It Seems Pretty Obvious That Bill Gates Wants A Visionary Technical Leader To Run Microsoft

Steve ballmer alan mulallyAPSteve Ballmer and Alan Mulally

For a few months, it looked like a Ford CEO Alan Mulally was a lock to be the next CEO of Microsoft.

Then, in a span of a few weeks, that all fell apart. Today, there’s almost no chance he’s the next CEO of Microsoft. On Tuesday, he told the AP he plans to stay at Ford until the end of 2014, and he’s not going to run Microsoft.

So what happened?

Sources are leaking Mulally’s version of why he’s not joining Microsoft to the Wall Street Journal:

Other people familiar with Mulally’s thinking said the Ford executive soured on the Microsoft job in part because of what he perceived to be leaks from Microsoft about search process…

The people familiar with Mulally’s thinking said the Ford CEO also had concerns about the dynamics of Microsoft’s board, including whether Ballmer and Chairman Bill Gates remained directors.

Hmmm. Maybe this is a concern. If it’s true, then it’s bad for Microsoft.

But maybe there’s another explanation, one that Mulally’s people aren’t so keen to leak.

As the WSJ points out, in November Bill Gates said he wanted the next CEO to “have a lot of comfort in leading a highly technical organisation.” This suggests someone with a background in tech. Ford is not a tech company.

Then in December, John Thompson, who is leading the CEO search for the board reiterated Gates’ comment: “this is a complex role to fill, involving a complex business model and the ability to lead a highly technical organisation and work with top technical talent.”

Reading those sentences, it seems more likely the reason Mulally isn’t going to be CEO of Microsoft is that Microsoft didn’t want him.

So, Mulally can spin this however he wants, but it sure seems like Microsoft didn’t want him. (One other thing that doesn’t add up from this WSJ story: Ballmer and Mulally are friends. Mulally helped with Microsoft’s reorg. And now, suddenly, he has a problem with Ballmer?)

It makes sense Microsoft wants a technical leader. Ballmer was a sales guy. So, it probably wants its next CEO to be more technical.

Kara Swisher at Re/Code says Gates is highly involved in the CEO search. She quotes a source as saying, “This is a Gates search, even though the board is very involved … But nothing is going to happen without him, especially since he will be much more involved in the company going forward.”

All the names on the list to be CEO are technology people: Satya Nadella, Tony Bates, Paul Maritz, Stephen Elop, and a bunch other dark horses from tech companies.

It seems Gates is looking for a technical guy with vision for the next 10 years of Microsoft.

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