Business Management

Snapshot: Who Will Be the Next Microsoft CEO? A Guide to Candidates

The list of candidates most mooted to become Microsoft CEO represents the most disappointing set of options since the condemned man was asked if he preferred the firing squad or the guillotine.

Other great alternatives rear their ugly heads. Would you rather sit through Justin Bieber or One Direction? You might ask which is the pick of Seventies perma-smile hit-makers the Osmonds. Here in Britain we might consider Labour Party members choosing between the charisma-vacuums of the bothers Milliband. Or we might knowingly quote Virginia Woolf who famously said of the (then) quiet London village, “But if it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death.”

OK so it’s not really that bad, but the names put forward do little to make the heart beat faster.

Mike Lawrie? That name rang a bell. Yep, I reported on him way back losing his job at Siebel Systems within months of becoming CEO; Oracle bought Siebel a little later. He was previously an IBM veteran and now runs CSC after having built a reputation for having turned around Misys. Now these are all big companies but they are companies that made it big on services and infrastructure software. Microsoft, even today, is a much more fast-moving company.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally? There is a school of thought that for Microsoft in 2013, read IBM 20 years ago when Lou Gerstner took over and famously “made elephants dance”. Gerstner came from Amex and most recently RJR Nabisco, a company that made cereal and cigs. People forget just how far IBM had sunk and Gerstner did a remarkable job filling in the gaps, even if they were pretty obvious to most observers. He built up software and services and made Big Blue not nearly so reliant on tin. He also cut costs until the pips squeaked. Microsoft is hardly at its zenith but it remains intensely profitable and powerful and it does not have the fat of an IBM to trim. Also, when IBM hired Gerstner, the prevailing wisdom was that the computer industry had been run by geeks and it needed some real managers. Now the IT industry is run by geeks because only people who really understand the internet and software can keep up to speed with the tumult of change and churn, sturm and drang it engenders. Bringing in a boss from outside tech, never mind the moribund American automotive industry, would make no sense.

Stephen Elop? He knows Microsoft, he’s ambitious, he’s personable and he’s the right age but after debatable decisions at Nokia, his recent record isn’t up to snuff. It’s important to consider not just who is going to right the ship at Microsoft but also which person analysts, staff and partners will buy into. If he had turned Nokia into a slam-dunk success story Elop might be the right man. Today he might be the right man at the wrong time.

Who else? An insider from the senior cadre would raise the sense that Microsoft is serving up more of the same at a time when a new vision is needed, although bringing back a Big Picture type like Ray Ozzie would be interesting. A more left-field candidate might be somebody like Marc Andreessen, full of new ideas but likely to have a healthy respect for Redmondian history.

The thermal characteristics of the Microsoft hot-seat are so intense that even the bookies have got involved. OK, so this is a stunt but the options quoted by Ladbrokes are more interesting than those being floated by the newswires. Elop is the talking horse of the candidates and the betting firm has responded by making him unbackable at an odds-on price of 1-4. Steven Sinofsky is second favourite but it’s not long since he left Redmond. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook is 7/1 and Reed Hastings of LinkedIn is 20/1 but surely they’re not what Microsoft needs today. Current Microsoft COO Kevin Turner would be a belt-and-braces selection that would lead to collective snoozing.

The most attractive punt might be Paul Maritz at 12/1. Maritz was involved in Windows leadership when the franchise was in its pomp and he has built his CV creditably since. Most notably he is drenched in the cloud and B2B world that is Microsoft’s present and future. His face would fit. 

But if you were really looking for somebody that would have an iconic effect, know the company backwards and have a stellar record of ideas and execution, there’s only one man for the job. Step forward, Bill Gates. Well, hailing the prodigal son was a strategy that worked for Apple and America looks a comeback kid so who knows… But otherwise, it’s Maritz for me.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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