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Microsoft board motivated to hire new CEO before activist joins in early '14

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 11, 2013
ValueAct, which can claim its place on the board early next year, could throw a minor monkey wrench into the CEO selection process

While any opposition to the CEO choice could be parried by a unified board -- assuming it is unified -- the risk of news leaking about divided directors, even if Morfit was the sole dissenting vote, would be embarrassing to Microsoft.

Candidates that have been interviewed, according to Bloomberg, included Tony Bates, who joined Microsoft after it bought Skype, and who now leads business development and evangelism; Stephen Elop, the former CEO of Nokia who will return to Microsoft once the acquisition closes early next year; Paul Maritz, a former Microsoft executive and most recently the CEO of VMware; and Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor.

eBay CEO John Donahoe declined to be considered, as have others, said Bloomberg.

All but Donahoe have been previously mentioned as possible replacements for Ballmer, with Mulally identified by several media outlets as the current leader. In an interview with USA Today last week, Mulally brushed aside the speculation, but didn't confirm or deny an interest in the Microsoft job.

According to Ireland's online bookmaker, Paddy Power, Mulally was the second-likeliest choice, at odds of 3-to-1, behind only Elop, who was listed at odds of 4-to-11.

Industry analysts have urged Microsoft to choose an outsider as the new CEO, fearing that by staying in-house, the company would nominate a Ballmer clone who in turn would lack the motivation to dramatically change the company.

That fear rests on the premise that Ballmer's new "One Microsoft" reorganization and his devices-and-services strategy are not the best ways for the company to push forward, reverse its fortunes in mobile and stem the bleeding from projects like Bing.

In related news, Paddy Power recently began taking bets on when Bill Gates will step down as chairman. Today, the bookie had this year at 11-to-8 odds, meaning that someone would have to bet $110 to have the chance to turn an $80 profit. The odds improve for 2014 (6-to-5) and again for 2015 (2-to-1).

Last week, the Reuters news service said several prominent Microsoft investors, who collectively controlled 5% of the company, have asked the board to push Gates out of the chairman's chair. They reasoned that because Gates dominates the board, he could quash any attempt to bring in a CEO who would significantly shake up the company, which they believe is necessary, and that Gates will handcuff the new CEO to the in-place strategy and reorganization.

Microsoft's Nov. 19 shareholders meeting would be an opportunity for the firm to trumpet the new CEO, if one accepts the position by then.


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