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

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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.


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