer and market operations in Asia Pacific; a well-traveled fan of Asia, a busy businessman, and a Finnish family man.
By the end of 2005, the entire world will surpass 2 billion cell phone subscribers. Over half of the world’s new subscribers are expected to come from the Asia Pacific region and China. In other words, the cellular communication providers have now set their eyes on what has become the deciding battle ground for global market shares: Asia.
From Nokia’s main regional office in Singapore which houses about 700 people, Urpo Karjalainen and his team keep an analytical eye on the region that covers Australia, New Zealand, and all of Asia with the exception of China. And lately, they have had no reason not to be highly satisfied with what they see.
“We are the clear number one in Asia Pacific, when it comes to our market share. It has been pretty good for quite some time, but in the last year we have been able to further increase our market share, so the development in this region has been very positive for us,” says Urpo Karjalainen.
But as Nokia’s Senior Vice-President of Customer and Market Operations in the Asia Pacific, he only spends about half of his time at the office in Singapore – the other half is spent by frequent travels throughout the region and to occasional appointments in Europe. When operating in a booming market like the rapidly developing Asia, maintaining the biggest market share requires a tender finger on the pounding pulse of the many populous markets in the area.
“We are in a lucky position, because telecommunication is something every country needs when they are setting up their basic infra-structure. It is among the essential ingredients for a society – like roads, banking systems, a legal system and so on. That’s why there is a natural demand for telecommunication even in the countries that don’t have a high income per capita. So people are still buying phones there,” Urpo Karjalainen explains.
All Eyes on Asia
The booming economic development of certain key countries in Asia has recently raised the stakes significantly for Nokia in their regional competition with other global players like Motorola, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson.
“An especially important market for us is India, which is going through a remarkable development right now, as many know. But within Southeast Asia, populous nations like Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia are places where the amount of subscriptions have gone up very high in recent years. They are really moving forward right now, and there is still a lot of room for growth. Markets like Singapore and Malaysia are already fairly developed, and Thailand is getting there,”says Urpo Karjalainen.
“You always need to think about what’s going to happen next, because when new products are coming, they might require a new type of distribution channel, because they target a different user group. Our challenge is to make sure that we have the right type of distribution channels in each country, the appropriate marketing, and the brand products in place. We need to develop the right overall presence in those populous countries, as more and more subscribers come from the rural areas. The next five years will bring a significant increase in subscribers there,” Urpo Karjalainen explains.
“I Feel Happy”
This April marks the 1 year anniversary for Urpo Karjalainen in the job as Senior Vice-President of Nokia Asia Pacific. However, he has now spent a little over eight years in total working for Nokia. All of them have been spent in Asia.
He left his home city of Helsinki back in 1993, when the American IT company he worked for promoted him to a position in Geneva, Switzerland, where he ended up staying for about four years. Then Urpo Karjalainen decided to change to a brand new industry – and a brand new continent. He took a job for a Swiss-based company who posted him in Asia.
“Then one day I got a call from Nokia, and they made an interesting offer, and so I took it,” he briefly sums up.
He started working for Nokia in 1997 as the Vice President of Sales – at that time also with Singapore as his base. In 2001, he moved to Hong Kong, where he was in charge of Nokia’s operations in China until he returned to Singapore last April to take over as the front man for Nokia’s Customer and Market Operations in the entire Asia Pacific area.
“I like what I’m doing, and so far I don’t have any aspirations of doing something else. I’m pretty much content in that respect. In the morning, when I look at myself in the mirror, I feel happy. It’s always good to go to work. I have fun, I like it, so what more can I ask… and then they even pay me for it. I cannot complain,” he says and laughs.
When Urpo Karjalainen is not working, he tries to spend as much of his free time as possible with his wife and their 9 year-old daughter. He also has two other children from his first marriage, but both of them now study at a university in the UK.
“Traveling takes up a lot of my time and takes a lot of time away from the family. So whenever I can, I pretty much try to stay at home with them. But I occasionally have time to do a bit of running or go to the gym. I’ve been doing sports all my life and really like it. I also like to read books,” he says.
In spite of all the traveling, Urpo Karjalainen still spends enough time in Singapore to appreciate it as his current home.
“Singapore is a very easy place to live. Everything works, it’s very predictable. It’s also a very safe place and it has a number of other qualities that you appreciate when you have a family. The educational system works well here. My daughter goes to a very good school here. As a parent, I definitely think it’s a good place to live,” he says.
An Everlasting Taste for Asia
Urpo Karjalainen still has a few more years left of his current contract, but a career man like this Senior Vice President will be the first person to tell you that a contract period rarely is served in its full length before being interrupted by yet another promotion or another job offer.
“Things change all the time in a big corporation, so I don’t really know how long I will be in Singapore,” he admits.
One thing he does know, however, is that no matter where he goes next, his favorite place for spending leisure time will remain the same.
“I have a house in Southern France, and sometimes I wish I could spend a little more time there. My schedule and my travel activity rarely allow me much time there. When we go somewhere as a family, it’s rarely to Finland, but rather to our house in France. That’s where we spend our holidays, and sometimes our parents and some of our friends fly over to France and we have a good time together there. Whenever I go to Finland, it’s usually for our monthly management meeting in Helsinki,” Urpo Karjalainen says.
But even though Southern France is one of his favorite places to kill time, he will never again be able to let go of Asia.
“No matter where I am going to be in the future, I will always have one foot somewhere in Asia. We bought some property in Bangkok, so in the future we will still be spending a lot of time out here. We like the diversities of cultures, and we like the good food here. I love Chinese food and Japanese food in particular. Curry Chicken is one of my favorites. You get so many things here. We love it here. And that’s why I’m here,” he says with a big smile on his face.