So What If Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer Just Quit One Day? Succession Planning At Microsoft

So all the Steve Ballmer bashing got me thinking the other day, if he just up and left, who would be the natural replacement for him?

When you get past all the hateful rhetoric and some of the deep and fairly valid criticism, Mr. Ballmer’s job is a pretty extraordinary one and since he has done this job for so long, he is a very impressive man.

Microsoft (MSFT) is a multinational company, is the world’s largest software maker, had revenues of 73.72 Billion in 2012, has approximately 97,000 employees, assets of $121 Billion in 3012 and a market capitalization of 286 Billion dollars.

Those numbers have to be pretty intimidating for anyone to handle andyou have to respect Steve Ballmer for being able to hold on to the reins of this beast for so long.

That only makes it more urgent to try and figure out, if Steve Ballmer suddenly left the scene, who would be in line to replace him?

Luckily my friend at ZDNet Mary Jo Foley had taken a crack at this question a while ago and had some names for us to ponder.

Let’s walk through some names:

Current non-executive Chairman Bill Gates

Do we need a bio at this point? We all know Bill.

  • The Pros: Bill would be the number one person to step back in temporarily while the search for someone permanent happened. His presence would calm the markets immediately.
  • The Cons He has expressed zero interest in wanting the top job back. He wants to do big and great things with the money but has no interest in running a behemoth again – been there done that.
  • My Gut – Been there done that. Not happening.

COO Kevin Turner

From his bio at Microsoft:

As Microsoft’s chief operating officer, Kevin Turner is responsible for the strategic and operational leadership of Microsoft’s worldwide sales, marketing, and services organization. Turner leads a global organization of over 47,000 employees, including field sales and marketing professionals who delivered US$77 billion in revenue during fiscal 2012.

In addition to driving sales and marketing programs, Turner manages the online advertising sales organization and corporate support organizations, including product and customer support services, branding, advertising, public relations, marketing research and relationship marketing.

Turner also oversees corporate operations and internal Information Technology that support the work of Microsoft’s over 90,000 plus employees around the world.

Impressive bio indeed.

  • The pros for Mr.Turner are the fact that he has had a very similar job to the CEO and pretty much knows how to run the place in a pinch.
  • The cons are that he was hired in 2005 which makes him (in Microsoft exec terms) relatively new. He also doesn’t really have a big personality and he also doesn’t seem like a software enthusiast or techie.
  • My gut says that he might be another person to step in temporarily but not full time but because he’s not a big software visionary (even though he was CIO at Walmart). He mostly seems to have a talent for keeping things running smoothly.

Windows CFO and Chief Marketing Officer Tami Reller

From her bio at Microsoft:

Tami Reller leads business and marketing strategy for the Windows business. As chief marketing officer and chief financial officer of the division, Reller is responsible for the business operations, financial performance and global marketing of all international releases of Windows, Internet Explorer, Windows Services and Surface.

  • The pros for Tami Reller are the fact that she is a woman (it would be a great move for the company), has been there since 2001 and is responsible for the marketing and business operations of the most popular software in the world – Windows.
  • The cons are Microsoft is a lot bigger than Windows, she doesn’t have a big personality and she also doesn’t seem like a software enthusiast/techie.
  • My gut says that she’s probably not the one and based on the fact that she got passed over for the top company CFO job , it seems like she has to fix Windows 8 first before anything else huge is on her plate at Microsoft.

Former President of the Windows Divison Steven Sinofsky

I actually thought he was the natural choice for this job 2 years ago and wrote about that here.

He started at Microsoft in 1989 and was there for 23 years. He ran a whole bunch of software for Microsoft including:

  • Microsoft Foundation Classes C++ library for Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Visual C++.
  • Microsoft Office 95
  • Microsoft Office 97
  • Microsoft Office 2003
  • Microsoft Office 2007
  • Microsoft Office XP
  • Microsoft Office 2000
  • Windows Live Wave 3
  • Windows Live Wave 5
  • Internet Explorer 8
  • Internet Explorer 10
  • Windows 7
  • Windows 8

and he has an impressive bio.

  • The pros for Mr. Sinofsky were the fact that he had been there for long enough, was respected technically, was a visionary, had a track record of fixing things and getting things done and really understood the business.
  • The cons were he didn’t seem to play well with others (allegedly) and he left at a very awkward time and in a very awkward manner. In addition fairly or unfairly, he gets saddled with Windows 8.
  • My gut – aint happening. Too much history and drama and this is not Apple where an exec goes into the wilderness and comes back to lead. Microsoft simply doesn’t seem like they will ever be that desperate.

President Server and Tools Business, Microsoft, Satya Nadella

From his bio at Microsoft:

Satya Nadella is president of Microsoft Corporation’s Server and Tools Business (STB), a US$19 billion division that builds and runs the company’s computing platforms, developer tools and cloud services.Nadella and his team deliver the “Cloud OS” – Microsoft’s next generation back-end platform. Designed for computing in the cloud era, the Cloud OS is a rich, consistent platform that spans private, public and service cloud providers and is capable of running at global, multi-datacenter scale.

Today, businesses everywhere depend on the products that make up the Cloud OS to meet their most challenging and critical computing needs, including Windows Server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, System Center and Windows Azure.

  • The pros for Mr.. Nadella are the fact that he is supremely a techie, has been there for 21 years, runs a really profitable area of business for the company and is well respected.
  • The cons are “umm who is he again?”. He has a really low profile and seems to be mostly a technology enthusiast.
  • My gut – aint happening. Not enough visibility and not a big enough and diverse enough profile.

So who do I think will run Microsoft in a pinch?

On paper I think Kevin Turner would be the safe choice but would not be an ideal choice for the future of the company.

Microsoft is a big company that needs a big voice. Someone who will boldly declare where the company is going and make people pay attention. I don’t see that happening with Mr. Turner.

The main problem for succession planning here is that running Microsoft seems to require two skill sets that are almost mutually exclusive.

  1. Enough time spent there to be respected, credibly understand how it runs and the what the culture is;
  2. The ability to be an outsider and think differently and not have spent too much time in the culture.

It’s a very tough dilemma and I’m not sure what the obvious answer is.

What do you all think?

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