Leadership in telecom: How Nokia’s Ricky Corker organizes a leadership team for 15,000 employees

This is part of an occasional series from FierceWireless looking at leadership and management strategies in the telecom market.

A veteran with more than 20 years at Nokia, Ricky Corker currently heads up the company’s North American business, where he is responsible for its sales and financial results in the region. Corker counts 15,000 employees in North America covering everything from sales to research and development.

The following is a lightly edited transcript of Corker’s comments.

On organizing a leadership team and reporting structure: I really structure my team around our customers. So, the majority of my direct reports are what we call "customer business team" heads. They're accountable for all aspects of our business with our customers. They're really driving the day-to-day activity with all our customers. We're very much customer-centric in the way we've set up my leadership team.

I have other direct reports focused on topics like sales operations, strategy, business development, transformation. … And those activities really span across all customers.

We're also a very matrixed organization inside Nokia. So, I have what I call an extended leadership team, and the extended leadership team are really all the other functions that are absolutely critical in terms of contributing to the business and ensuring success. Things like finance, HR, legal, operations, marketing, technology, etc.

So, we have the core leadership team and the extended leadership team that reports to me, so we really cover all aspects of the business. And so when we're doing planning or we're doing business reviews, they're always conducted with the extended leadership team. And the reason we do that is that I want to ensure that we have alignment and input across all parts of the business, so we keep a uniform view of the strategy and what we need to execute on.

On what a typical day looks like: I don't have too many average days. The great thing about this job is that I don't have too many average days.

So, I typically start my day fairly early. I typically start my day anywhere from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. Which is great because we usually have regular early morning calls just because of time zones with my global counterparts. So, my peers in other markets, we get together on a fairly regular basis to share where the business is going, but also share insights and best practices about what we're doing across different markets and different customers.

Once that's out of the way, my normal day starts. And it often revolves around customers; obviously, that's my primary responsibility. So, I travel at least 50% of my time, certainly more than 50% of my time I'm on the road. We are in a business-to-business industry, so it's extremely important from my perspective that I'm out visiting my customers, I'm out visiting my customer teams, and I'm out visiting my partners on a regular basis.

And the rest of my time is probably split between what I would call strategy and business planning. So, looking at how we define the goals for that year and how we're tracking against those goals. How do we share those goals? Where do we take the business going forward?

And the rest of the time tends to be more people-related. Having the right people in the right roles is a critical part of my job. You have to have the right people in the right roles to be successful.

On creating a corporate culture: Corporate culture is extremely important. You need to define what it is you want to be and what culture you want inside the company. I think having recently acquired Alcatel-Lucent and bringing two very large organizations together, it was very important to set an expectation of what the culture of the company was going to be, because clearly you're bringing together two companies that had different cultures.

So really from day one of the acquisition of Alcatel, our CEO and the rest of the senior management, we were very much focused on aligning towards a common culture, and that common culture is really around high performance. We feel that's important, that we deliver strong results for ourselves and for our shareholders, so a high-performance culture is what we're striving for.

And so, as we brought those two companies together, we've run programs we call culture cafes, where we get people in and we talk a little bit about what we think that culture is and why we think it's important. We also get their input as to how they see themselves developing to that culture over time. We invested quite a bit of time into these culture workshops and culture cafes to try and instill a common view of the culture.

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