Microsoft CEO shortlist claim: It's just Elop, Bates, Mulally, Nadella and...
New Ballmer must navigate Nokia bump
Comment The shortlist for Microsoft’s next chief executive is apparently a bit shorter.
Five people are now in the frame to run the world’s largest software company, it's believed. Ford Motor Company big cheese Alan Mulally and former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop are said to be the two leading outside candidates.
“At least” three internal candidates are also in the running, we're told by Reuters: cloud and enterprise group (formerly Server and Tools) president Satya Nadella and former Skype CEO Tony Bates. Reuters names just these two, not the third.
The question is, if these men are seriously in the frame, what kind of company will Microsoft look like under them?
Let’s not forget why Microsoft is looking for a new chief. Ballmer was happy to keep the CEO’s seat warm until 2017, no matter how many misses he scored. It was investors who loosened his grip on the armrests of the chair, in the wake of a stunning own-goal on the Surface with a nearly $1bn product written down.
What is the problem Microsoft investors want zapped?
In three words: return on investment. Translated: strategies that mean new products and services, in growing markets, delivered at lower costs – ones which don’t jeopardise the existing money-makers, but can still bring Microsoft back to the top spot.
Never mind all that, though, the biggest challenge will be absorbing around 30,000 Nokia employees into the Microsoft structure – if Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia's mobile business goes ahead.
Microsoft has nearly 100,000 staffers. There's already overlap and middle managers and marketing types who add little value except to their own sense of self-importance. Never mind the additional overlap once Nokia comes on board.
Can the new Microsoft sustain 130,000 staff? Not without considerable cost.
Re-structuring is a must.
Also, Nokia takes Microsoft in a radical new direction: it inherits a phone fabrication business and becomes a phone channel supplier.
On Xbox and Surface, Microsoft left fabrication and distribution to third parties, with the company slapping its logo on the outside and stuffing Windows inside.
Who can manage this transition?
The fundamental dilemma for a tech company is: do you promote a techie or a businessperson as CEO?
Techies, theoretically, understand what their company is making and building. Business people run businesses, and to them it’s all just product.
But it is looking like Microsoft needs more of a business pragmatist than a geek or technology evangelist.
Mulally is certainly a product and process man, hailed as a turnaround king. Before Ford, he served in various executive roles at aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which he joined in 1969.
Microsoft would be Mulally’s third employer.
He has a masters in science in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the University of Kansas and a masters in management from MIT.
He has earned accolades and awards at Boeing: in charge of the manufacturer's commercial airplanes team, he increased the group’s financial performance, productivity and shareholder satisfaction; led development of the 777 in the 1990s; and worked on wind shear and effective training for pilots.
After Boeing, Mulally joined Ford at the tail end of 2006 and helped the troubled carmaker turn a corner. Ford was in its 10th year of declining market share when Mulally rocked up. He promptly restructured the business by closing plants and cutting staff, while opening new plants in China. In August of this year, Ford reported its best month for car sales since 2007 – the year after Mulally became CEO.
Mulally wouldn’t be a red-blooded believer in Windows, like Ballmer, rather all business. And that’s what Microsoft needs at the top.
Arguably, Mulally is the strongest on the shortlist.
However, Stephen Elop is closer to what Microsoft might like as a CEO – with some important qualifications.
Internet by association
Elop has a tech company background, with Macromedia, Adobe and Juniper Networks on his CV. He has a sales and execution pedigree.
Elop led sales, operations and business functions at Macromedia – he became president of worldwide field ops at Adobe after the acquisition – before landing a job as Juniper Networks' COO in 2007. In 2008, he became president of Microsoft’s business division before being poached by Nokia to become its chief executive and president in 2010.
He also seems to be considered a top pick because of his presence at Nokia and the new corporate priority inside Microsoft on devices. He was, after all, the person who committed Nokia to the Windows Phone mobile operating system.
Like Mulally, Elop is a businessperson’s pick rather than a geek’s choice; unlike Mulally, Elop lacks the track record in the kinds of massive business change shareholders want to see from their new chief.
An Elop CEOship means uncertainty: he will hit the bar on product delivery and you will see devices become the number-one new paradigm. But Elop will need to integrate the Nokia business that Microsoft is buying, meaning engineers, product development, sales and marketing. On this it is unclear whether Elop has the vision and the guts to cut Microsoft and Nokia staff and merge and refine the new structure that's needed.
The techie's choice
Of all the names in the frame, Satya Nadella is the techiest. Nadella is a business person with a technical background, who has been very successful in his role as chief of Microsoft’s golden Server and Tools business unit – the $19bn home to hits such as SQL Server, Exchange Server and Visual Studio. The unit has been rebranded as the Cloud and enterprise Group, where he now heads up computing platforms, developer tools and cloud services, but it’s hard to say just how much money the cloud effort makes, given it’s so diffuse. Microsoft is Nadella’s second employer, he worked for Sun Microsystems before joining Microsoft in 1992.
So what would a Microsoft under Nadella look like? Nadella, like Elop, has no track record of business reinvention, so it’s uncertain how he’d handle Nokia post-acquisition. We would have products, though, only with more of an authoritative technology voice than under Elop.
The Reg, however, sticks to its original analysis on Nadella: he's a talented group president and an executive on the rise but he lacks the broader experience and PnL responsibility to run a the world’s largest software company. He needs to run more groups inside Microsoft and, ideally, go into the world for experience at a few other employers for shareholders and board members to be satisfied.
The Skype type
That leaves former Skype president Bates, now Redmond's exec veep for Business Development, Strategy and Evangelism. Before Microsoft there was Skype, and before Skype there was Cisco Systems, which Bates joined in 1996.
At Cisco, Bates was a network products chief, serving in various senior roles in charge of high-end routers, enterprise, commercial and small business. He developed Cisco’s CRS-1 router, GSR and Multi-Service WAN products. Bates reported directly to CEO John Chambers and his final post in charge of enterprise, commercial and small business was a unit with $20bn in annual revenue and 12,500 staff.
He joined Skype in 2010, just before Microsoft bought the company in 2011.
Is this the man to lead Microsoft?
Bates is the pick of somebody who wants nominally, at least, to make Microsoft "an internet company". But he’s an internet infrastructure and plumbing man. As for Skype, the voice-over-IP shop continued to lose money under Bates. Skype for Microsoft is an expensive bet, a statement on where it wants to be but which has yet to pay off.
He's an outsider with now evident business-transformation background, so it is difficult to see how Bates could deliver what's needed. Also, it's hard to see how Bates would be accepted inside or outside Microsoft or whether he's got the necessary clout given his past extends to networking products and Skype. Microsoft under Bates would be an internet company by association. ®