Microsoft CEO survivor: Maritz is off the island

Microsoft CEO survivor: Maritz is off the island

Summary: Who will make it off the CEO-candidate island and become Microsoft's next CEO? Let the guesses continue.


I've stayed away from speculating on who might or should become Microsoft's next CEO for a variety of reasons.


On the "should" front, I haven't been part of the speculation pool because... what do I know? I posted a list of those I expected to be on the internal-candidate list back when Ballmer announced he'd be relinquishing the CEO crown. But I have no real idea what it takes to manage a company of any size beyond one (my own freelance business, of which I am the sole employee).

On the "might" front, like anyone watching Microsoft, I've asked plenty of insiders, outsiders, former employees and others for their opinions. (And everyone has one. Or more than one.)

One thing I've noticed, unsurprisingly, is everyone has a vested interest in how s/he answers. Many of those happily working for Microsoft Cloud & Enterprise chief Satya Nadella want their boss to be the next CEO. Ditto with those working for Tony Bates. Those in the devices/mobile space tend to favor Steven Elop, another rumored, quasi-internal candidate.

Many on Wall Street are agitating for an outsider, none more than Rick Sherlund of Nomura Securities. Sherlund, in case you missed it yesterday, basically said what many of us long-time reporters know to be true: A non-denial is not really a denial. And Ford execs have been issuing almost the identially worded non-denial denials for the past three months as to whether supposed front-runner Ford CEO Alan Mulally is going to go to Microsoft.

One person who Sherlund and some others were hoping might make a triumphant return to Microsoft has officially taken himself out of the running: Former Microsoft Platform Chief and Pivotal CEO Paul Maritz. (AllThingsD reported a month or so ago that Maritz had been contacted for consideration.)

A December 6 PC Pro story quotes Maritz saying he "took (his) hat of that ring very early on" as he is 58, and "not up for that journey."

(For comparison's sake, Ballmer is 57. Mulally is 68.)

Also: In case anyone was wondering about Microsoft's new unified OS chief Terry Myerson's chances of becoming the next Microsoft CEO, he also officially stated this week he's not on the CEO-candidate island.

As Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said himself at the recent Microsoft shareholder meeting, whoever becomes the next CEO has a tough job to fill. Gates told meeting attendees on November 19:

"(I)t’s a complex role to fill, a lot of different skills, experience, and capabilities that we need. It’s a complex global business that the new CEO will have to lead. And they will have to drive across fundamental transitions to create new growth and to attract and manage top talent. "We will have to build on our strengths while addressing areas that we have got weaknesses or challenges. The person has to have a lot of comfort in leading a highly technical organization and have an ability to work with our top technical talent to seize the opportunities."

When Gates was Microsoft's CEO, it was a different time and place. He was Microsoft's founder and chief tech visionary.

These days, some would argue Microsoft needs a manager more than a visionary -- or possibly a visionary as a sidekick (in a role like the currently vacated Chief Software Architect one). 

Whoever the next CEO is, that person needs to know how to talk to Wall Street, customers, partners, employees, government bodies, shareholders, the press and plenty of other constituencies. Charisma, schmooze, speed and smarts need to be part of the make-up of the individual who ends up steering the 130,000-or-so (post-Nokia acquisition) company in its next phase. 

I don't know who that person is. I don't feel confident enough in the opinions of any of my contacts to hazard a guess. But I do know that the sooner the search committee can name him/her, the better. Meetings with potential candidates started three or four years ago, according to Ballmer, and the search committee was supposedly well on its way toward narrowing down its list back in August.

Topics: Steve Ballmer: The Exit Interview, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Microsoft CEO survivor: Maritz is off the island

    Mullaly is off the island, too, leaving the current outsider ranks very thin, indeed.
    • Mulally

      Hi, Roger. Until Mulally or Ford actually says he is not in the running, I don't consider him off the island. The way they are phrasing their responses when asked still leaves the possibility he could take the job (in my opinion and others like Sherlund). MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • Do the math

        If Mulally is going be at Ford through to the end of 2014, and Ballmer is going to be retiring well before the end of 2014, it is highly unlikely that Mulally will be the candidate.

        I'm still for Elop: provided he is not going to make the bone headed decision to chuck Xbox and Bing - which the enemies of MS, and some short term investors would love for him to do.
        P. Douglas
        • Bing dismissal only makes MS stronger.

          XBone, not so sure of. They finally started making enough to buy everyone lunch once a month after 5 years of red ink in the hundreds of millions.

          If XBone can pay for their lunches then at least it's better than WinPho and SurfaceRT.
          • Bing is the AI behind much of the core enterprise products as well as the

            consumer ones. Cutting off Bing would negatively impact all of MS. It's only a money loser on paper because it doesn't get rev share from all those products. Bing is not just web search. Only those that don't understand it's cross product importance want it cut loose.
            Johnny Vegas
          • Yup, Bing acts to vacuum up the world's knowledge for use in MSFT products

            I don't see it going away. In any case, the world needs a Google competitor and I can't imagine anyone else stepping up. The cost of setting up a search infrastructure and taking on Google would be formidable (just ask the guy who reports the Bing numbers to Ballmer each month).
          • Since 2007 Microsoft has become unnecessary

            We don't need Microsoft no more. It's just a Neanderthal.
        • 2014

          Arrangements can be made. Microsoft could buy out the remainder of Mulally's contract at Ford if it wanted. Ford would be foolish to try and hold a CEO who wanted to leave with a piece of paper for a few months.

          My opinion (worth two pennies if I'm lucky) is it will be Mulally as he seems to have a good track record at getting a big enterprise to change direction. Age would be the concern, but it is only that, a concern and not a veto.
    • Pray it be so

      I hope BillG makes sure they get someone who is passionate about technology more than about making as much money as possible. Let's build great products first, and Microsoft will make enough money to keep that going. The theory that the only stakeholders that matter are the stock owners and that the technology industry who has invested learning, strategy, and passion in Microsoft's products doesn't matter as much is idiotic.
  • RE: Your next-to-last paragraph

    You forgot "walk on water", MJ.
    • Huh?

      Ballmer did precious few of the mentioned things. Can't hardly walk on land!
  • I think a "Manager" would be a disaster for Microsoft

    MS is facing ever increasing competition, but not in the traditional sales sense. It's in the "vision" sense. Change in the computing world is accelerating its rate of acceleration - aka "jerk" in technical terms - as never before.

    I'm sure Mulally is a fine CEO in the traditional sense, but he's older and comes from a different culture. And don't listen to Wall Street, they know nothing about running a company like MS, Apple, or Google. There would be no quicker way to destroy any of these companies than to try and please them.

    MS needs a technical visionary whose vision is aligned with the direction they are already going in with an eye on what course corrections are going to be needed in the future. Ballmer actually hasn't done a bad job of steering the MS behemoth through some pretty treacherous waters towards open sea. Contrast him to the revolving door of CEOs at HP and the epic fail of Blackberry. They can't rest though because it's not going to get any easier. I fear that's what Apple is doing right now because they sure seem to be stalled.
    Sir Name
    • Sadly... Microsoft needs to be broken up now more than ever.

      Microsoft has gotten far too big for their britches and needs to be broken into devices/OS/Entertainment/Productivity so that each can aggressively work the market. They are not doing so hot trying to compete with Apple much like Apple didn't do so hot when trying to compete with Microsoft.
      • re:

        Wrong. That's exactly the kind of short term thinking that they don't need. MS is working towards having a single rich programming model, toolset, app store, and third party developer community that stretches from smart phones to tablets to entertainment consoles to desktops/laptops to servers to the cloud. An all encompassing ecosystem that is easily accessible to third party developers and hardware vendors. That goal is attainable, close, and no other vendor even comes close to having achieved it. Focusing on short term profits by divestiture to please Wall Street would destroy that and be just plain dumb.
        Sir Name
    • Great Post Sir Name

      You nailed it.
      Luke Skywalker
    • Agree with Sir Name

      That's exactly why the Chief Software Architect role needs to be filled ASAP. Admittedly, filling Gates' shoes is much harder than filling Ballmer's shoes, but my point is that it's almost impossible to find a good visionary who's also a good CEO/manager... and a company this size needs both.
      • re:

        If MS is going to split the chief architect/technical visionary role from the CEO, the people occupying the two offices have got to be on the same page. The typical Wall Street division of labor would be to have the CEO deciding on the direction and the chief architect making sure there was an architecture that went that way. That method of doing things didn't get Microsoft or Apple where they are today. In their cases, the chief architect/technical visionary determined where they were going and the CEO aligned the business towards that. When the two roles aren't on the same page, it can be disastrous. Think Steve Jobs and John Scully. When they are, it can be great. Think Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. The relative maturity of the computing industry is still very far from that of the automobile industry. As long as it is, technical leadership is more important than traditional business leadership.
        Sir Name
  • A Visionary is what I think MS needs.

    They need someone to keep all products on the same page across divisions. That means the Windows Core on all versions of Windows, Windows APIs across all sku's. All services supported by all relevant products and new features to services implemented across all products at about the same time.

    This has to happen or people have a maze to follow trying to figure out what version of every product is needed to the get the features they want. The whole Windows ecosystem needs to have that stability. However, I think there needs to be one important exception to this. The rollout pace for commercial needs to have less versions and the consumer needs rapid rollouts.

    Maybe MS just needs to only allow specific releases of products to be available for commercial licenses. That keeps all sku's on the same cadence while allowing MS to develop all sku's at the same time.
  • Mike Cox

    Some say Mike Cox is in the running. I say, good, hope he gets it!
    • Mike Cox's Rep is actually in the running

      Mike Cox wouldn't know what to do without his MS Rep leading the way.