Microsoft admits: We WON'T pick the next Steve Ballmer this year

More than 100 candidates for CEO slot considered ... and counting


Microsoft's board of directors will need more time to choose a successor for outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer, the company said on Tuesday.

The board has been on the hunt for a new chief exec ever since Ballmer announced his plan to retire "within the next 12 months" in August, and it now looks as though the search will continue into next year.

"We're moving ahead well, and I expect we'll complete our work in the early part of 2014," board member John Thompson wrote in a post to the official Microsoft blog.

According to Thompson, the four-man special committee formed for the task first identified more than 100 possible candidates from both within the company and without. They then whittled that list down to around 20 that deserved special scrutiny, eventually bringing some before the full board. But no decision has been made yet, and the board no longer expects to name its final choice before the end of the year.

"At our shareholder meeting in November, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates provided an update on our search process," Thompson wrote. "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."

Plenty of candidates have been suggested for the role, and El Reg naturally has its own opinions on the matter. But although a few names, in particular, keep popping up, no clear frontrunner has emerged.

For a while, current Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally seemed the most likely choice. But that bubble burst earlier this month when Ford board member Edsel Ford II told the press that Mulally will remain with the automaker through the end of 2014, at least.

Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft exec who is returning to the company as part of its acquisition of Nokia's handset division, is another oft-cited prospect. But given how poorly Nokia's phone business performed under Elop's tenure as CEO, Microsoft's board might be (rightfully) nervous about handing him the reins in Redmond.

Another names much speculated about include Tony Bates, a British-born Microsoft exec who previously served as president of the company's Skype division, and Satya Nadella, the executive VP now in charge of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group.

Whoever does get the final nod is sure to be watched closely by both Ballmer and Microsoft founder Bill Gates – the only two men ever to have held the CEO role in the company's 38-year history – both of whom plan to remain on the company's board following Ballmer's transition.

Just what Thompson means by "the early part of 2014," however, is open to speculation. But with any luck, it's possible we might see a brand-new keynote speaker at Microsoft's annual Build developer conference, which is due to kick off on April 2 in San Francisco. ®

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