As a young boy growing up in Cork, Ireland, Tom Farrell, 40, nurtured his interest in technology while tinkering with motorcycles and cars. Today, the vice president for Nokia Middle East sticks to mobile phones and discusses the challenges of remaining innovative and turning ideas into revenue.
q After earning your degree in civil engineering, you worked as a consultant focused on technology. Has your passion always been in technology?
a Yes. I went from loving technology, in the sense of building it and working with clients on how to use technology right, then I swung towards "how do you commercialise all this?" So I went from the engineer to, OK, how do you get this into the hands of people and into pockets?
q Nokia long had innovative phones, but some competitors' devices have recently been more popular. What happened?
a I think back in the day we disrupted. We came in and we disrupted, and now we're being disrupted by others. It's not that we don't get it; we do get it. We've got great, great talent internally, but the thing we didn't do was commercialise it and get the fantastic ideas through the organisation into the commercialisation phase and on to the shelf fast enough, with enough support.
q You moved to Dubai this year when you became general manager for the lower Gulf region at Nokia. What's been the biggest challenge so far?
a I think the biggest challenge is the internal mindset of mine, and my team. How do we put on a challenging mindset? You question the status quo. You ask "why are we doing it this way? Let's do it a different way." Building a challenger mindset to turn around a business, even though we're kind of a market leader by some quantitative measures, that's a challenge. That's the difference between management which is "do the tasks on time" versus "how do we lead ourselves as individuals, and how do we lead our team?"
q You've said the upside to your job is working closely with others here in the region. What's a downside?
a The downside is you're somewhat at the whim of the bigger company, and what it's doing and what it's telling you. Because, at the end of the day, I'm not R&D [research and development]. I don't control what's built. I have an opinion, which I share.
q Are you the type who has a phone next to the bed all night?
a It's there, but I'll turn it off. I'll go offline. I try to have a balance.
q So you don't have a big collection of gadgets at home?
a No, you don't need to reboot my home. There's a drawer of stuff [with items like] the Kindle.
q What else?
a A bucket of different phones, because I often use competitors' devices; it's part of my job. I did a recycling [run] recently. Now, there's a max of 10 to 12.
q Before that?
a Maybe 30, 40 or 50.