Top 9 Candidates To Succeed Steve Ballmer

Despite hedge fund manager David Einhorn's call for Steve Ballmer's head last year, there's no evidence to suggest the Microsoft CEO is going anywhere in the near-term. But if the company's fortunes were to go into a tailspin, anything is possible. We're not even entertaining the possibility of a Gates comeback; that's simply not going to happen. Nor does it appear likely that former Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie would ever come back to step into the shoes of Gates and Ballmer. With that in mind, here's our short list (in no particular order):

1. Steven Sinofsky If anyone is worshiped in Redmond these days, it's the head of the Windows and Windows Live division. Not only is Sinofsky charting the course for Microsoft's future, he's the public face behind those efforts. Sinofsky currently appears to be the odds-on favorite to succeed Ballmer (see "10 Signs Steven Sinofsky Will Be Running Microsoft Someday"). However, his success or lack thereof remains to be seen with the release of Windows 8. If Microsoft chooses to bring someone with an engineering background to run the company, Sinofsky has the chops. Not only has he shepherded the development of Windows, but he spent much of the past decade overseeing the development of many versions of Office.

2. Kevin Turner It's hard to envision someone who started out as a cashier at Walmart running the machine in Redmond, but as Microsoft's COO, he's perhaps the closest thing the company has to a No. 2 behind Ballmer these days. Besides having huge operational responsibilities at Microsoft -- overseeing field sales, marketing and corporate operations -- his words carry weight when he keynotes at company events.

3. Jeff Raikes As CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, former Microsoft President Jeff Raikes is leading his mentor's charge to save the world. While the likelihood of him stepping out of his current role appears slim, Raikes' engineering and business operations legacy makes him a strong candidate to run Microsoft.

4. Eric Rudder Nearly seven years ago, The New York Times profiled Eric Rudder as a front-runner to take the reigns at Microsoft some day. The corporate VP oversees the company's technical strategy and is credited with Microsoft's outreach to the developer community and for the growth of the company's Server & Tools Business.

5. Kurt DelBene Despite challenges to the cash-cow Office business, it continues to grow. As president of the Microsoft Office Division, Kurt DelBene is a key architect for Microsoft's key products, including Office, SharePoint, Exchange, Office 365, Lync, Project and Visio.

6. Todd Bradley Can a senior executive best known for his hardware chops run a software company? If anyone could, it's Todd Bradley, executive VP of the Hewlett-Packard Co. Personal Systems Group. Bradley was responsible for leading HP's effort to overthrow Dell as the world's largest supplier of PCs.

7. J Allard Would J Allard even entertain returning to Microsoft after his coveted Courier project was nixed? If it presented a chance to accomplish unfinished business, why not? While Allard is recalled these days for the Courier, his imprint on Microsoft can't be understated. It was Allard who was responsible for TCP/IP being added to Windows 95 and for convincing Gates that the Internet would upend Microsoft's business should the company fail to embrace it.

8. Steve Mills Having been passed over to run IBM, Steve Mills is the architect of Big Blue's ambition to manage and analyze all types of data. Mills has led scores of acquisitions and product-development projects, covering everything from new mainframes to software designed to integrate disparate data. Though Mills is interesting to consider, it seems unlikely he would land at Microsoft.

9. Mark Zuckerberg The unlikeliest of candidates is Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook. Why would Mark Zuckerberg leave the company he founded to run Microsoft? Let's face it; he wouldn't, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't be a potential candidate to replace Ballmer. Zuckerberg is setting the pace for how individuals use computing devices to interact with one another. However, many of Zuckerberg's assets could be liabilities for running Microsoft. While he is setting the agenda for how consumers interact, Zuckerberg lacks a track record when it comes to business computing and corporate IT. But if Microsoft wants someone young and entrepreneurial, someone like Zuckerberg would fit the bill.


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