Microsoft’s CEO Dilemma: Internal Candidate, Mobile Maven Or Turnaround King

microsoft icon 2012According to Reuters the list of Microsoft CEO candidates to succeed Steve Ballmer is down to a short list of four or five. Among them are current Ford CEO Alan Mulally, former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, Microsoft executive and former Skype CEO Tony Bates and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, who at one point oversaw Bing.

Mulally is regarded as a turnaround specialist. However he currently runs Ford and may be inclined to stay. In addition he’s a tech outsider and may not have sufficient “product vision” to lead Microsoft at this time of market transition.

However Mulally is the most visible and highest profile candidate being considered. He would be something of a safe choice from a shareholder perspective but not necessarily the man to bring Microsoft back.

Elop, who was at Microsoft before Nokia and then facilitated the sale of Nokia’s hardware division to Redmond, is a mobile maven but not necessarily a successful CEO — many Nokia employees and shareholders would argue.

Bates and Nadella may gain points for being insiders and knowing the Microsoft culture, though Bates is a relatively recent addition. Indeed, Bates may be have the inside track with a mix mobile and PC knowledge and having been a CEO. He’s also a Microsoft insider but not a “lifer.”

I don’t know Nadella well enough to handicap him fully. While smart and competent, he might be too much of an unknown for Wall Street.

Using only intuition I’m going to guess — unless there’s another dark horse or mystery candidate out there — that among these four Bates and Elop are the leading contenders. And between the two I would probably guess that Bates would get the nod.

However, as mentioned, depending on Mulally’s willingness and inclination the Microsoft board might see the Ford CEO as the safest bet.

Many people hope that Bill Gates would return to the CEO role, a la Steve Jobs at Apple. However Gates is retired and fully involved with his foundation. Many people also see him as from an earlier era and not well suited to the current challenges the company faces.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Microsoft | Microsoft: Business Issues


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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