After Ballmer, What?

The Seattle tech giant has only had two leaders in its 33 years and Bill Gates is still on the board. Ballmer’s decision to retire comes at a time when the company also faces a strategy reset. It followed news of the company’s $7 bn deal acquiring Nokia which in a single stroke turned former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop who is currently Nokia’s CEO from an external candidate to and inside candidate. In a report by the Wall Street Journal’s Don Clark, “some of the most fundamental decisions facing Microsoft already seem settled.” Given that most incoming CEOs normally don’t like to have limited options and prefer a free hand in setting strategy this may turn the job into something of a hard sell.

Microsoft has yet to face the succession questions that challenge most big companies. Founder Bill Gates handpicked Ballmer as his replacement 13 years ago. Gates will be joined on the committee to select a new chief executive by John Thompson, the former CEO of Symantec, Chuck Noski, the former CFO of Bank of America, and Steve Luczo, the CEO of Seagate—all Microsoft board members—with help from executive recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles. Both internal and external candidates will be considered. Some sources say that those outsiders being considered include eBay’s John Donahoe, and even a former board member such as Netflix’s Reed Hastings. Then there’s Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer. Sandberg is the person who has arguably made the biggest impact on Facebook’s growth next to Mark Zuckerberg.

Elop’s chances are far from assured despite sentiment that the deal is the best solution for a mobile-device operation that already relied heavily on Microsoft Windows technology. Not very long ago Finnish investors referred to him as “Stephen Eflop.”

Yet he did run Microsoft’s profitable business division, and is the only executive in the global handset business to exclusively use the Microsoft mobile platform. (Nokia now sells nearly every Windows phone that is sold world-wide.)



Chief Executive magazine (published since 1977) is the definitive source that CEOs turn to for insight and ideas that help increase their effectiveness and grow their business. Chief Executive Group also produces e-newsletters and online content at and manages Chief Executive Network and other executive peer groups, as well as conferences and roundtables that enable top corporate officers to discuss key subjects and share their experiences within a community of peers. Chief Executive facilitates the annual “CEO of the Year,” a prestigious honor bestowed upon an outstanding corporate leader, nominated and selected by a group of peers, and is known throughout the U.S. and elsewhere for its annual ranking of Best & Worst States for Business. Visit for more information.