Is Microsoft Close to Picking a CEO?

Steve BallmerThe clock is ticking to choose a successor to Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer, but reports indicate the company’s board hasn’t come close to a decision, though they have set a time-frame for drawing up a shortlist. What everyone agrees on is the importance of fundamental changes in the software maker’s business, something Ballmer told The Wall Street Journal he couldn’t do fast enough.

In a revealing interview, Ballmer told WSJ he recognized he was part of the problem at Microsoft when company officials weren’t able to address his new approach as business struggled. Suddenly shifting to a more strategic vision sent the entire chain of command into disarray. Ballmer’s thirteen-year tenure as CEO of Microsoft followed twenty years of involvement since he joined Bill Gates in the company’s development. He is the second-largest shareholder of Microsoft after Gates.

Seeing the extreme level of involvement in the company suggests to investors it’s time to bring in a fresh face with a knack for changing corporate culture against big odds. Those who believe Ford (NYSE:F) CEO Alan Mulally is a perfect fit to succeed Ballmer identify his turnaround at Ford as evidence he is worthy of Microsoft’s top job.

When Mulally took the reins at Ford, the automaker was overly focused on products that represented the past as well as strategies that hindered progress on a global scale. One could make the case Microsoft is in need of help on those same two fronts. According to Bloomberg, the board of Microsoft is planning to narrow down its list for potential successors of Ballmer when it meets Monday, November 18, in Washington.

Out of the three or four potential successors, Mulally and former Nokia (NYSE:NOK) CEO Stephen Elop are favorites from outside Microsoft. Among those who handicap such races, top internal candidates include Tony Bates and Satya Nadella.

In making the case for Mulally, many observers cite the conversations Ballmer had with Ford’s chief executive as he struggled to remake Microsoft in the past eighteen months. Mulally is uniquely positioned to jump in and hit the ground running, should the board decide computer expertise were not an essential qualification. Monday could prove whether the board still sees Mulally as a front-runner.

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