What Can We Expect from the Possible Ballmer Successors?

Jacob Harper  |

Much to the relief of Microsoft Inc. (MSFT) stockholders, Steve Ballmer is voluntarily leaving his position as CEO of the lumbering tech giant. The Steve Ballmer who ridiculed and dismissed iPhones. The Steve Ballmer who spearheaded ongoing search engine disaster Bing. You know, the one who likes developers:



Fun-poking aside, the question now is: who will succeed Ballmer on the throne? Like the Mongol Empire before them, Microsoft does not have a clear line of succession in place for picking their leaders. Unlike the Mongol Empire however, Microsoft’s new chief will be determined via a series of intensive interviews and not a protracted land war in Asia.

This is not to discount the rigorous challenges the new Khan of Microsoft will encounter. Microsoft is in the midst of massive change, and not just in leadership. The entire company is being restructured under the infighting-eliminating “One Microsoft” concept, and the company is making its first aggressive play into mobile app and services.

The new CEO of Microsoft will be taking helm of one of the largest companies on the planet. And whoever it is, they can be expected to take the company in one of several radically different directions.   

The Ford Motors (F) CEO is already well known for turning around a major company built on an outdated product line, so Microsoft makes a lot of sense. Mullaly’s success is largely attributed to his restructuring of Ford and his focus on updating the product. Focusing product development would be a massive win for Microsoft, who have been hammered by ill-advised forays into tablets (Surface) and search (Bing).

Another leading candidate is Nokia CEO Stephen Elop. The pessimist might point out that Elop already ran one company into the ground, so he’d be perfect for Microsoft. More accurately, Elop was put at the helm of a sinking ship at Nokia. This isn’t to say he did a spectacular job or anything, but he’s certainly not bereft of radical ideas that might actually be good.

Notably, Elop has already said if he gets the job he’d consider selling off the Xbox unit (which, while successful, has been criticized by co-founder Paul Allen as a distraction) and completely killing off Bing.

A favored pick of techies, Bates is the head of business development at Microsoft, the previous head of Skype, and a former exec at Cisco Systems. Bates is a self-taught programmer who’s been in tech his whole life, and has significant experience in mobile and communications. As far as internal candidates go, Bates is the front-runner, and can be expected to focus heavily on pushing innovative, out-of-the-box tech ideas to jumpstart the company.

Another internal candidate, Nadella is currently the Preisdent of the Server and Tools business. A real company man, Nadella has been with Microsoft since 1992, and worked his way up from being a member of the tech staff to his current position. That makes his background more in line with Ballmer’s – another Microsoft lifer – than any of the other candidates.

Nadella has experience in several different departments across Microsoft, and has a unique experience dealing with Microsoft’s, shall we say, unique corporate culture. Nadella should be expected to bring that multi-departmental experience to the CEO job, and work on better coordinating the disparate divisions of the company.

If Microsoft was a monarchy, Turner would be the eldest prince and clear regent successor to King Ballmer. But as we’ve established already, Microsoft is no medieval empire, and thus Turner’s ascendancy to the throne is far from assured.

 As COO he’s about as high up the food chain at Microsoft as you can be without being named Ballmer or Gates. At one point in time, Turner was the shoo-in choice for becoming Microsoft’s third CEO. But he has proven unpopular with employees, and seems to have lost favor with the board. This is not to say he is out of the running yet, though.

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Turner comes from Wal Mart (WMT) , and could be expected to bring a sense of pragmatism and extensive retail experience to the CEO position, and a renewed focus on moving product. 

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