10 Companies That Completely Reinvented Themselves

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop unveils Nokia latest products in Abu Dhabi in 2013. Nokia introduced the very first ringtone in 1994, based on a classical guitar piece called “Gran Vals.” Quite a change from its beginnings selling rubber boots KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images

In 1871, Finnish mining engineer Fredrik Idestam built a second paper mill on the banks of the Nokianvirta River near the town of Nokia in southwest Finland. He named his paper company Nokia Ab. In 1898, the Finnish Rubber Works began manufacturing rubber tires and galoshes. The companies were joined by a third manufacturer, the Finnish Cable Works, in 1912, eventually becoming the Nokia Corporation [source: Nokia]. Nokia brand rubber boots, with their clean and colorful design, were the company's first breakout success.

In 1963, Nokia's electronics division began making radio phones for the military and emergency services. By the late 1970s and early 80s, Nokia was making the world's first commercial radio phones and car phones, cumbersome devices weighing a few pounds each. In the 1990s, Nokia sold off its rubber and paper divisions and focused exclusively on cell phones operating on the newly minted digital GSM network.

For an impressive 14 consecutive years — 1998 to 2012 — Nokia sold more cell phones than any other company in the world [source: Williamson]. (Admit it, you owned a Nokia flip phone in 2007.) But by 2014, Nokia was trying to find its footing in the smartphone market [source: Dediu]. Might be time for another reinvention.