Rumor Mill Heats Up Over Microsoft's Next CEORumor Mill Heats Up Over Microsoft's Next CEO
Go ahead and pencil in Stephen Elop, set to return to Microsoft (MSFT) after the Nokia (NOK) sale as head of the new devices unit, as the clear front-runner to replace Steve Ballmer as chief.
November 11, 2013
Why? It’s simple—leaks (intentional or otherwise) the magnitude of the one floated on Friday in a Bloomberg report, offering up Elop’s grand design (through sources) were he to be handed the helm at Microsoft, typically don’t bubble out without a purpose. In short order, Elop is said to have in mind what easily could be construed as red meat for shareholders in the wake of an outgoing chief—he’d consider selling off or shuttering Microsoft’s money-losing Bing search engine and the popular, but non-core, Xbox franchise.
But that’s not all. According to three sources cited in the Bloomberg report, Elop would enact a heresy of sorts by migrating the Office productivity suite to a wide range of mobile products, including smartphones and tablets running Apple’s (AAPL) iOS and Google’s (GOOG) Android operating systems.
Elop’s strategy, of course, would be to broaden the playing field by maximizing Office’s potential, extending it to other platforms instead of confining it to Windows-based machines. It’s a move supported by the impressive $11.2 billion Microsoft posted in commercial-related sales for Q1 2014.
If this grand plan sounds eerily similar to the direction activist investor ValueAct Capital and others have been pushing Microsoft—viewing its relatively stagnant stock price through the prism of what’s valuable to its business—that’s because it’s lifted from the same blueprint.
As you might expect, the Bloomberg report wasn’t well-received at Microsoft, with a spokesperson delivering this comment: “We appreciate Bloomberg’s foray into fiction and look forward to future episodes.”
But here's the big question: Should Microsoft hire a chief executive that would dispense with Bing and Xbox?
Analyst Favors an Outsider
The chatter isn’t only about Elop. Is Elop’s primary competition turnaround specialist Alan Mulally, currently Ford’s chief executive? One analyst thinks so to the point where he’s saying publicly that Mulally, whose handshake deal with Ford runs through 2014, is the favorite for Ballmer’s old job.
In an investor’s note, Rick Sherland, Nomura Equity analyst, made his case in Mulally’s favor, although only one of his reasons seems plausible. For example, he points to the non-denial denials of Mulally’s candidacy—neither he nor Ford have come right out to say he’s not interested. But, in truth, the non-denial denial test typically is used by journalists to assess the veracity of something they not only suspect is true, but have some factual basis to believe, a condition that doesn’t appear to apply just yet to Mulally and Microsoft.
In addition, the idea that Mulally is working only off of a handshake agreement with Ford—with his successor Mark Field already on board—makes him available, and, combined with his background at Seattle-based Boeing facilitates the move to Microsoft, is a bit of stretch as well. It more heavily weights convenience over the biggest factor—would the job interest him?
On the other hand, Mulally is said to have advised Ballmer on a few things, particularly the recent Microsoft reorganization, so he may be more familiar with the company than meets the eye.
It’s not unusual in chief executive successor searches for the early noise to surround candidates who ultimately are superseded by the winner—sometimes it’s someone about whom there’s been no overt buzz. We’ll see if that’s the case here.
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