Name: John Harrington
Title: President & CEO, Nokia Japan
DoB: Aug. 4, 1969
Hometown: Swindon, England
Years in Japan: 1
While the odds are that most are familiar with the name Nokia, they may not be aware of the major role the firm currently plays in Japan’s telecommunications scene. John Harrington, CEO of Nokia Japan, is keen to address this.
In a recent interview with The Japan Times, Harrington shared how his company is helping prepare Japan for the 5G revolution.
As the British-born head of a Finnish firm in Japan, Harrington’s background helped him transition smoothly into the multicultural environment at the Tokyo office. Harrington came directly from a stint in the U.S., where he had more than a decade of experience handling the AT&T Wireless account, first for Alcatel-Lucent and then Nokia.
“The U.S. is also one of the leaders in telecommunications and I was working very closely with AT&T, which is similar to the larger Japanese operators. They were going through a similar transition in their business, in that they had 3G and 4G networks, to now bring in the 5G era,” Harrington said. “I was asked to come and lead customers (in Japan) to 5G and to bring some innovation in terms of technology, and to drive the business.”
Harrington points out that Nokia is in a unique position as a current 4G provider for all of Japan’s major communications service providers (CSP), namely KDDI, NTT Docomo, SoftBank and Rakuten. “All four now have a 5G license so 5G is happening now. I think that Japan is a leading country at the forefront of 5G technology, and Nokia has high hopes and ambitions with this,” he said.
Along with a faster response time, Harrington notes that a major benefit of 5G is that it enables CSP to offer each customer a “network slicing” for their specific application. Network slicing is a technology that allows multiple logical networks to be created on top of a shared physical infrastructure. The company believes these capabilities will lead to increased usage across industries and general applicability.
“The main point is it’s not just for the consumer. Just delivering a faster response time to a device — that’s not the promise of 5G. It really is going to enable wireless enterprises — allowing robotics, remote control and things of that nature,” Harrington said.
5G is also set to enhance innovations with the “internet of things,” which is the extension of internet connectivity into physical devices and objects from daily life. This will give CSP the capabilities they need to transform business models.
With Nokia 5G Future X, the firm can offer the first end-to-end 5G portfolio of software and services, enabling clients to take full advantage of the capabilities of this new technology. Future X came from Nokia Bell Labs, the firm’s prestigious research and development facility, which has won nine Nobel prizes.
“What this means is that we have a very broad portfolio of products, and therefore also a very broad portfolio of people,” said Harrington. “One of the things about Nokia Japan is the very diverse set of employees, because they are coming from different business units, and often from different cultures and countries. It’s not like a hierarchical company that is centered around one headquarters.”
He predicts that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be a perfect opportunity for Japan’s CSPs to show off new 5G capabilities, particularly in terms of sports, entertainment and media applications.
“For example, we are looking at 5G augmented reality. Imagine you now have a 360-degree camera that is very close to the action, and you can put on some virtual reality glasses, and you get a completely different user experience,” Harrington said. “Basically, I think that 5G will enable a much more real-time, high definition, more immersive sports experience.”
Nokia is also proud to be partnering with Rakuten to build a new mobile network. “We are working with them on ways to automate the network, so things become more digital. Clearly, they are a different type of customer,” Harrington said. “We talk about ‘cloud native’ and what that really means is that Rakuten has just arrived, and can bring the benefits of the very latest technology and new solutions.”
On a personal level, Harrington has been enjoying getting to know Japan’s people and culture. In addition to playing golf and traveling, he has been giving back to the community by volunteering with a group that provides English-language classes and social opportunities for Japanese. Since his day-to-day dealings are usually with business professionals, Harrington says this has been an enjoyable way to meet a cross section of citizens.
Harrington sees some strong parallels with Japan and Finland, where Nokia originated. Both countries place great value on integrity, and are telecommunications leaders. In April, Nokia participated in celebrations marking 100 years of diplomatic relations, demonstrating 5G enterprise applications. Moreover, a special Olympic pavilion is being built onsite at the Finnish embassy to showcase Finnish and Japanese industries; Nokia will be providing a live 5G network at the venue.
“I am arriving at an important time in the industry and for Nokia Japan. I’d like to achieve success in introducing 5G to Japan, and, from a business perspective, I’d like to return Nokia to growth in Japan,” said Harrington. “From the people perspective, I’d like to develop the next generation of leadership, with diversity and a culture of speaking up, and being more open and collaborative.”
As someone who talks to people all day about the latest technology, does Harrington ever find time to unplug? “I actually live 20 minutes from the office, so I walk to and from work. I make a conscious effort to say, ‘OK, that’s the last email I’m responding to and I’m going to walk home,’ and so I decompress and de-connect. Maybe just being outside is the thing,” he said with a smile.
A variety of roles in global leadership
CEO John Harrington brings with him more than 25 years of business and technical experience to Nokia Japan. He started his career at Motorola, holding different positions within the European organization in technical sales and marketing. Before assuming his current role in Tokyo, he spent a total of 12 years working in the U.S., where he held various international leadership roles as part of the acquisition of the Alcatel-Lucent business. For the last five years, Harrington took charge of the AT&T account, one of Nokia’s largest. His personal motto is “He who dares, wins,” which reflects the entrepreneurial spirit of risk-taking. In his spare time, Harrington enjoys sports and sightseeing.
The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.