Is Steve Ballmer the best Microsoft CEO candidate?

What if the best CEO for Microsoft turned out to be the one it already has? Ballmer has the experience, guts, and passion to succeed.
Written by Howard Lo, Contributor on

While there was nary a tear shed when Ballmer announced his impending retirement, after three months hearing about proposed CEO candidates, it begs the question, what if Ballmer actually was the best choice?

Aside from his in-depth knowledge of the Microsoft machine, with a record quarter just reported, is Steve's strategy finally paying off? He's shown tenacity, pouring money into Xbox, Bing, and hardware; grown the enterprise business, made some gutsy (and/or insane) acquisitions, and put Microsoft into the fight on many fronts.

Certainly he has his detractors--Microsoft executed poorly on mobile, has a cutthroat internal political culture (stack rank), and has been slow to get its talented technical teams to work together. Perhaps a rebuked and humbled Ballmer would modify his ways.

Microsoft announced their shortlist for candidates; others have summarized the candidates' shortcomings. Here's my take:

  • Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford--Ballmer has been criticized for not being in touch with technology or having a software engineering background. Mulally would be even less-skilled in this area. If half the people reporting to him are technical leads trying to persuade him on where to make his bets, would he be able to process what they're pushing for?
  • Stephen Elop, former CEO of Nokia and former Microsoft vice president--his Microsoft experience is solid and he was a well-liked executive while he was with Microsoft. However, his performance at Nokia was less-than-stellar and became a shell of its former self under Elop's leadership.
  • Tony Bates, executive vice president for business development and evangelism and former CEO of Skype--definitely understands the engineers and seems to have the will that has made Skype slammed into various Microsoft offerings.
  • Satya Nadella, president of server and tools, Microsoft--arguably the best choice; Nadella comes from an engineering and business background, and has managed diverse groups within Microsoft which gives him an ability to connect across disciplines. From the money-losing online division to the cash-generating server and tools business, Nadella will be able to communicate to the stakeholders within those divisions.

But what if they just kept Steve Ballmer? He's grown his executive team to include the above-mentioned talent; he has a reorganization in motion which furthered his strategy and, based on the last quarter's results, seems to be paying off. He also has the distinct experience of having run Microsoft to year after year of strong growth.

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