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Bona fides, benefits, and baggage: Rating 5 favorites for Microsoft's next CEO

Mark Hachman | Nov. 12, 2013
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.

Benefits: Elop offers a number of synergies, including knowledge of Microsoft both as an insider and as an external partner. His stint leading Microsoft's Business Division, traditionally one of Microsoft's mainstays, secures his legitimacy as a candidate. And as a senior vice president of devices and services at Nokia, he clearly understands Microsoft's vision of devices and services, especially from the mobile perspective that Microsoft so desperately needs to find success in.

Elop has demonstrated that he isn't tied to history and convention. In assuming the reins at Nokia, Elop inherited a smartphone company that had wrongly imagined that its dominant market share would carry forward under its own momentum. Changes were necessary, and Elop responded by ditching Symbian and embracing Windows Phone. That move should impress any board of directors looking for fresh ways of thinking.

Baggage: Elop's management record is less than stellar. His oversight of Boston Chicken ended in the company's bankruptcy, and Elop was on duty for the sale of both Macromedia and Nokia.

After Elop ditched Symbian in favor of Windows Phone, some observers wondered whether he was a "Trojan horse" installed at Nokia for Microsoft's benefit. Those suggestions, justified or not, gained credence when Elop laid off 40,000 Nokia employees and then sold the company to Microsoft. Jorma Ollila, the chairman of Nokia when Elop was hired, has written that Elop wasn't his first choice, citing concerns that Elop wasn't sufficiently product-oriented.

If Bloomberg is right, Elop plans to ditch the Xbox, cancel or sell Bing, and de-emphasize Windows. Yikes! Nothing like breaking with tradition.

Alan Mulally
Bona fides: Mulally, 68, is an engineer by trade. He has a master's degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the University of Kansas, and a master's in management from MIT. Mulally spent 37 years at Boeing, eventually ascending to the posts of president and later CEO of Boeing Commercial Airlines. But when he was passed over as chief executive of Boeing overall, he joined Ford as president and chief executive in 2006.

Managing Ford through tough times has become Mulally's signature achievement: Mortgaging the automaker to the hilt, he raised over $23 billion—enough to finance Ford's turnaround without accepting a government bailout. Mulally has since delivered 17 straight quarters of (pretax) profitability, capped this month with Ford's best U.S. retail sales figures since 2004.

Benefits: Mulally combines unrelenting optimism with a brutal disregard for tradition and culture. At Ford, he reduced the company's operations to simple color-coded metrics; successful managers were then asked to assist those who had performed poorly, elevating the company as a whole. Mulally also met secretly with union bosses, persuading them to accept lower wages in order to compete financially with overseas carmakers, according to Bryce G. Hoffman, a reporter with the Detroit News who penned a book on the turnaround, American Icon PDF The man has made "team" his mantra.

 

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