Microsoft Closer to Choosing New CEO, Ford's Mulally Bows Out

Microsoft is getting closer to naming a new CEO as the automaker's chief executive definitively pulls out of the CEO race.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally is no longer a frontrunner in Microsoft's search for a CEO to replace departing Steve Ballmer.

Mulally told the Associated Press in a Jan. 7 interview that he "would like to end the Microsoft speculation." Shutting down the possibility of heading up the software giant, he added, "I have no other plans to do anything other than serve Ford.

"You don't have to worry about me leaving," he told the news organization.

After Ballmer announced his impending retirement as Microsoft CEO on Aug. 23, 2013, Mulally emerged as a high-profile frontrunner for the position. Other candidates include the company's cloud computing and enterprise software head Satya Nadella and Stephen Elop, former CEO of Nokia. Microsoft is currently in the midst of acquiring Nokia's hardware and services unit in a deal valued at $7.1 billion.

Microsoft, meanwhile, remains secretive. A spokesman told the AP, "Out of respect for the process and the potential candidates, we don't comment on individual names."

The AP interview ends one of the biggest controversies surrounding the CEO selection process at Microsoft.

No More 'Will He or Won't He?'

Mulally gripped the media's attention for months after it was revealed that he was in contention for the CEO spot at Microsoft. His vague statements to the press regarding his candidacy not only raised a big question mark over the entire selection process, but it also caused waves at Ford.

Businessweek reported on Dec. 16 that Mulally's refusal to set the record straight "threatens to overshadow car introductions at Ford Motor Co. and raises the risk of internal strife among his deputies at the automaker."

Armed with insider information, Edsel Ford II, board director at Ford and great-grandson of the car maker's legendary founder, predicted that Mulally would stay put. He told Bloomberg on Dec. 5 that Mulally "is staying through the end of 2014 and that's all I know."

Ford's board of directors was under the same impression. "Frankly, he has told us that his plan is to stay with Ford through the end of 2014," added Edsel Ford II.

With Mulally out of the running, Microsoft's candidate pool has shrunk. The software titan "is closer to naming a new chief executive, according to a source familiar with the board's thinking," reported Reuters. "Sources familiar with the process have told Reuters that Microsoft is down to a 'handful' of candidates, including one or more outsiders from the tech industry," namely Elop, Nadella and Tony Bates, former CEO of Skype, also a Microsoft acquisition.

Microsoft's efforts to find Ballmer's successor are expected to end early this year, according to Microsoft Director and chair of the search committee John W. Thompson, well ahead of the 12-month deadline Ballmer set for his departure. "We're moving ahead well, and I expect we'll complete our work in the early part of 2014," said Thompson in a Dec. 17 statement.

"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."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...