Another day, another update on the long-running Microsoft CEO search, which has become what can charitably be called a soap opera, albeit one that is, hopefully, winding down. The drama, which kicked off in August when CEO Steve Ballmer said he would step down within a year has been characterized by a series of what seem to be carefully placed leaks — some apparently from the Ballmer camp (Ford CEO Alan Mulally had to be Ballmer’s pick as successor) and insider Satya Nadella, (who seems to be Bill Gates’ guy.)
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal, (registration required) reported that the board’s search committee, headed by director John Thompson, has recommended Nadella as CEO. Nadella told the committee he would need Gates to play a bigger role to help him “be successful” as CEO, according to an unnamed source.
The storyline appears to be that Nadella, a 22-year Microsoft veteran, is the guy, although one report last week raised Google Senior Vice President Sundar Pichai as a surprise outsider candidate. Company insiders and former Microsoft executives discounted the notion, raised last week, that Gates will step down from the board or that the board could force that move.
Whoever gets the nod as CEO, this is obviously a big change for Microsoft which has had two CEOs in its 39 year history. And, one insider pointed to the increasing influence at the company of top executives from outside the U.S. including Nadella, Harry Shum, executive vice president of technology and research; Qi Lu, executive vice president of applications and services; as well as a couple of key women (!) Jeanette Wing, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, and Amy Hood, CFO, as a signal perhaps that Microsoft will no longer be run by “middle-aged white guys,” as one Microsoft insider put it.
Hood’s performance on Microsoft’s most recent earnings call seems to have eased some analysts’ concerns about a potential Nadella stewardship of Microsoft. The thinking is that Nadella has the technical chops to be CEO but is still a bit green overall and could use help on the business side.
Nomura Securities analyst Rick Sherlund, who has been vocal about the need for change at the top of Microsoft to boost shareholder value, had been advocating a pairing of a business-focused CEO (perhaps Mulally) with a technically-minded executive partner (Nadella or perhaps former Microsoft exec Paul Maritz) now seems to feel that Hood will fill the bill on the business side.
Last week in a research note, Sherlund wrote:
“We think new CFO Amy Hood is very operationally focused, very bright and capable of managing costs and taking steps along with Mr. Nadella to both fix the business and enhance shareholder value. We want them to be free to do so; it may just take longer than with one of the outside candidates to change the thinking of the Board in how they regard the creation of shareholder value.”