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Will Stephen Elop, as Steve Jobs once did, return to Microsoft triumphant?

Not quite, but the parallels are there

By now, you have all read the headlines. Microsoft shelled $7.2 billion out of its big piggy bank to buy up the Nokia phone business (still less than they paid for Skype). Amid all of the details of the deal, you have also seen that former Microsoft exec and current Nokia honcho Stephen Elop is included in the deal (I wonder if Microsoft had to give up a few future draft choices, oh wait that is my fantasy football league). When I started to think about this and the rumors of him succeeding Steve Ballmer, I couldn't help but think of Steve Jobs.

I know you are thinking Shimmy has gone off the deep end here. But wait. A talented, respected executive leaves the company. The company is hits some rough waters and is looking for someone to come in and guide the ship through its next voyages. These next voyages could determine the long-term viability of the company.

Faced with this scenario, Apple turned to its exiled co-founder and paid a ton of money for Jobs's Next to bring him back in the fold. Microsoft paid a pretty penny for Nokia, but brought back its former Business Division chief at a critical time for the company. All of this comes at a time when Microsoft seeks a new CEO whose job will be to remake Microsoft into a company that will be a player in the new mobile world that we live in.

Granted, Elop was not a founder of Microsoft who was forced out by a John Sculley-type regime change. He left, as far as we know, on his own accord when offered the Nokia job. He was only at Microsoft a few years before that, having also served as COO of Juniper Networks and in an executive role with Adobe before that. I also don't think anyone is saying he has the vision or marketing charisma that Jobs had.

But Microsoft doesn't need another Steve Jobs (OK maybe it does, because who doesn't?). Microsoft needs a new generation of CEO and leadership that is going to change the atmosphere at the company from the big, bumbling guy who can't get anything right anymore to a nimble giant who can really compete toe-to-toe in the market with Apple and Google.

Microsoft still has plenty of weapons in the arsenal: phenomenal employees, the still-overwhelming leader in PCs, Windows, Xbox, Skype, Office and on and on. Now it has an accomplished phone manufacturing arm. And let's be real here. How long do you think it is going to take until we see Nokia turning out tablets as well? My guess is not very long at all.

What's missing is a little leadership style, a little confidence, a little bit of getting out ahead of the curve instead of following it. Microsoft needs to regain its mojo. I used to hate the arrogance of Microsoft, but there wasn't much I could do about it. It almost (but no quite) saddens me when I see how humble they are now. They need that mojo back. They need a Jobs-like leader who will provide that leadership.

Is Stephen Elop that guy? Maybe even suggesting that he is puts the bar too high and sets him up him for failure. After all, who is Steve Jobs besides Jobs himself? I don't know, but I think we are very soon going to get a chance to see if he is. If I were a betting man, I would say he is the prohibitive favorite at this point to succeed Steve Ballmer as CEO. I don't think we will see Elop in jeans and a black turtleneck anytime soon, but the task facing him will be in many ways similar to what Steve Jobs faced when he returned to Apple. If he can be half as successful as Jobs, Microsoft may still yet regain its position as king of the hill. It will be interesting to watch.

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