Microsoft’s CEO race: the men who could be king

The Redmond giant is apparently in the final stages of selecting the next CEO. Who are the contenders tipped for the top?

question mark

The race for the top spot at Microsoft continues, following Steve Ballmer's summer announcement that he is to retire, with the candidate list reportedly down to a handful of men (yes, all men) who could be deemed worthy. 

The Motor Man

Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Company since 2006, has had many, many rumours circulating around him in recent weeks regarding his possible appointment to the top spot at Microsoft.

These reports are being taken so seriously, that according to Reuters the board of directors has asked him to explain his position. And yet the public position on both sides remains non-committal, with Microsoft saying it will not discuss the search for the CEO at all and Ford neither confirming or denying.

The dark horse

Back in August, Stephen Elop, then CEO of Nokia, was the odds-on favourite to take over as CEO at Microsoft at 5/1.

However, Microsoft has now confirmed it will acquire Nokia's mobile business and Elop will be appointed Nokia executive vice president of devices and services at the parent company. Since then, discussion around his potential rise to the throne has been very subdued.

Nevertheless, he remains the favourite, at least according to Ladbrokes, which has reduced its odds to 4/6.

Out of the race?

When IT Pro began writing this round-up, Qualcomm's COO Steve Molenkopf was also generating a big buzz as a possible candidate for the top spot at Redmond following a Bloomberg report. Then came the news he had been appointed CEO of Qualcomm.

The likelihood, therefore, that he will take over from Ballmer is generally considered to be extremely slim (although Ladbrokes still have him in third position, at 8/1), but he earns an honourable mention for having generated and extinguished huge levels of excitement and speculation in just 24 hours. 

The best of the rest

When Ballmer's departure was first announced, the list of possible candidates was very heavy with Microsoft incumbents. Of those, only two remain as contenders now: Satya Nadella, vice president of cloud and enterprise, and Tony Bates, executive vice president of business.

While both are outliers compared to Elop and Mulally, they could still be in the running.

Nadella joined Microsoft in 1992 from Sun Microsystems and heads up the business unit responsible for Cloud OS Microsoft's integrated cloud approach, which is central to its business strategy. But he has been criticised for not having the technology vision to replace Ballmer.

Bates is at the opposite end of the scale, having only been with Microsoft for about two years, but he does have CEO experience and was top dog at Skype when it was acquired by Microsoft.

Finally, there is CSC CEO Mike Lawrie, whose name was first raised in relation to the top Microsoft position in September. At 25/1, he has the longest odds of anyone strongly rumoured to be on the shortlist and, like Mulally, has a history of turning companies around.

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