Microsoft’s CEO search has become completely ridiculous

Microsoft CEO Search Debacle

If you think there have been a lot of reported “frontrunners” in the search for a new Microsoft CEO, you aren’t mistaken. First we had former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, then we had Ford CEO Alan Mulally, followed by whispers that the company might go with its own enterprise boss Satya Nadella if Mulally turned down the job. Now that Mulally is seemingly out of the running, we’ve started hearing reports that Microsoft is not quite sold on Nadella after all and might look harder for an outside candidate.

Within just the last day, we’ve seen two reports citing anonymous Microsoft insiders claiming that the company was looking at two completely different outsiders as “dark horse” candidates. Unnamed sources told AllThingsD that Microsoft was giving a long look at VMWare CEO Patrick Gelsinger, although these sources expressed skepticism that he’d leave his current company after only being appointed CEO just last year. Then Bloomberg popped up with another report on Thursday evening claiming that the company was leaning toward Qualcomm COO Steve Mollenkopf as its next chief executive.

And now just hours after Bloomberg’s report, StreetInsider brings us word that Qualcomm has promoted Mollenkopf to be its own CEO, which seemingly takes him out of the running for the Microsoft job.

I truly cannot recall a time when a tech company with the prestige and resources of Microsoft had this much trouble finding a new CEO. What’s more, I cannot recall ever seeing a CEO search play out this publicly, with sources within the company leaking potentially damaging information on candidates to cap them off at the knees.

A lot of the trouble seems to stem from the fact that Microsoft lost a lot of executive talent in the years since Ballmer started asserting more control over the company. As we noted earlier this week, starting in 2008 Microsoft lost chief software architect Ray Ozzie, CFO Chris Liddell, Office boss Jeff Raikes, platform and services boss Kevin Johnson, entertainment and devices boss Robbie Bach and server and tools division boss Bob Muglia… all within the span of just two years. Couple this with the departure of Windows boss Steven Sinosfky last year and you have a very thin bench of internal candidates to run the company.

Where the company goes from here really isn’t clear. Although Steve Ballmer has tried to carry out his “One Microsoft” program to bring the company together, the many leaks and behind-the-scenes maneuverings we’re seeing suggest that Microsoft is just as notoriously factionalized as it’s always been. And that alone may be a big reason why the company is having such a hard time finding someone with the experience, knowledge and political skill to make it work.

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