As Things Look Brighter and Brighter for Microsoft, its CEO Saga Continues - Into Early 2014 We Go

By Tony Rizzo December 19, 2013

Is there a bit (or a great deal) of irony and perhaps some regret on Steve Ballmer’s mind these days? The stock is at $36.38 as we write and has been hanging out in the mid $30s for some time. We’re also beginning to see financial analysts becoming a good deal more bullish on MSFT, and we’ve seen 2014 estimates in the $45 to $60+ range – something we have not seen with Microsoft for literally years. And to top it off as we head into the end of the year the latest reports we’ve seen claim that Microsoft’s Surface 2 tablets are sold out. Or at least the cheaper RT versions are sold out.

We recently tried to acquire one in-store at Best Buy and Staples and online at the same two places as well as J&R and well – we’ve been out of luck. That leads us to ask the question: Is this good news about interest in the Surface and its consumer sppeal or does it simply mean that Microsoft incorrectly calculated its supply chain needs – this time underestimating rather than overestimating? With two full weeks yet to go when we tried to buy one before Christmas arrived, it seems to us that Microsoft may be missing a significant bump up in sales for the final weeks of Q for the final weeks of Q4 2013.

In any case, this newly minted desire on the part of consumers to acquire Surface RTs must be a bittersweet thing for Ballmer. Is he thinking, “Why oh why didn’t they just buy when I still had my job?!” We might very well be thinking exactly that if we were Steve.

So then, with the bump in the stock, with at least some analysts turning bullish and with the Surface tablet beginning to catch on – and let’s not forget that Nokia will soon be adding its own stellar mobile devices to Microsoft’s mix, which we believe will be huge for moving the Windows Phone environment forward – where is Microsoft sitting with their CEO search?

Before we scope that out, it is worth noting one additional point – something that we do not believe might have ever happened if Ballmer were still totally in charge, Microsoft has announced that it will begin providing its Windows Phone OS to device makers and OEMs for free. Let that sink in for a bit. Windows Phone will be free to the device manufacturers. Microsoft has finally woken up that when you have four percent market share the only way to grow is to heavily seed the market for free. Oh if only they had done so back in 2010 it would be a different mix of mobile OS percentages out there – Android would still dominate but with far more modest numbers that the 80+ percent it currently owns.

Look Forward, Not Backward!

OK, so the bottom line here is that the world is full of irony for Ballmer (though it is all of his own doing) but for Microsoft’s next CEO the company appears to already be trending in the right directions. Mobility and mobile hardware is clearly becoming front and center within the company, the existing businesses are firing on all cylinders and delivering tremendous revenue streams, and finally the financial analysts are catching on that Microsoft can turn the corner perhaps and become a true mobile leader.

And yet the company is struggling to find the right CEO to fill the bill. Earlier this week John Thompson, Microsoft’s board member who has been leading the CEO search, noted that we likely won’t hear of a Ballmer replacement until “early in 2014.” That is a vague time period to say the least. What’s going on?

We ourselves are absolutely convinced that Alan Mulally is the right next CEO for Microsoft, for all of the reasons we’ve noted elsewhere. We are also convinced that Satya Nadella – regardless of his efforts in successfully driving Microsoft’s cloud businesses (among other things) forward – is not the right person to lead Microsoft into the 20s and beyond. Why?

We’re convinced that Nadella will lean to the old Microsoft first and will lean in that direction as well to build out his senior management team, which (regardless of who the CEO ends up being) we hope would include the company’s next CEO in the mix. We absolutely do not like the idea of an old Microsoft leaning CEO bringing in old Microsoft leadership and an old Microsoft heir to the CEO throne. The mobility and device teams would get short shrift under such a scenario and this would mean not a vibrant and dynamic Microsoft but yet another version of the old, reliable, hugely profitable yet strangely uninspiring – just as has been over the entire last decade.

Bill Gates is also rumored to be more heavily involved in the search and Gates of course is going to lean to the technically savvy, which may give Nadella a Gates vote and thumbs down from Gates on Mulally. What a huge mistake that would be! We’ve wondered elsewhere if Gates should have a large say in who should be Microsoft’s next CEO – our feeling is he shouldn’t have an overwhelming say in the matter. One equal vote and nothing more.

By the way, did anyone note the hilarious scenario that took place last week when the name of Qualcomm’s COO, Steve Mollenkopf, popped up as a possible favorite candidate for the position? No sooner did Mollenkopf’s name pop up than Qualcomm moved with amazing speed to move Mollenkopf immediately into the role of Qualcomm CEO. Almost an overnight move (though no doubt the promotion had been in the works for a long time). But this is what we want Microsoft to be able to do going forward – be in a position to name a hugely qualified successor once the next CEO’s time to move on arrives.

There are rumors that Mulally won’t (or can’t) leave Ford until 2014 is over. Can Microsoft wait until the beginning of 2015? A year may seem a long time but it may not really be. Perhaps that is why Thompson is now suggesting that the CEO search won’t be concluded until early in 2014. By then a year may have dissolved into only 8 months or so. Even if Mulally were to continue to move forward with Ford in 2014 there is much that can be done by Mulally to begin putting together his senior team.

And with Mulally the key benefit to bringing him on board is that he will do a great job of taking care of the old Microsoft and all of its revenue streams, while giving primacy to the new Microsoft. We absolutely believe that Mulally, who would not be Microsoft’s CEO for an extended period of time – will immediately begin to put in place a road to a successor – someone not from old school Microsoft who can spend three or four years working into the role.

Ballmer was notorious for killing off any and all such possibilities but we believe Mulally will move Microsoft positively forward here – and this is to us the key to long term success. There are many people outside and inside of Microsoft who can speak the languages of tech and business - Stephen Elop is one of them, but he may not be the ultimate right person – and Mulally needs to determine who will get the nod. We believe Mulally will absolutely get this right.

We’ll end on that note and we’ll cast our vote - Alan Mulally is the name we hope will emerge and the guy we hope will get the nod as we head into early 2014.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

TechZone360 Senior Editor

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