A very genteel coup d'etat is playing out in Redmond, where Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer is being hustled, ever so politely, into retirement.
A thousand years ago, an engineered succession meant whispers in corridors, alliances, even bloodshed. In the modern era, things are a little different: Senior executives meet in private, figuratively wiping out candidates with penstrokes, rather than with a dagger to the ribs. One person will emerge as the next chief executive of Microsoft. As for the others, if they're internal candidates, they may stay with the mothership a few more years before seeking their fortunes elsewhere.
Thewinnowing process has already begun. Last week, Reuters reported that the list of external candidates is down to five. Though not all of those candidates' names have been revealed, Reuters has identified two: Alan Mullaly, the chief executive of Ford Motor Co., and Stephen Elop, the former Microsoft executive who left to become CEO of Nokia, and will return to the Microsoft fold next year as part of the Nokia acquisition. By some accounts, the lead pack also includes current Microsoft employees Tony Bates, an outsider who joined Microsoft in the Skype acquisition; Satya Nadella, Microsoft's cloud chief; and Kevin Turner, the company's COO.
In August, Ballmer announced he would step down within 12 months, starting the clock on a succession process that is likely to be completed as quickly as possible within a framework of healthy due diligence. "There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time," Ballmer said in a Microsoft press release at the time.
So who are these candidates to replace Ballmer? What do they bring to the company, and what red flags might hurt their chances? Let's break it down.
Bona fides: Elop, 49, was born in Ontario, Canada, on New Year's Eve, a serendipitous metaphor for a man many see as the front-runner to lead Microsoft into the next era.
Elop studied computer engineering and management at McMaster University, worked his way up through Lotus Development Corp., and then became CIO at Boston Chicken (the forerunner to Boston Market). After that, he spent several years at Macromedia, ending up as chief executive. Following stints at Adobe and Juniper, Elop joined Microsoft and its Business Division in 2008, running its Office group and Microsoft Dynamics through 2010.
In Sept. 2010, Elop left Microsoft to become chief executive of Nokia. He currently serves as Nokia's executive vice president of Devices & Services, a position he assumed after Microsoft agreed to acquire Nokia for $7.17 billion. Following the acquisition, Elop will lead "an expanded Devices business" at Microsoft, the company announced, and will report directly to Ballmer (unless, of course, Ballmer leaves before the acquisition is complete).
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