Playing Next-Microsoft-CEO Bingo

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The War For Your Wrist

The small, insular and inbred world of Microsoft watchers is on something of a hold at the moment, as we wait with breath partially bated to see who will run the company next. Each of us in this small cabal of journalists and writers – guess which I am – has a vested interest in who gets picked: If it’s someone we know, we might get more and better access, and will at least have personal experience to lean on.

Naturally, given the competitive nature of writing, the better off Tom is, the worse off myself and Peter and Ed might be. However, that’s all piffle of a sort because none of us own meaningful amounts of Microsoft stock (I have none to my knowledge, if you were curious).

Still, our job as commentators and critics of the company means that we spend far too much time over morning coffees, showers, and late-night drinks discussing its various functions and assets and foibles, mistakes, and strategic mishaps. It’s not all Scroogled, just as it is not all Azure, and so forth.

Here’s the question we should answer: Do we know who the next Microsoft CEO should be? Like hell we do. The excellent and unswerving Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet wrote as much the other day:

I’ve stayed away from speculating on who might or should become Microsoft’s next CEO for a variety of reasons.

On the “should” front, I haven’t been part of the speculation pool because… what do I know?

The issue with that sentiment is that if we don’t comment, we’ll only hear from analysts with as much wits as they have billable hours, which doesn’t help in the slightest. So, we must forge ahead with context-setting in anticipation of who might be the next Microsoft CEO, even if we have to do so firmly in the mindset that we’re dealing with black magic. No one knows what might happen in the technology market in one, let alone 10, years so any choice as to who should run one of technology’s leaders is incredibly touch and feel. Not scientific.

Microsoft’s board is contending with such issues at the moment.

There are signals that we can lean on. Any candidate for the role should be incredibly intelligent, personable at least to an extent, steeped in experience running large enterprises, and have a vision – fully formed or not – of where the company should be in a decade.

Here is Bill Gates on the requirements list:

(I)t’s a complex role to fill, a lot of different skills, experience, and capabilities that we need. It’s a complex global business that the new CEO will have to lead. And they will have to drive across fundamental transitions to create new growth and to attract and manage top talent. “We will have to build on our strengths while addressing areas that we have got weaknesses or challenges. The person has to have a lot of comfort in leading a highly technical organization and have an ability to work with our top technical talent to seize the opportunities.

 And here’s Mary Jo Foley, again, on the same question:

Whoever the next CEO is, that person needs to know how to talk to Wall Street, customers, partners, employees, government bodies, shareholders, the press and plenty of other constituencies. Charisma, schmooze, speed and smarts need to be part of the make-up of the individual who ends up steering the 130,000-or-so (post-Nokia acquisition) company in its next phase.

So, while I think it’s important to keep in mind the larger issue that we in the public lack the same access that Microsoft’s board does to candidates, it remains in our orbit and ability to vet the potential list such as it is, and make value judgements.

We can grok the difference between Harriet Miers and Terry Myerson, essentially.

Since Mulally is now all but off the table (provided that Ford’s heir isn’t off his rocker), Satya Nadella could be called the real frontrunner. Or Elop. Or Bates. But not Maritz, it seems. It has been said that Microsoft’s board wants to have a new leader in place by the end of the year. If that is true, we’ll know in darn short order.

And when we do, investors, the public and, yes, the media, will judge the decision as best we can. I’m hardly the world’s most intelligent filter, but I’ll do my best. I encourage you to have a strong opinion in the matter. Simply kvetching after Microsoft makes a choice isn’t enough. You should be loud now.

The next Microsoft CEO will probably, potential incompetence aside, sit in the chair for a decade. In its most recent quarter, Microsoft had $18.5 billion in revenue, and net income of $6.3 billion (GAAP). Ten years of that top and bottom line means that the next Microsoft CEO will oversee $740 billion in revenue, and $252 billion in profits. That’s if the company doesn’t grow an inch, which isn’t likely.

So, play Next CEO Bingo with caution, but play all the same. This comet won’t come around again for quite some time.

Top Image Credit: Flickr