Though not all of those candidates' names have been revealed, Reuters has identified two: Alan Mullaly, the chief executive of Ford Motor Co., and Stephen Elop, the former Microsoft executive who left to become CEO of Nokia, and will return to the Microsoft fold next year as part of the Nokia acquisition.
Bona fides: Elop, 49, was born in Ontario, Canada, on New Year's Eve, a serendipitous metaphor for a man many see as the front-runner to lead Microsoft into the next era.
Elop studied computer engineering and management at McMaster University, worked his way up through Lotus Development Corp., and then became CIO at Boston Chicken (the forerunner to Boston Market).
After that, he spent several years at Macromedia, ending up as chief executive.
Following stints at Adobe and Juniper, Elop joined Microsoft and its Business Division in 2008, running its Office group and Microsoft Dynamics through 2010.
In Sept. 2010, Elop left Microsoft to become chief executive of Nokia.
He currently serves as Nokia's executive vice president of Devices & Services, a position he assumed after Microsoft agreed to acquire Nokia for $7.17 billion.
Following the acquisition, Elop
will lead "an expanded Devices business" at Microsoft
, the company announced, and will report directly to Ballmer
(unless, of course, Ballmer leaves before the acquisition is complete).
offers a number of synergies, including knowledge of Microsoft
both as an insider and as an external partner.
stint leading Microsoft's
Business Division, traditionally one of Microsoft's
mainstays, secures his
legitimacy as a candidate.
And as a senior vice president of devices and services at Nokia
clearly understands Microsoft's
vision of devices and services, especially from the mobile perspective that Microsoft
so desperately needs to find success in.
has demonstrated that he
isn't tied to history and convention.
In assuming the reins at Nokia
inherited a smartphone company that had wrongly imagined that its dominant market share would carry forward under its own momentum.
Changes were necessary, and Elop
responded by ditching Symbian and embracing Windows Phone.
That move should impress any board of directors looking for fresh ways of thinking.
management record is less than stellar.
oversight of Boston Chicken
ended in the company's bankruptcy, and Elop
was on duty for the sale of both Macromedia
ditched Symbian in favor of Windows Phone, some observers wondered whether he
was a "Trojan horse" installed at Nokia
Those suggestions, justified or not, gained credence when Elop
laid off 40,000 Nokia employees and then sold the company to Microsoft
Jorma Ollila, the chairman of Nokia when Elop was hired, has written that Elop wasn't his first choice, citing concerns that Elop wasn't sufficiently product-oriented.
It's easy to see why Bates and Elop
are considered the most promising candidates: Both have track records of success within Microsoft
, coupled with fresh perspectives acquired from working outside the company.