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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.

Turner also understands what Microsoft needs to do to sell Microsoft. Entering the retail space gave Microsoft a public presence that commercials can't buy (although the company's ad campaigns have been remarkably on point lately, too).

Baggage: Unknown unknowns. Turner is undoubtedly known better within Microsoft than outside of the company. And most of Turner's current job involves simply greasing the corporate wheels, not authoring 10-year vision documents. So if Microsoft elevates Turner to the top spot, he'll have to overcome a perception that he's just a steward, steering Microsoft on the course defined by his predecessor.

Many industry watchers also see Turner's Microsoft Stores as simply aping Apple's Apple Stores, though they've become more important as showcases for Microsoft devices and refuges for "traditional PCs."

Bates, Elop still on top
It's easy to see why Bates and Elop are considered the most promising candidates: Both have track records of success within Microsoft, coupled with fresh perspectives acquired from working outside the company. Bloomberg's revelations about Elop's priorities seem bizarre, however: Given the many free alternatives to Office, focusing Microsoft on its business division is a risky gamble that could unsettle the more conservative members of Microsoft's board.

Mulally, meanwhile, has shown he can turn around a struggling business. But will he be dinged for a lack of computer experience?

Those and other questions will weigh heavily on the shoulders of chairman and cofounder Bill Gates, who will likely play a key role in deciding Microsoft's next chief executive. I've made the argument that Gates eventually needs to step out of the picture—but not until Ballmer's successor is chosen. And it's hard to believe that Gates would anoint a CEO with a cavalier disregard for Microsoft's past.

Microsoft, Apple, and Google have collectively made the case that a collection of devices and services, working together, can function as a cohesive whole. If that thesis remains true, Microsoft needs a craftsman to fit the pieces together, a pilot to chart the course, and a salesman to fill its staterooms. It's a rare candidate who embodies all three skills.


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