Microsoft CEO Search: Ericsson's Vestberg A Contender - InformationWeek

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Microsoft CEO Search: Ericsson's Vestberg A Contender

As Microsoft works to replace Steve Ballmer, Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg reportedly lands on the short list.

Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg is reportedly on the shortlist of candidates who could succeed Steve Ballmer as Microsoft CEO.

Microsoft director John Thompson said in December that Microsoft began its search with more than 100 candidates and would name a new CEO by early this year. Ford CEO Alan Mulally had been seen as a leading contender but removed himself from consideration earlier this month. According to Bloomberg, which cited unnamed sources with knowledge of the search process, Microsoft's board is now considering Vestberg among a handful of other candidates, including Microsoft cloud leader Satya Nadella and former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.

Vestberg joined Ericsson in 1988 and has served as the telecom equipment-maker's CEO since 2010. The company's share price and revenue have both been up during the 48-year-old's tenure, which has included the termination of the Sony Ericsson handset partnership. Last fall, Ericsson acquired Microsoft's Mediaroom IPTV platform, which powers television services such as AT&T's U-verse.

[Microsoft moves to bolster its customer relationship management software. Read Microsoft Parature Buy: Think Self-Service CRM.]

Citing sources close to Microsoft, Reuters reported Thursday that with Mulally out, the company's board faces a slim list of candidates qualified to take on Microsoft's most pressing challenges -- namely, managing its massive scale while also addressing its weak mobile presence.

Quoting an unnamed person with knowledge of the matter, Bloomberg stated that Mulally wasn't confident Ballmer and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates would give the next CEO enough flexibility to execute new strategies. The report reflects ongoing speculation that power struggles are unfolding behind the scenes of Microsoft's search.

Outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
Outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

Microsoft has declined to comment on various CEO rumors, but Thompson has indicated the board intends to follow the blueprint Ballmer has laid out. But Microsoft's shareholders have always had a contentious relationship with Ballmer, even as the company remains enormously profitable. Motivated by the cool reception to Windows 8 and Microsoft's Surface tablets, some influential investors have reportedly charged that Gates and Ballmer are wielding too much influence over the CEO selection process. 

Subsequent reports have reiterated that some CEO candidates have been discouraged by the constraints they perceive they'd face at Microsoft. Regardless of whether Gates and Ballmer are actually advocating certain strategies behind closed doors, it's easy to see why new candidates might be cautious: Gates and Ballmer are the only two CEOs in Microsoft's history, both sit on the company's board, and they control more company stock than any other pair of individual shareholders.

Candidates' specific concerns haven't been made public, but analysts frequently debate a number of ongoing Microsoft strategies: whether it should make its own devices; whether it should sell off the Xbox; whether it should focus on enterprise software; whether Microsoft stymies innovation by protecting existing revenue streams; whether it should release Office for the iPad; and so on. 

Recent reports about Windows 9 only add to this line of intrigue. The rumored return of the Start menu and other alleged features suggest Microsoft might be backtracking on at least some of its previous plans, and that new leadership might be asserting itself within the Windows division.

Microsoft will report quarterly earnings on January 23, which should provide some insight into how the company's restructuring effort is proceeding, and whether holiday sales propped up Windows 8 or the Surface line.

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He graduated from Stanford in 2005 and previously worked in talent representation, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher.

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User Rank: Apprentice
1/18/2014 | 4:41:29 PM
Internal Microsoft memo going around
WE WANT CREDIT for all products/projects for everyone working on them. We want the same equal credit given as those in the film industry!

WE WANT LIVE/WORK SPACES m-f living at work with fulltime pay.

WE WANT RETIREMENT for those seeking faster retirement after ten years and those seeking it after twenty. We want retirement NOW for all!

WE WANT the illegal no-hire agreement between major tech companies to end. The agreement not to hire each other employees is illegal and has to end NOW!

WE WANT an AMERICAN Citizen as the next CEO!

WE WANT the guy who occupied microsoft and lived at work for a year as the next CEO
User Rank: Author
1/17/2014 | 9:37:17 AM
Re: Dwindling candidate list
This Microsoft process reminds me a bit of HP's CEO search before it ended up with Leo Apotheker. 
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/16/2014 | 4:39:50 PM
Re: Dwindling candidate list
At least he's not Elop, slayer of Nokia.
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
1/16/2014 | 4:26:39 PM
Re: Dwindling candidate list
Thanks for reading, melgross. Many interesting points. We might never know how many people atop Microsoft's CEO wish list actually dropped out for the listed reasons, what with all the nameless sources involved. But at least a few would-be candidates have seemed discouraged by what should be a highly desirable job. The wrong CEO can do a lot of damage, so hopefully Microsoft makes the right call. I know a lot of people think a change of culture is necessary, but I still think some of the internal candidates, such as Nadella, are intriguing.
User Rank: Ninja
1/16/2014 | 2:00:52 PM
Dwindling candidate list
It seems as though several "front runners", whatever that means, have either taken themselves out of the running, or have been taken out by their companies, with promotions and more compensation. Microsoft is moving down the list. What makes this guy a leading candidate? Is he really interested? If not, then no matter how Microsoft may want him, he's not a candidate at all. The is the first we've even heard his name mentioned. As I've been saying for months, CEO's are vain and full of themselves, as to a certain extent, they must be. Either a major contender (from Microsoft's viewpoint) won't be interested because of the issues mentioned in this article (and numerous other articles), or will be interested, because they somehow think that they are important enough to bull their way through the Ballmer/Gates duopoly and company interia. So far, most seem to be realistic enough to know they won't be able to, and so, are staying away. Microsoft will end up with a person down on the list they wouldn't have seriously considered if the better candidates hadn't declined, and that won't be a good thing for Microsoft. But it may be the only thing they can hope for. I believe it was a big mistake to announce Ballmer'w firing, er that is, retirement, before they had a good idea of who was to succeed him. The way this is proceeding is embarrassing for Microsoft, for any candidate who does accept, as they will be pointed at as being a very secondary choice, and will limit the influence of whomever this person turns out to be, within the company. Overall therefor, a major headache, and a major blunder.
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