Philippine Daily Inquirer, 10.17.2010
Carol Soriano, Nokia head of consumer communications, based in Helsinki, Finland. Photo taken at the annual global conference Nokia World, held this year in London, UK.
SHE’S THE ONLY Filipina, and Asian, in the powerhouse sales and marketing team of phone giant Nokia, based in Helsinki, Finland. The Nordic country is so far away from the Philippines, and so cold, that Carol Soriano, 39, says she didn’t want to relocate at first, despite the generous offer for her to be part of the top management team at Nokia House, the company’s headquarters in Helsinki.
But now, says Soriano, she’s in a very happy place, and she couldn’t have made a better decision in her life.
As head of consumer communications, Soriano oversees the worldwide marketing activities of Nokia. In the central sales and marketing group at Nokia House consisting of eight men and three women, she is the only Asian. The company’s management, too, is predominantly male (and Finnish), but Soriano says Nokia itself is a truly global company, with employees from virtually every part of the globe.
“It’s a very open, egalitarian workplace, which is reflective of Finnish society as a whole,” she says.
Soriano started with Nokia in 2003 as marketing communications manager in its Singapore office. Before that, she was a Legal Management graduate from Ateneo who wanted to pursue Law. Instead, she ended up teaching Medieval History in the same school while doing advertising work on the side.
After four years of juggling two jobs, Soriano went into marketing full-time.
When her ad agency sent her to its Singapore office, Soriano became part of the team that handled Nokia, a major client. Soon, impressed with her work, the Finnish company hired Soriano and made her head of marketing for a new line of handsets.
In 2004-2005, Soriano took charge of rolling out Nokia’s blockbuster N series in the region. It did extremely well, and led to the offer to move to Finland in 2006.
“Before, I was just into implementing marketing programs. Now, I would help create what was being moved out from Finland, such as the N95,” she says of the job that awaited her in Helsinki.
In 2008, she became VP for creative excellence, where she had approving power for all the advertising campaigns of Nokia worldwide.
Barely a year later, she was promoted again, as head of global marketing activation. And, just this August, she got a new title: head of consumer communications—both jobs, she explains, “global roles covering activities across all markets.”
It took Soriano some effort to adjust to the country. The warmest the weather could manage was 16 degrees Celsius a few summers back--“and Baguio weather pa din sa akin ’yon,” she says.
The Filipino community is also small, around 500 people.
“But when you move there, that’s when you find out what’s good about it,” she says. “For one, it’s a very safe environment. Two, it has the highest standard of education in the world.”
Soriano and her Filipino husband (who relocated with her and works with a Finnish advertising firm) has a seven-year-old son. “Their school days are short; the emphasis is on discovery,” says Soriano. “When kids go to school, they take off their shoes! The idea is to make them relax.”
Soriano says the country’s high level of public safety also allows her greater freedom in rearing her kid. “In a Manila mall, truthfully, I’d never be able to let go of my son. But there, I feel safe about letting him walk to a neighbor’s house to play, and be gone for three hours.”
A democratic socialist country, “Finland is the closest I’ve seen to a classless society,” says Soriano. “There are no gated communities. What’s amazing is that, as long as you do well, you become like the rest--entitled to all the privileges of the others. Also, in my case--most Finns don’t know much about the Philippines, except the fact that the first Miss Universe [Armi Kuusela] married a Filipino. So there are no preconceived notions yet about our country and about me. Unlike, say, in Singapore, where no matter how hardworking and successful you are, some people still think you’re the woman that cleans their toilet.”
Finland levies some of the highest taxes in the world--up to 65 percent, depending on salary level--but the system supports universal health care and education, among other citizen comforts, and a functioning society that works hard to erase class inequalities.
“You can even find out the compensation of Nokia’s top executives and those in other companies,” says Soriano, laughing. “It’s published online, down to the last Euro.”
Such transparency not only discourages citizens from committing graft, for instance, or evading tax obligations. Soriano cites the case of a top Nokia executive who was caught speeding and fined the jaw-dropping sum of 120,000 Euros (about P8.4 million). The amount was based on a percentage of his published annual salary, which the traffic cop could access right there on the street.
“It’s 120,000 Euros!,” exclaims Soriano. “But it teaches you to follow the law.”
Four years into her Helsinki stay and Soriano says it’s hard at this point to say if she’d want to move back to Manila. She does try to visit family and kin at least once a year, but, as she puts it, with striking understatement: “I could never imagine getting to this point. I thought I would be a lawyer. But this is nice work to have, and not a lot of people get this kind of opportunity. Perhaps I’ll give it some more years. I’ve a good job na e.”
PLUS: The Nokia N8--“In smartphone wars, a new killer weapon”