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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.

"I'm rooting for him," wrote none other than Ballmer, in a 2009 Time 100 profile for Time. "He understands the fundamentals of business success as well as any business leader I know. He has smartly and sensitively made the transition from airplanes to cars, inspiring confidence and trust in employees, suppliers, shareholders and customers."

Baggage: Many people point to Mulally's advanced age as a question mark. There's also the inconvenient fact that he has never worked in anything resembling Microsoft's software, hardware and services spaces. Mulally may be a manager extraordinaire, but at Ford there was never any danger that the car itself would disappear overnight. In Silicon Valley, by contrast, a press release can gut entire industries, as Google's free navigation services did the GPS industry.

Growth doesn't entail merely expanding customer bases and fine-tuning employee performance. It may require rethinking an entire business. Mulally excels in operations, but what Microsoft wants is a magician.

Tony Bates
Bona fides: Bates, 46, is an affable, self-taught Brit who can straddle the often conflicting worlds of engineering and management. Bates dropped out of university, and then worked his way through the networking industry, ending up at Cisco. There, he graduated from working in the company's router business to overseeing thousands of employees as senior vice president in charge of enterprise, commercial, and small businesses. Bates also headed Cisco's voice technology group, which led to his appointment as CEO of Skype in 2010.

At Skype, Bates worked to expand VoIP technology into the business world, a practice he continued after Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5 billion in May 2011. Skype is now integrated into Windows 8.1, Outlook.com, Office, Windows Phone, Lync, and the Xbox One, among other Microsoft businesses.

Benefits: Bates taught himself UNIX programming during his London commutes, and reportedly blends technical aptitude with a personal touch—evidenced by his current role as executive vice president for business development and evangelism at Microsoft. In a lengthy interview with the Skype Journal in January 2011, Bates laid out four goals for Skype: lead through products and product engineering; expand globally; accelerate ideas to users; and understand and react to a highly dynamic world, where market forces and competitors are constantly evolving.

Bates's successful Skype integration demonstrates that he understands Ballmer's philosophy of distributing technologies across a large, diverse product portfolio. Bates is ambitious, too. He has said before that his goals included leading a company by 45, which he accomplished with Skype. But you can't imagine he'd be satisfied to stop at that.

Baggage: Not much, actually. The biggest knock on the Skype deal was how much Microsoft paid for it. If Bates can make Skype an integral part of Microsoft's collaboration strategy, the price may be justified. Bates's current role in business development suggests he's being groomed as the next CEO. Still, for all the significance ascribed to Skype, is Bates a one-trick pony? So far, he has proved he can work Skype into business units across Microsoft, but whether he can direct those units is another question.

 

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