Meet the man charged with reviving Nokia's phone brand

Pekka Rantala, former CEO of Angry Birds' maker Rovio and a longtime Nokia veteran, is tapped as chief marketing officer for the Finnish startup tasked with selling phones and tablets under the Nokia brand.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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The pieces are slowly coming together for the Nokia phone to make a comeback.

In May, Microsoft unloaded the phone business it purchased from Nokia on Foxconn's FIH Mobile and on HMD Global, a Finland-based company founded that month and tasked with selling phones and tablets under the Nokia brand. Former Nokia executive Arto Nummela was chosen as HMD's chief executive.

On Monday, another piece clicked into place. HMD tapped Pekka Rantala, former CEO of Angry Birds game maker Rovio, to revive the Nokia phone brand as its chief marketing officer.

Rantala has a daunting task in front of him. The notion of a high-end Nokia phone is more the stuff of nostalgia than reality now. Nokia was once the dominant player in the phone business. If you owned a phone in the '90s, it was probably a Nokia. But the company faded into irrelevancy amid competition from Apple's iPhone and phones running on Google's Android software.

HMD will also use Android to power its phones and tablets, unlike Nokia's previous embrace of Microsoft's Windows Phone software. HMD hopes the strength of the Nokia name will attract consumers.

"Nokia is a globally recognized brand, and we have a chance to rejuvenate it like never before," Rantala said in an e-mail. "I love Nokia, I love what it stands for, and I'd love to see it rise again."

He argued that consumers still recognize the brand and prefer to buy a Nokia phone.

At Rantala's disposal is HMD's commitment to spend $500 million over the next three years on global marketing. By contast, Apple and Samsung spend billions of dollars on marketing. HMD will use its marketing dollars to focus on "being different, cutting through," he said.

While HMD declined to comment on the specific timing of its products, its first run of Android-powered phones is expected to show up next year.

Rantala spent one year as CEO of Rovio during a tumultuous time as the company cut jobs and slashed costs following the overly aggressive expansion of the Angry Birds mobile game franchise. He stepped down last year.

All of his jobs have dealt with consumers, and Rantala believes that puts him in a good position for his position at HMD.

Rantala's new role is a return of sorts to his roots. Like Nummela, Rantala got his start at Nokia, where he held various positions throughout his 17-year tenure at the company. He left Nokia in 2011 as senior vice president of marketing.

"Pekka has an important mission to rejuvenate the Nokia brand in mobile phones," Nummela said in a statement.

HMD has a 10-year license to sell Nokia-brand products. Nokia still exists as a separate company, but primarily sells telecommunications infrastructure equipment. Foxconn's FIH Mobile will be responsible for manufacturing and distributing the products.