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Should Microsoft Choose John Thompson as CEO?

A rumor surfaced yesterday that Microsoft may be considering John Thompson as its next CEO. Thompson, who after a long career at IBM and at Symantec as the company's CEO, is now on Microsoft's board and heading the search committee for Ballmer's successor.

According to CNET's Charles Cooper, there's buzz in Redmond that naming Thompson as CEO on an interim basis is a plan B that the company is considering, in wake of Ford's Alan Mulally falling off the list. If that were to play out, which I believe is a longshot (though stranger things have happened), that could be to groom an internal candidate such as Satya Nadella or Stephen Elop to take over at a future date.

It wouldn't be the first time a board member stepped in as a CEO. HP's Meg Whitman famously did so over two years ago and who can forget Dick Cheney, who led the vice presidential search team for then-Republican nominee George W. Bush. And we know how that turned out.

Thompson certainly has a strong resume and is well respected. But some question whether his decade as CEO of Symantec was a successful run. While he was there, he led Symantec's famous acquisition of Veritas for $13.5 billion.

While Veritas brought Symantec into the data protection (backup and disaster recovery) market, critics argue the price tag was way too high. In addition to a  major culture clash which I heard from former executives of both companies over the years, rumors have surfaced that Symantec has considered selling or spinning off its data protection business, though nothing has ever come of that.

In addition to his current role on Microsoft's board, Thompson is now CEO of Virtual Instruments, a performance management vendor.

Cooper argues Thompson has credibility with Wall Street,  and that his tenure with Symantec and his reputation in Silicon Valley make him a suitable candidate. Perhaps he'd be fine but I think (and I hope Thompson and the board agree) Microsoft would be better off not naming a CEO who was a plan B.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/22/2014 at 12:36 PM


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