Microsoft cloud chief emerges as CEO frontrunner

Redmond reverts to internal candidate Satya Nadella after grueling five-month search

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Microsoft cloud chief emerges as CEO frontrunner Microsoft’s search for a new CEO is nearing completion. (Peteri/Shutterstock.com)
By  Stephen McBride Published  February 2, 2014

Satya Nadella, executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group has emerged as the late front runner to replace Steve Ballmer as CEO.

Since Ballmer's announcement in August 2013 that he would step down within a year, Microsoft's board has shown interest in a number of candidates. Ford Motor Co CEO Alan Mulally took several months before quelling rumours of his possible appointment, although later reports suggested his decision to withdraw had more to do with disagreements with Microsoft's board, rather than a strong desire to remain with Ford. Qualcomm promoted its chief financial officer Steve Mollenkopf to stymie an approach from Microsoft and Ericsson's Hans Vestberg also dropped out of consideration.

According to a Reuters report, Nadella is in talks with the board on the strength of his work with Microsoft's cloud and search divisions. The 64-year-old Indian-born executive is also said to favour a change in the role of Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates. According to Reuters, he is likely to ask that Gates relinquish his position as chairman and help Nadella with technology, a move likely to popular with investors.

If Nadella is successful, it may not win the approval of other investors, who pushed for Mulally's consideration because he was an outsider with a track-record of turning flagging enterprises around.

"They need and will pick only a bendable guy, who will preserve the existing culture of saying yes," said Joachim Kempin, a former senior vice president of Microsoft and a long-time critic of its management style.

While Nadella's appointment has not been finalised, the board is expected to meet next week and a decision could be announced soon after.

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