Who will replace Steve Ballmer? A shortlist of reported frontrunners appears

Tony Bates, Stephen Elop, Alan Mulally: all familiar names to those following the Microsoft CEO succession race. And all apparently are favorites who have moved through to the playoffs, as it were, to replace outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer.

Reuters reported Wednesday that the shortlist of external candidates for the top spot has been narrowed to five. The wire wasn’t able to unearth all of the names on the list, but Elop (shown above), who is the former head of Nokia , and Mulally, who is the president and CEO of the Ford Motor Company, both made the cut.

A possibly separate list also names several candidates from within Microsoft: former Skype chief Tony Bates and Satya Nadella, the executive vice president in charge of the Cloud and Enterprise Group, Reuters added.

Background

In August, Ballmer unexpectedly said that he would step down within 12 months, starting the clock on a fevered succession process that is expected to be completed as quickly as possible, but after a healthy dose of due diligence. Much has been made on whether or not Microsoft needs to promote from within and rewared an executive familiar with Microsoft’s products and strategies, or name an external candidate with a fresh perspective.

“There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Ballmer said in a Microsoft press release at the time. “We have embarked on a new strategy with a new organization, and we have an amazing senior leadership team. My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our company’s transformation to a devices-and-services company. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction.”

Ballmer has already set in place a new strategy that emphasizes devices and services, and reorganized the company to share technologies among its different business units. Whether Microsoft will continue that direction is unclear.

Reuters didn’t shed any light on which way Microsoft is leaning. But apparently progress is being made, which is a postive step for the company at the moment.

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