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Microsoft's next CEO: Let's handicap the candidates

Mark Hachman | Aug. 26, 2013
With less than 12 months to decide on a replacement for Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, members of the company's executive committee will have their work cut out for them. Here are five possibilities to fill the CEO post.

Terry Myerson: Myerson's job is to lead Microsoft's OS vision as executive vice president of the Operating Systems Group. Myerson's task has been to design in commonality within the Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox operating systems. Although we've seen some elements of that—Internet Explorer in the Xbox One, some Xbox services in Windows Phone—it would seem that there's still more work to do here. Promoting Myerson out of his current role would require an equally competent replacement.

Stephen Elop: As former Microsoft evangelist Don Dodge notes, one possibility from outside the company to lead Microsoft would be Elop, now chief executive at Nokia. Elop formerly led Microsoft's business division, the home of the seemingly perpetually profitable Microsoft. But Elop also jumped ship to join Nokia, after what some described as dissatisfaction with Microsoft. On the other hand, although Elop has forged a strong partnership with Microsoft in his current role, Nokia has still struggled. Elop could indeed come back to the fold, but Nokia's recent performance may color his chances.

Steve Sinofsky: Sinofsky, who was recently named a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, abruptly exited Microsoft after the Windows 8 launch and has not spoken publicly of his departure—or of Microsoft, apparently bound by a non-disclosure clause in his contract. Although Larson-Green is credited with the rollout of Windows 8, Sinofsky designed it—and again, how the board sees the OS may affect whether or not Sinofsky is invited back. Does Sinofsky see himself as a Silicon Valley power player, or as a leader of one of the titans of the technology world?

Other possibilities: Jeff Raikes, who currently serves as chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, would have to be willing to give up his post—and Gates would also have to be willing to let him go. But there's no question that Gates could vet him for the role. And then there's the wild card angle: the committee could hunt down a fresh face from outside the company.

That's actually a viable possibility when you consider the fact that Microsoft is shifting away from what it has been—an OS company, centered on the PC—to a more nimble services company straddling a multitude of devices. Could someone like Dale Lee, recently promoted out of a role as president of Samsung Telecommunications America to a special advisor post, be an option? Lee drove Samsung's phones and tablets to the top spot in the U.S. market.

What seems clear is that Microsoft won't wait the full 12 months to name a replacement. Every quarter that goes by without such a name raises questions; establishing a successor early allows an informal or formal transition team to take place. But the Ballmer era will come to a close as Microsoft tries to remain relevant in a post-PC world. And that's Job One for the new recruit.


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