The struggling Nokia (Helsinki: NOK1V), which once dominated China’s cellphone market, is looking to rekindle excitement there not only with new smartphones using Microsoft’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) Mango operating system, but also a brand new China chief to repair its badly damaged reputation among domestic handset sellers. The company has announced that Gustavo Eichelmann, a 7-year company veteran, will take over at the helm of Nokia’s China operations to try and halt a recent skid in its largest global market. (Chinese article) Not coincidentally, the announcement comes as Nokia made a highly-anticipated unveiling of its first new smartphones using Microsoft’s Mango (English article) — a huge bet for the company as it seeks to regain share in the lucrative smartphone segment where it has become a relative bit player to the likes of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), HTC (Taipei: 2498) and Samsung (Seoul: 005930). Eichelmann’s past includes a number of high profile spots, including top management positions in the company’s global sales and channel divisions and head of global customers relations for Vodafone (London: VOD), the world’s biggest mobile carrier. His solid credentials will be sorely needed in China, where Nokia took a beating earlier this year after many of its domestic vendors found themselves with big piles of unsold unpopular handsets forced upon them after years of bullying by the world’s largest cellphone maker. (previous post) The group rebelled at the time, refusing to accept more phones for fear that Nokia’s increasingly unpopular models wouldn’t sell, leaving them with even more inventory. Eichelmann’s strong background in vendor relations should help him to repair his company’s damaged reputation with vendors, especially if the new Mango models are well received and demand is strong. But the company will also have to improve its middle- and lower-end models as well to compete in China’s fiercely competitive market, limiting Eichelmann’s chances for success.
Bottom line: Nokia’s naming of a new China chief with a strong vendor relations skills could help fix its damaged reputation if can get back in the business of developing popular cellphones.
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