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Mulally 'likely' talked to Microsoft, bowed out of CEO race anyway

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 9, 2014
Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally, who on Tuesday ended months of speculation that he was a top candidate for Microsoft's CEO opening, was almost certainly in talks with the company.

Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally had been called the front runner to replace Steve Ballmer. (Image: Ford.) Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally, who Tuesday ended months of speculation that he was a top candidate for Microsoft's chief executive opening, was almost certainly in talks with the Redmond, Wash. company, said a messaging and public relations expert today.

"He did not deny that he was in talks with Microsoft," said Gene Grabowski, reading between the lines of an interview Mulally granted to a pair of Associated Press (AP) automotive reporters yesterday. "It's likely that he was [in talks with Microsoft] at some level. That's logical."

Grabowski is an executive vice president at Levick, a Washington, D.C. firm that specializes in crisis and corporate reputation messaging.

"I would like to end the Microsoft speculation because I have no other plans to do anything other than serve Ford," Mulally told the AP.

For months, Mulally had issued a series of non-denial denials when asked about his interest in the Microsoft job, which opened in August when current chief executive Steve Ballmer abruptly announced he would retire within 12 months.

Mulally had been linked to the Microsoft job in large part because Ballmer went to the automotive executive for insights into a Ford reorganization labeled "One Ford" that Mulally managed. In July, Ballmer announced a similar restructuring of Microsoft, dubbed "One Microsoft," that was designed to increase collaboration in the company.

Wall Street had been pushing for Mulally, believing that his turnaround experience at Ford was what Microsoft needed to recover a luster worn thin by its failures to capitalize on the technology market's dramatic shift to mobile.

Wednesday, the market swallowed Mulally's statement: As of 3 p.m. ET, Microsoft shares were down 2%.

Mulally gave no additional information about the Microsoft position in the interview, such as whether he was offered the Microsoft job and turned it down, or even whether he had been in the running.

He did acknowledge that the swirling speculation had been a distraction for Ford, something multiple analysts pointed out months ago, and that Grabowski referred to today.

"Ford's competitors are locked down with CEOs, and Ford did not want to be left behind," Grabowski said. "Ford's board was very concerned that it looked in flux."

The timing of Mulally's interview was probably no coincidence, either, as the auto industry's largest and most important trade show, the North American Internal Auto Show in Detroit, begins Monday, Jan. 13, with a press preview. Ford is slated to open the rounds of press conferences in an 8:10 a.m. ET time slot. If Mulally had not quashed rumors before then, Ford would have lost valuable media time answering questions about their CEO rather than focusing reporters on their new car and truck models.


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