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The two outsiders attracting Microsoft's attention for Steve Ballmer's job

Microsoft may be well-served to bring in an outsider to replace departing CEO Steve Ballmer. Here are two strong candidates.

By Andy Patrizio on Fri, 09/20/13 - 10:48am.

As I said in a prior blog post, I feel Microsoft's problems are too big for an insider to handle. This person will have allegiances, friendships and biases that may cloud his or her judgment at a time when cold, hard decisions need to be made.

It seems I'm not alone. Some Microsoft investors have their eyes on outsiders as well, according to a Reuters report, and two names have bubbled up: Ford CEO Alan Mullaly and Computer Sciences Corp. CEO Mike Lawrie.

So, let's give them the old look-see.

Alan Mullaly

  • Age: 68
  • Education: BS, MS in aeronautical engineering
  • Prior work: Boeing

If he retires tomorrow, Alan Mullaly will already have had an enviable career. At Boeing, he had a hand in plane design from the 727 to the 777, including leading the cockpit design team on the 757/767 (they have identical cockpits despite different hulls). He also worked on the 777, first as director of engineering and then as vice president and general manager.

Mullaly was considered a leading candidate for CEO of Boeing but was passed over, so in 2006 he made his move to slower, earthbound vehicles, taking the reins at Ford Motor Co. He restructured the firm, cut losses, and renegotiated contracts with the UAW, reducing cost per hour from more than $20. Anyone who can make the UAW blink is all right in my book.

He kept Ford afloat while GM and Chrysler crashed in 2008 and sold off Ford's stake or ownership in Jaguar Cars, Land Rover, Aston Martin, Volvo Cars, and Mazda. So this guy knows how to cut the fat.

And he's got the endorsement of the man he would succeed. In Time magazine's Top 100 list, issued with its Person of the Year, Steve Ballmer wrote of Mullaly, "he understands the fundamentals of business success as well as any business leader I know."

John Michael "Mike" Lawrie

  • Age: 59
  • Education: BA, Ohio University, MBA, Drexel University
  • Prior work: IBM, ValueAct Capital, Siebel Systems, Misys plc

Lawrie is a veteran of the computing industry and worked as a senior executive at IBM under both Sam Palmisano and Lou Gerstner. That alone is enough to shine up any resume. It should make some people at Microsoft nervous, too. Lawrie was at IBM when Gerstner cut 100,000 jobs in the process of making IBM a lean, mean, collaborative machine.

But it looks like Lawrie is doing what needs to be done. As Rob Enderle pointed out in CIO magazine, Lawrie is following the steps of Gerstner and Jobs in turning around the company:

  1. Massive product simplification. Lawrie has done that. He cut CSC from 3,000 offerings to 100.
  2. A handpicked executive team loyal to the CEO and optimized for current market conditions. Lawrie has done that, cleaning out the C-suite and filling it with ex-HP people.
  3. A strong CFO who will drive the simplification effort and focus on optimizing internal expenditures. CSC just did that, hiring former Disney CFO Paul Saleh.
  4. A marketing effort strong enough to convince customers to believe in the company before it has changed, so they're ready to buy when improved products and services are ready. That has to be launched.

Both men are enviable professionals, and in Mullaly's case, at 68, he's earned retirement. Does he want to dive into a mess like Microsoft at that age? Experience with overachievers like him tells me yes, he'd vastly prefer that to sitting on the couch watching CNBC all day. I suspect the favorite would be Mullaly because he's proven. He could leave Ford in good, stable condition, and he knows Seattle from his Boeing days. Lawrie may be a tech guy, but he is still in the process of fixing CSC and isn't quite ready to leave it yet because his work is not done.

Either way, they’re both great choices.