By Tarmo Virki
(Reuters) - Telecoms equipment maker Nokia <NOKIA.HE> announced on Tuesday that it plans to appoint its former networks chief Sari Baldauf as chairman, succeeding Risto Siilasmaa who will step down after eight years in the job.
Taking on the top job at Nokia will make Baldauf, 64, one of the most high-profile female executives in the telecoms industry globally.
She faces the task of catching up with rivals Huawei and Ericsson in 5G, after Nokia in October cut its outlook for this year and next because of the need to step up its investments - news that knocked a third off its share price.
It also suspended dividend payments to conserve cash and pledged to speed up the introduction of new 5G chipsets.
Baldauf headed Nokia's networks unit - now the company's main business - between 1998 and 2005. She has sat on Nokia's board of directors since last year and has also sat on the boards of companies including Daimler <DAIGn.DE>, Deutsche Telekom <DTEGn.DE> and Akzo Nobel <AKZO.AS> and Finnish utility Fortum <FORTUM.HE>.
"I think it is a hugely positive move to see a woman take such an important role in such a prestigious business," said Ben Wood, head of research at UK-based tech consultancy CCS Insight. Wood has followed Nokia for nearly 20 years.
Baldauf said in a statement on Tuesday that she sees a clear opportunity to help create long-term shareholder value, working with CEO Rajeev Suri.
"Rajeev and his team are working hard to address both the short-term issues and strengthen Nokia's longer-term value drivers," she said.
Her appointment is subject to shareholder approval at the group's annual general meeting in April.
Baldauf is the last remaining executive from former chairman and CEO Jorma Ollila's team which in the late 1990s built a Finnish company with a tiny tech unit into the world's biggest cellphone maker.
"Nokia is going back to the future! The recent profit warning, dividend cut and 5G lag have rattled the company," said Neil Mawston, director at research firm Strategy Analytics.
"Huawei and Ericsson have arguably inched ahead on R&D, and Nokia is feeling the business pressure. Nokia is turning to the old "dream team" for help," Mawston said.
Siilasmaa, 53, played a central role in revamping Nokia from cellphone maker with a network arm into a top three telecom equipment maker globally.
Nokia, however, was wrong-footed in waiting for 5G radio standards to come into force late last year, while rivals were quicker to revamp products in anticipation of early rollouts in the United States and South Korea, industry sources and analysts have said.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki in Tallinn; Editing by Edmund Blair and Susan Fenton)