A Handicapper’s Guide

 
With the announcement that SteveB will depart within the year, there is all kinds of speculation about his successor, much of it ranging between vapid and nutty. There are three classes of candidate:

Internal Candidates

While people are having fun going through every headshot of the Senior Leadership Team as a possible CEO candidate, there really is only one internal candidate. This candidate would be a strong vote for continuity. The next CEO of Microsoft will be in Redmond and won’t be a connoisseur of corndogs.

External Candidates

Microsoft is historically very tough on executives hired from outside and succeeding Steve would be exceptionally challenging. Given Microsoft could have almost anyone, there are not a lot of obvious candidates here. Would love to hear suggestions as I am sure there are some out-of-the-box candidates I have not considered. Gray-faced/gray suited enterprise executives seem unlikely, and especially not anyone who ever worked at HP or IBM (internships should not be disqualifiers).

Alumni Candidates

This is the most interesting category (at least for us alumni ;-). There are a number of names that have been tossed around: KJ, Elop, Sinofsky, Muglia, Gundotra, Maritz. I have a tough time imagining any of them as the next CEO of Microsoft except for Paul. The question is what would it take to get him to do it. And Bill definitely isn’t coming back. It is hard to think of a founder of his stature who has done as good a job of extricating himself from his company as he has.

A few other other thoughts:

  • The most interesting question to me is whether this decision happened over months or weeks. You can infer very different catalysts depending on the timeframe.
  • It is now basically acknowledged there has been no succession plan.
  • The recent reorg, which is batshit crazy, looks even more crazy with Steve out of the picture. Still waiting for someone inside the company to sell, defend or rationalize this move to me.
  • I am still a staunch believer that the best option for the company is to break itself up. With expectations set on a single successor and a year to find that successor, this doesn’t bode well for a breakup. The board in theory could come back with this conclusion before Steve departs after a few disappointing interviews/rejections. But Steve clearly is not an advocate of this approach.
  • With Steve’s fate settled, I expect more eyes turn to John Chambers. Steve became CEO at the top of the dot com market peak in 2000 and subsequently was at the helm as the company lost hundreds of billions in market cap. At the time, he’d lost more market cap than any CEO in history, which was definitely not a badge he wore with pride. After Cisco went on to lose even more market cap, Steve was known to bellow “Thank god for John Chambers”.

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