Microsoft's next CEO: Who's on the short list?

Microsoft's next CEO: Who's on the short list?

Summary: Microsoft is beginning its search for a successor to CEO Steve Ballmer. Here's who might be on the internal short list of possible candidates.

TOPICS: Microsoft

Microsoft is starting a formal search process for its next CEO, following the news that Steve Ballmer will be retiring from that role within the next 12 months.


So who is likely to be on the short list? No doubt there will be both internal and external candidates. I don't know who might be considered outside the company, but I can tell the names that have been mentioned as internal possibilities.

Back in January, in fact, I wrote an article for Redmond Magazine on this very topic. That was before Microsoft's latest major reorg, which created a new senior leadership team.

With that in mind, here's who I'd think is on an internal short list:

COO Kevin Turner: Turner was at one point seen as a Ballmer-backed shoo-in for the next Microsoft CEO. He's not too popular with Microsoft employees, but bean counters seldom are. Turner just lost power in the recent reorg, so I am thinking he's an unlikely pick.

Executive VP of Marketing Tami Reller: Reller joined Microsoft back in 2001, when Microsoft bought Great Plains Software, where she had worked since 1984. She moved to the Windows team in 2007 to run business and marketing strategy for Windows and Windows devices.

Executive VP Tony Bates: Bates joined Microsoft as part of the Skype acquisition, and became president of the Skype Division. With the recent reorg, Bates gained power and became the head of business development and evangelism for the company. Before working at Skype, Bates was a GM of the Cisco Enterprise, Commercial and Small Business group. The Microsoft CEO needs to be a Jack (or Jill) of all enterprise and consumer trades, these days. If I were a betting woman, I'd say Bates is a very strong contender for CEO.

Executive VP Satya Nadella: Nadella has worked across quite a variety of business units at the company. He's currently the president of the Server and Tools Business. Before that, he was senior VP of R&D for the Online Services Division (Bing, MSN and advertising). And before that, he led the Microsoft Business Solutions unit (Dynamics ERP and Dynamics CRM). His most recent job is heading up the engineering group for cloud and enterprise. Nadella definitely has cross-unit knowledge.

A couple of former Softies who some believe also could be in the running:

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop: When Elop moved from president of the Microsoft Business Division in 2010 to join Nokia as CEO, some joked he might be a Trojan horse. The speculation -- some idle, some serious -- was that Elop went to Nokia at Ballmer's and the board's behest to turn Nokia into Microsoft's new Windows Phone headquarters.

Former Windows Chief Steven Sinofsky: The former Windows president left Microsoft suddenly in November 2012 -- many believe not of his own volition, in spite of public statements to the contrary. Sinofsky recently announced he'd be joining Andreesen Horowitz as a board partner. Sinofsky still has fans inside the company, but I seriously doubt he'll be making a Steve Jobs' style comeback to run the whole shebang.

Former Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson: Johnson just recently retired as Juniper Networks CEO. Before joining Juniper, Johnson ran Platforms and Services for Microsoft. He retired from that role at Microsoft back in 2008; at the time, it wasn't clear whether his departure was voluntary.

Any guesses about current or former Softies who might be the next Microsoft CEO? While lining up your picks, it's worth remembering that Microsoft is not a place where many "outsiders" have come in and managed to stay and succeed....

Oh -- and one more thing. Bill Gates is not coming back. Nope. Not happening. Save your pixels.


Topic: 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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  • Triumphant Return for Bill G?

    Bring back Bill Gates!
    • Bill G the second?

      What abou Scott Guthrie? He's the most Gates-a-like candidate, and the job he's done on Azure since he took over has been breathtaking.
      • Scott's the Man

        That's right. Let's get Scott Guthrie. Microsoft is a developer company, and those are his roots. At the same time, he's done plenty lately that gives him a wider view, too.
        • It’s time for a reasonable but a visionary younger fellow.

          Microsoft needs someone who can understand was has changed in the last 10 years and also the changes to come. Microsoft dominated completely the Offline era of computing but now that everything is mobile, online or clouded they are not doing as well.

          There are key assets for MS. Products like SQL Server, Xbox, Azure, Office and are some of the greatest out there. However Things are moving fast and MS need to focus and rethink some of its key products. We are moving to NoSQL type database, Xbox future is unclear and Azure must get lighter. Office is on the right path however. Microsoft needs simple to use software to create Windows/Phone apps. Drag and drop data binding, code scaffolding, Full WYSIWYG app design. For now, for non-coders, it’s complicated.

          Other MS products are in bad shape. Windows isn’t doing well and it is their main source of revenues. It has to become lighter and more versatile. They are on the way of making a completely universal kernel for all platform but we’ll see when they have something completed. They need an online version that can run remotely and beamed on various devises. The UI would change based on the device. One remote OS, many UI depending on the devise. Bing is not doing bad but it is not doing anything about the Google’s market share. Visual Studio is good but MS should make it usable to create apps for any platform using any language. Microsoft Dynamics could also do a lot better.

          Microsoft needs to address the Surface Issue. The RT is underpowered and the Pro is overpowered for a tablet. I own an RT and I love it but I work in IT so I was able to get around the rough edges. My mother could not… so she bought an iPad and she made the right choice. If they are to produce tablets, the need to make them fully operational right out of the box. You turn it on, enter your credential and boom! It works. The Surface Pro is sold as a tablet. It’s clearly not. It’s too heavy, the battery runs dead in a blink of an eye and using the desktop such a small screen makes no sense.

          The new guy will have his hands full. They need a reasonable guy so he can make these changes at a rate that can be managed by the vise-presidents and the people under them. He will have to be pushy… but not too much.
          • Frankly..they need to ditch Dynamics.

            Great Plains, Navision, etc. They are an OS/development company. They have no knowledge of ERP, logistics and warehouse managements, etc. Time for them to find a different avenue into the enterprise market instead of this direction.
            The Danger is Microsoft
          • Of course they have knowledge of these things

            I've known some of these people since 2003. Microsoft knows the ERP market inside, outside, backwards, and sideways... and their ability to tightly couple with SQL Server makes for strong performing systems. Plus, they have a partner ecosystem that would make SAP or Oracle green with envy.
          • That's the thing, Mac_PC_FenceSitter

            many of those poster forget that Microsoft is a business, and has the exact same business needs as someone making a phone or a car tire, so they would have plenty of knowledge about those subjects.

            they are a multination business, so it's safe at say they know exactly what small and multinational businesses need in terms of software.
            William Farrel
          • Seriously?

            That makes no sense whatsoever.
            Raymond Casey
          • You obviously know little about Dynamics, or business

            So you're saying that an ERP, logistics and warehouse management company can hire software workers to make software for those businesses, but a software company can't hire people with ERP, logistics and warehouse management experience to make software for those companies.

            Better for you to have stayed quiet on that one.
            William Farrel
          • So who's the biggest idiot up above

            You'll have your answer then.
          • well...

            ...directly above this post If you're post made any sort of sense, I'd congratulate you on your new position, but alas...just more illogical drive. You can't even keep your own fantasies cohesive. Consider...

            According to you, Ballmer decision to leave was not his own, which you mean to imply that the MS board were dissatisfied with his performance and because he was an idiot. And then here, you expect this same group to appoint more incompetence. I started to say, "according to your logic", but that insults the term. Let's just say that your sequence of neural processes has a decidedly circular pattern.
          • well...

            I posted before you, not to mention I was referring to the list of names in the article. Or do you have a reading comprehension problem or what...

            And yes, I do expect more incompetence. That typically happens to monopolies that rely on their past momentum to get them by, as long as their stockholders are happy. HP is a great example of this.

            When you have 90% of the PC market out there, you can afford to coast on mediocrity.
          • I know fully understood what you implied, but..

            ...if you're allowed to make wildly fantastic leaps of logic, I figure I'm allowed some "artistic merit" of my own.

            So - to boil down your logic to even more basic terms - the board is smart enough to find Ballmer incompetent, but not smart enough to avoid putting in another incompetent.

            Got it - it can be nothing short of divine miracle that they've been around for decades already and made billions. Thanks for setting us straight. But who am I to look to question God/Jaweh/Flying Spaghetti Monster/Deity of your choice. If he/she/it supports MS, I guess that's good enough for me.
          • Re: I know fully understood what you implied, but..

            No you don't. I had to tell you that since you're off in some la-la land pretending to know what's going on here. Jaweh? Flying Spaghetti Monster?


            Incompetence breeds incompetence and I don't see much of a change there. Entrenched monopolies have a habit of playing it safe and doing it that way since they don't want to rock the boat with their stockholders.

            It's only big deal when the fanboys and shills have a new idiot at the helm. Same idiot, different clothes.
          • Of course, it never dawned on you...

   look up "Jaweh" or "Flying Spaghetti Monster" before you "lol", did it? Which just illustrates that you have don't have the required curious intellect to speak intelligently. I was going to say "speak intelligently about this topic", but I think the period is in the right place in hindsight.

            Entrenched monopoly, you say? Playing it safe? Uh huh - so the fact that mobile is challenging desktop on multiple fronts doesn't count now, or that PC sales have dramatically slumped? That sure sounds encouraging and no cause for alarm. And Win8 is the epitome of playing it safe, yep.

            Keep digging, CavalierAttitude, keep digging.
          • your vs you're

            your = possesive it is your turn
            you're contractionof you are so in your post above it makes no sense to say "if you're post" ("if you are postmade any sense") yours doesn't either.
          • Trolling...

            I would hope that ZDNet someday will elect to stop anonymous banter and filter out the unprofessional trash talk. Ah alas, welcome to the internet ver 4.0, freedom to spew garbage and be protected. To post whatever you want anonymously about real people, products and companies (happens to me all the time), as cantankerous, scornful, and spiteful trolls. To anonymously use a simple free console app, or automated/scripted SEO/LInk builder tool to conjure up a Google top 10 hate list about people, products or companies. It is glorious how far we have come... And oh my, just opened myself up for more anonymous assaults. What was the topic again? Who will run Microsoft next, or how everything just sucks?
            Raymond Casey
          • vise vs vice

            vise=a thing to hold your boards, lawnmower blade etc. at your workbench
            vice in this context=sub president, not the going to the bars with a hooker etc.
            Microsoft needs to be able to take something and run with it and if they hit a wall, to pick themselves up and go a different direction.
      • No more Gates

        Microsoft doesn't need another Bill Gates. He was a mediocre engineer with zero foresight. His questionable business practices and just dumb luck won't do it in the future. Microsoft needs a hard-edged visionary who isn't afraid to cut the distractions. Microsoft needs to make things that people love. They almost did that with the Xbox and they'll need some magic to do it again.
        • "They almost did that with the Xbox"

          are you suggesting that the reason xbox has become the most popular gaming console is simply that people hate it less than the competition?