The selection of a CEO to take over Microsoft is not expected to come before February, according to multiple sources, due to a range of issues, including the packed schedule of the software giant’s chairman Bill Gates this month.

That includes his annual letter from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is a major communication from the philanthropic organization that comes out every January, this year on the 20th. That will be followed by his attendance at Davos, the annual global gathering in Switzerland where major public figures discuss a range of key policy issues. Gates looms large at the event, which he uses to focus attention on the various initiatives of the foundation.

Gates is a key player in the CEO search, despite the high profile of another director, John Thompson, who is heading the search process. “This is a Gates search, even though the board is very involved,” said one source with knowledge of the situation. “But nothing is going to happen without him, especially since he will be much more involved in the company going forward.”

In addition, Microsoft announces its second-quarter earnings on January 23, which also requires a lot of attention from its top execs, including outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer, who is also on its board. And, of course, the company and the tech world has been focused on CES, the yearly consumer electronics event taking place this week in Las Vegas, making any announcement unlikely.

Already, there has been a bit of a slowdown in the process due to the holidays — which a person close to the board called a “breather” to me — especially after Thompson released a statement in mid-December that basically said that.

“We’re moving ahead well, and I expect we’ll complete our work in the early part of 2014,” he wrote, in an attempt to tamp down the intense speculation around who would be the new leader of the company and also assuage the internal tension within the company’s ranks to name a CEO.

And while many thought that could mean by January, sources close to the situation said the process is more likely to extend at least into February and perhaps longer, although the hope is for sooner than later. When Ballmer announced he was leaving, he said the selection of a new CEO could take a year.

No one at Microsoft wants that. “There has to be clarity, because everyone is in limbo and swimming in place, waiting to see who gets the job,” said one high-ranking exec. “With everything moving so quickly in tech, we can hardly afford to take too much more time.”

One of the problems has been the swirling issues around the candidates. Earlier this week, after many non-denial denials, Ford CEO Alan Mulally finally made it explicit that he would stay at the car giant through 2014.

“I would like to end the Microsoft speculation because I have no other plans to do anything other than serve Ford,” Mulally said in an interview with AP. “You don’t have to worry about me leaving.”

Mulally’s decline as frontrunner was already clear in December, as was much reported (including by me), returning focus on other candidates. Internally, the leading one is enterprise chief Satya Nadella, who is a favorite among employees due to his geekier cred. Still, there are worries that Nadella does not have significant enough business and sales expertise.

The other internal candidates are strategy head Tony Bates and, a more distant third, Nokia’s Stephen Elop. Bates has more credibility in the business arena, for sure, although is new to the company, as is Elop.

Externally, there are a number of candidates, although none has risen to prominence publicly. In an update late last year, Gates had noted at its shareholders meeting that the new CEO had to be able to lead a complex and highly technical organization.

It’s a tall order. I had named Patrick Gelsinger, CEO of VMware, as a possible pick, for example. The dream CEO for many inside Microsoft is one of its former top execs, Paul Maritz, who was Gelsinger’s predecessor at VMware and now runs its Pivotal spinoff. He has talked with Gates, said sources, but has nixed himself for the job.

Another name that is mentioned by many both internally and externally is Thompson, who is former CEO of Symantec. “He could pull a Dick Cheney,” said one person, referring to the former Vice President, who led the VP search for former President George W. Bush and ended up taking the job, in speculation I hear all the time.

But let me be clear — this is the longest of long shots and perhaps more fodder from the rumor mill that will continue to churn until Microsoft makes its pick.

Other than that, in his letter, Thompson said that, “we identified over 100 possible candidates, talked with several dozen, and then focused our energy intensely on a group of about 20 individuals, all extremely impressive in their own right. As you would expect, as this group has narrowed, we’ve done deeper research and investigation, including with the full Board.”

Narrow perhaps, but not done — and so the search continues.



8 comments
Ice Cowboy
Ice Cowboy

Forget all the earlier speculation and candidates: John Legere.


Hands down.  The dance of the big boys has become a boring bunch of behemoths locked in clinches.  

Would love to see him peppering the GOOGplex's solar plexus, and mussing Jonny Ive's uber-precious "design beats both form and funciton" aesthetic.

Yeah, never in a hundred, never in a million, yada yada. 

And in the real world NO truly empowered CEO's going to emerge (alas) if Gates and Ballmer don't have enough sense to see that they're now part of the problem and get out of the way, but hey, fun to think about..... 

Prof. Peabody
Prof. Peabody

If they are smart, they will eventually settle on Elop.  He is clearly the best out of a bad lot.  The involvement of Bill Gates is very troubling however.  


It seems that the poor fellow simply can't let go.  

melgross
melgross

I think the major problem here is that the best external candidates aren't interested. Why would they be? Many are pretty well compensated already. Others will be looking at the not so dynamic duo of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, and say no to their looking over the shoulder method of management.

And then, the new organization is already in place, with both the blessing of Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates. What can they do about that? Usually, a new CEO comes in, and after a month or three, makes some major changes. Can that even happen here? Will they get blamed if the new reorganization doesn't work out, even if they had little to do with it?

This will be a challenging job, and I wonder just how much CEO's who, as a bunch are pretty well self centered and conceited, and at that level, it isn't surprising, will be willing to give up being the real boss?

I really do suspect that Microsoft is having problems getting the best people interested, and then it's a question of which second, or third, choice to pick, while making it sound as though this is really the best choice, even though it isn't.

AJ-0000
AJ-0000

I know Bill Gates has made far more money than he'll ever need, and dedicated a lot of years to running Microsoft. But he's only 58. Most people don't retire until 65 (or later). The best candidate is Gates himself.

mjw149
mjw149

“But nothing is going to happen without him, especially since he will be much more involved in the company going forward.”


Gates is back!  That's why they delayed!  He's all they have left, changing CEOs while completely changing the company to hardware was batcrap crazy.

znmeb
znmeb

I can understand why they had to take a breather for the holidays, CES and earnings season. What I *can't* understand is


a) How Mulally made the short list in the first place, and

b) Why they didn't git 'er done before the holidays, although having 'over 100 possible candidates' is a strong indicator of indecisiveness.


Gates should either step down at Microsoft or at the Foundation - it seems he is just as incompetent at multitasking as all of us humans are.

melgross
melgross

Gates. Made Microsoft successful partly because of strong arming OEMs and software companies. It resulted in civil law violations, if not moving into criminal activity. People seem to have this vision of Gates that simply isn't true. What good could he do today?

In fact, Microsoft could be heading to another crisis, if the Feds and the EU get off their collective asses. Integrating the search engine Bing into Win 8 along with IE, is exactly what got them into trouble last time. It will be interesting to see whether they will get away with it now.

melgross
melgross

The fact is that we don't know if Mulally made the short list, or any list for that matter. That's just the nattering of the analysts who know nothing about what's been going on, other than some rumors.

Heck, they have to make a living somehow.

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