Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer will retire in 12 months, much to the glee of critics who say he bet Microsoft’s future on the wrong products, failed to have the company ready for the shift to mobile computing, didn’t have a good eye for design, and was a really awkward public speaker. The company’s stock price jumped more than 8 percent on the news of his impending departure, before moderating somewhat in later trading. Before you feel too bad that Ballmer has to suffer this humiliation, remember that he owns 333 million Microsoft (MSFT) shares.
Of course, the lackluster chief executive you know is sometimes better than the alternative, and no one seems to know whom Microsoft will tap to succeed Ballmer. The company just went through a reorganization that seemed designed to make sure no one executive was clearly positioned as Ballmer’s No. 2. He will stay in place while a search committee headed by John Thompson, the company’s lead independent director, looks for a successor.
Bill Gates is a member of the search committee, so get ready to hear his name pointlessly floated as Ballmer’s heir given the lack of an obvious successor waiting in the wings. But more plausible speculation is likely to center on these candidates:
Tony Bates: He’s the executive in charge of Skype, and as of this summer he also manages business development and evangelism for Microsoft. His background includes a stint at Cisco Systems (CSCO).
Stephen Elop: The head of Microsoft’s business division from 2008 until 2010, Elop left to take the chief executive job at Nokia (NOK). The struggling smartphone company has been working with Microsoft on mobile projects, which presumably will be a focus no matter who takes over.
Julie Larson-Green: She was once called Ballmer’s heir apparent, and she came out of the recent management shuffle in charge of Microsoft’s devices division. That means she’s been focused on building phones and tablets as well as working on deals with movie studios and cable operators.
Kevin Johnson: He left Microsoft to run Juniper Networks (JNPR) in 2008 and recently retired from that post. During his 16 years at Microsoft, Johnson ran the company’s online-services group and its Windows division.
Qi Lu: A longtime Yahoo search veteran, Lu worked on Bing for Microsoft and emerged as another winner in this summer’s shakeup. He now heads up apps and services engineering for the company.
Paul Maritz: He rose nearly to the top of Microsoft before leaving 13 years ago, and he currently runs cloud-based startup Pivotal.
Steven Sinofsky: He once ran Windows and was seen as arguably the second-most important person in the company, but he departed suddenly last year amid reports that he didn’t get along with Ballmer. In any case, he just announced that he had taken a job at Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm.
Tami Reller: She has been with Microsoft since the acquisition of of Great Plains Software in 2001. She has held various financial and marketing roles for the company, handling both responsibilities for Windows after Sinofsky’s departure. She now runs marketing for Microsoft.