The Microsoft CEO Shortlist

Author: Steven Zolman

You’ve all heard that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is ‘retiring’ within the next 12 months.  Many are now speculating on who will be the new CEO.  Here is my short-list in order of probability:

  • Bill Gates.  Gates is still young, he’s still the biggest shareholder of Microsoft, and much like when former Vice-President Dick Cheney led the VP search for former President George W. Bush, he may just find that there’s no one better than him for the job.
  • Tony Bates.  Bates is the former CEO of Skype, an $8.5 billion acquisition for Microsoft, and has the consumer driven product experience to transform Microsoft into a commercialized mobile powerhouse that gets users excited about the technology again.
  • Nikesh Arora.  Arora heads Google’s revenue division, and he interviewed for the Yahoo CEO last year, so he was in the market then – why not now?  Bringing over a big exec from Google also has a certain amount of transcending gravitas doesn’t it?  In addition, he’s probably capped out at Google.
  • Steven Sinofsky.  Product visionary, widely regarded as ‘saving’ Windows and making Office into the most dominant desktop productivity tool in the world’s history.  He left last year (rumor has it) after there was an internal struggle to oust Ballmer, presumably because he was the driving force behind the rebellion, so it could actually make some sense to bring him back now.  It would send a good sign to Microsoft shareholders, as they have been outraged with Ballmer’s dismal performance.
  • Stephen Elop.  Formerly the President of Microsoft’s business division and now the CEO of Nokia, I could see how Elop could be considered for the job.  I once thought he was a long-shot, but I’ve been hearing more buzz about him lately.  There has been some chatter about Microsoft’s strong move back into the smart phone market with Nokia, so this could be their opportunity to transcend their mobility objectives.
  • Sharyl Sandberg.  Currently the COO of Facebook, and widely regarded as the one who commercialized the Facebook platform and made it into a viable business entity (former Google revenue executive).  If she has dreams of the top job, she’ll likely go after it.  Not a bad move for Microsoft, and maybe not a terrible move for her.
  • Andy Rubin.  I like this idea as Rubin developed Android, and Android has surpassed Windows now as the world’s number one operating system, so if there was ever a person to help Microsoft transition to a leading organization in mobile, and ‘next generation’ mobility operating systems, it would be him.
  • Paul Maritz.  People often refer to the early 2000’s as “the lost decade” for Microsoft as their stock was basically stagnant. Some people track this back to the departure of Maritz who left in 2000.  Critics say that the company moved to a sales, marketing and partnership focus with Ballmer (who steadily reduced Martiz’s influence, power and control in the organization), and a move away from a product focused company that many believe Maritz would have perpetuated.
  • Kevin Turner.  As the current COO of Microsoft, Turner represents a continuation of the partner led sales and marketing focus, and it just may be too tempting for the search committee not to publicly make a significant ‘correction’ by going to a change agent.  Turner isn’t often mentioned in any of the next to succeed lists, but he’s my dark horse.

Here’s who it is NOT going to be:

  • Leo Apotheker.  Still in exile after his apocalyptic reigns, devaluing two world class organizations by tens of billions of dollars each as his stints as CEO of both SAP and HP.
  • Marissa Mayer.  Currently the CEO of Yahoo, and a lot yet to prove on several different fronts.  Not the right choice for Microsoft.
  • Mark Hurd.  Currently Co-President of Oracle, and doing quite well.  He recently turned down the CEO offer at Dell, and shows no signs of needing to crawl out from under Larry’s shadow just yet.  Good move for Microsoft, but bad move for Hurd.
  • Meg Whitman.  Jury has reached a verdict, but the verdict has not yet been read in open court.  Expect her tenure as a tech CEO to end soon.
  • Ginny Rometty.  No.  Too new at IBM, and a step down for her.  Plus, her results have been poor to date.

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