Another potential Microsoft CEO bites the dust

Qualcomm outmaneuvers Microsoft; promotes COO Mollenkopf to CEO position

No sooner had we published our blog on Friday tossing Qualcomm COO Steve Mollenkopf into the Microsoft CEO mix, Qualcomm took him out of it. In a surprise move, the company announced Mollenkopf’s promotion to CEO.

He will officially take over in March, while Paul Jacobs, CEO and son of company founder Irwin Jacobs, will assume the role of executive chairman, helping "guide development of new technology and Qualcomm’s long-term opportunities," according to a company statement.

The timing, of course, will raise suspicions. One day after Mollenkopf is listed as a serious contender to succeed Steve Ballmer as Microsoft CEO and he is promoted? But with a company the size of Qualcomm, especially one where family ownership still rules and the current chief executive is doing very well, you don't just replace the CEO in one day.

In a joint interview on Friday, both Jacobs and Mollenkopf stressed that the promotion was long in coming. They didn't discuss the Microsoft situation, but Jacobs did drop one hint: "Obviously, our people are very talented and they are sought after. I just wanted to make sure that we ensured the continuity of the management team," he said.

I suspect what happened is Qualcomm announced this news, late on a Friday during the Christmas season with four months before the transition, to send a public message: back off, Microsoft, he's ours.

So it's back to the drawing board for Microsoft, assuming Mollenkopf was indeed at or near the top of the list. Ford CEO Mulally seems to be fading as a candidate, having reportedly promised the company he will stay through the end of 2014.

Paul Maritz, the sentimental favorite of a lot of Microsofties inside the company, has declined the job. And the board seems set on an outsider (good), not ready yet to go with servers and tools head Satya Nadella or former Skype head Tony Bates.

However, fate can be funny. Bob Muglia, the former head of servers and tools whom a lot of people thought was a candidate to replace Ballmer, just left his job as executive vice president of software at Juniper Networks. No reason was given, but it could be he left because Kevin Johnson, Juniper's CEO, is stepping down, and Johnson recruited him.

This would open the door for a return to Microsoft. Except… there's a problem. As we noted two years ago, Ballmer ousted Muglia as part of a transformation and reorg of servers and tools, because he felt Muglia was not up to the challenge of making the needed changes. That's exactly why Ballmer fell on his own sword. So what are the chances of bringing in someone who reportedly had the same problems as Ballmer?

Merry Christmas, Microsoft board of directors.

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