By Jennifer LeClaire / CIO Today. Updated December 18, 2013.
The chatter about Microsoft’s next CEO -- and specifically who that will be -- just won’t die down, especially as candidates on Redmond’s short list are publicly declining the job. Now, John W. Thompson, a member of Microsoft’s board of directors, is offering some answers, sort of.
In a blog post, Thompson looked back to Aug. 23. That’s the date Microsoft announced that its current CEO, Steve Ballmer, would be retiring within 12 months and the board of directors was launching a search for a replacement. Microsoft said it would look both internally and externally.
“Since then, we’ve been focused on finding the best possible person to lead the company,” said Thompson, who is also chair of the board’s search committee. “As we approach the end of the calendar year, there has been natural interest in getting an update on where we are in the process.”
Decision in Early 2014
Thompson stopped short of naming any names, which would likely only throw fuel on the speculation fire. But he did say he’s pleased with the company’s progress toward finding a Ballmer replacement. Thompson called the board’s approach thoughtful, and one that the company’s shareholders, customers, partners and employees expect and deserve.
“After defining our criteria, we initially cast a wide net across a number of different industries and skill sets. We identified over 100 possible candidates, talked with several dozen, and then focused our energy intensely on a group of about 20 individuals, all extremely impressive in their own right,” Thompson said. “As you would expect, as this group has narrowed, we’ve done deeper research and investigation, including with the full board. We’re moving ahead well, and I expect we’ll complete our work in the early part of 2014.”
At the same time, Thompson said, Microsoft has continued to drive hard. He pointed to the strong quarterly results announced in October, as well as the release of new versions of Windows and Surface products, and the launch of Xbox One.
Taking Its Time
“At our shareholder meeting in November, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates provided an update on our search process,” Thompson said. “He noted that this is a complex role to fill, involving a complex business model and the ability to lead a highly technical organization and work with top technical talent.”
Thompson concluded reminding industry watchers that Microsoft has had only two CEOs in its 38-year history. The board, he said, is determined and confident that the company’s third CEO will lead Microsoft to renewed and continued success.
We turned to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at The Enderle Group, to get his thoughts on Microsoft’s progress (and prospects) for its next CEO. He told us it’s better for the company to take its time and pointed to HP’s selection of SAP’s Leo Apothoker in September 2010 as a good reason why. He didn’t last a year before HP fired him.
“Microsoft needs a very unique candidate; one that understands the business fundamentals like Ballmer does but has technical capability like [Apple's] Steve Jobs did. The ideal candidate would be a blend of the two men. They are not going to get that but they are going to try to get as close as they can and that’s making it difficult,” Enderle said.
“Some of the folks have taken themselves out of the running like Ford’s Alan Mulally. There’s also that problem that, given the complexity of the job, this would be their last role as CEO. So the very smartest and most capable folks may decide they are doing fine where they are and aren’t quite ready to retire yet," he added.