Microsoft is zeroing in on its new chief executive, and the software giant expects to announce the appointment in early 2014, according to Microsoft Director John W. Thompson.
Earlier reports indicated that Microsoft was hoping to find Steve Ballmer's replacement by the end of year. However, with only weeks left until New Year's Day, the chances of installing a new CEO this year are quickly dwindling.
In a surprise announcement, Ballmer revealed on Aug. 23 that he was retiring from Microsoft within 12 months, pending the selection of a new CEO. "There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time," he said in a statement. Referencing this summer's massive "One Microsoft" reorganization effort, he added, "We have embarked on a new strategy with a new organization and we have an amazing Senior Leadership Team."
Four months later, the high-profile search for Microsoft's new CEO has yet to produce a new leader.
Thompson, who sits on Microsoft's board of directors and is chair of the search committee, said his team has been "focused on finding the best possible person to lead the company." Noting that there has been a "natural interest in getting an update on where we are in the process," he revealed that the next CEO will likely be named early next year.
Microsoft has winnowed its candidate pool from over 100 people at the start of the selection process to fewer than 20 now. "We're moving ahead well, and I expect we'll complete our work in the early part of 2014," stated Thompson.
Echoing recent comments from Microsoft co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates, Thompson pointed to the challenge of finding someone qualified to lead a massive, multifaceted tech organization. He said Gates "noted that this is a complex role to fill, involving a complex business model and the ability to lead a highly technical organization and work with top technical talent."
As a fellow member of the selection committee, Gates vowed to be hands-on during the search. "As a member of the succession planning committee, I'll work closely with the other members of the board to identify a great new CEO," Gates remarked following Ballmer's announcement.
Appointing a new CEO isn't a process Microsoft has extensive experience with. "Microsoft has had only two CEOs in its 38-year history," reminded Thompson. "As a Board, we are determined and confident that the company's third CEO will lead Microsoft to renewed and continued success."
Microsoft has been under intense media scrutiny since Ballmer announced that he was stepping down. In recent weeks, attention has turned to frontrunners Alan Mulally, CEO of automaker Ford, and Satya Nadella, Microsoft's cloud and enterprise software lead.
Mulally is reportedly causing waves at Ford for remaining publicly noncommittal about his plans. Despite indications from Edsel Ford II, board director at Ford and a descendant of the company's legendary founder, that Mulally will stay with the car company through 2014—disqualifying him from the position at Microsoft—Ford's leadership is said to be irked that the media spotlight is on Mulally and his career plans, distracting from the company's products.