Microsoft's Next CEO: Big Changes Would Come Under Elop Leadership

As Microsoft's board reportedly mulls a shortlist of potential CEOs, a picture emerges of what the technology giant would look like under Nokia CEO Stephen Elop's rule.

The volume on the buzz surrounding the selection of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's successor, along with the software maker's stock price, has been rising since news surfaced that the company is currently considering a shortlist of potential chief executives with considerable clout. Among them is Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.

Microsoft has reportedly winnowed a list of roughly 40 candidates to about five. They include former Skype CEO Tony Bates, who currently serves as the head of business development and evangelism at Microsoft, and Ford CEO Alan Mulally, considered the frontrunner. Also on the list is Microsoft's enterprise and cloud chief Satya Nadella.

Now, details are emerging of what Elop's tenure as Microsoft CEO, if he is chosen to replace Ballmer, could look like. And his past connections with Redmond offer some clues. In her Nov. 6 report, eWEEK's Michelle Maisto noted that "Elop left a role as president of Microsoft's Business Division to take on the CEO position at Nokia in 2010."

The move set off a chain of events whose effects are still reverberating through the tech industry. "Shortly afterward, he spearheaded the effort to abandon the ailing Symbian operating system in favor of Microsoft's Windows Phone OS. And this fall, he negotiated the sale of Nokia's Devices & Services business to Microsoft for $7.1 billion," Maisto wrote.

In a Nov. 8 report, Bloomberg revealed that the 49-year-old Elop "would consider breaking with decades of tradition by focusing the company's strategy around making the popular Office software programs like Word, Excel and PowerPoint available on a broad variety of smartphones and tablets, including those made by Apple Inc. and Google Inc.," according to three sources familiar with his thinking.

Elop is said to believe that Microsoft could generate "more value by maximizing sales of Office rather than by using it to prop up sales of Windows-based devices," which are being dragged down by the decline of PC sales and the growing popularity of tablets. Sources said Elop may support moving "away from Microsoft's strategy of using these programs to drive demand for its flagship Windows operating system on personal computers and mobile devices."

Elop's strategy for Microsoft would be informed by experiences as CEO of Nokia, where, according to insiders, "he showed he wasn't wedded to homegrown software by canceling the company’s then-dominant Symbian phone software in 2010." His time as former head of Microsoft Office, "where as head of the Office division he pushed the company to enhance and find new ways to sell the software," also offers insights.

Moreover, Elop is also likely to sharpen Microsoft's focus by divesting of business units that don't directly contribute to the company's core business, even if they do pad the coffers. He would reportedly consider selling the "healthy" Xbox business and shutter Bing, the search technology that lags behind Google.

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...