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CIOs tell Microsoft: Take the time you need to pick the right CEO

Microsoft can't afford picking the wrong person as its next CEO, they say

By Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service
January 17, 2014 06:06 PM ET

IDG News Service - CIOs are waiting anxiously for Microsoft to pick a new CEO, but they don't mind that it's taking its time; the way they see it, Microsoft can't afford to make a mistake in the selection process.

For CIOs, it's clear that the chosen candidate will have to steer the company through a variety of challenges both internal and external, and to do so successfully the person chosen to replace Steve Ballmer will need a rare combination of skills and experience.

Among the top priorities, Microsoft needs to improve its position in the tablet and smartphone markets, fix the problems dogging Windows 8 and 8.1, battle Google Apps for the cloud email and collaboration markets, and complete a broad corporate reorganization that Ballmer announced last July.

"The CEO search is incredibly important," said Mike Blake, CIO at Commune Hotels & Resorts in San Francisco, and previously CIO at Hyatt. "I'm sure the search committee is doing the best job it can to find the correct customer-focused executive who can unlock the value within the Microsoft portfolio."

Blake sees two critical issues the new CEO will have to address. One is Microsoft's notoriously fractured workplace, an issue Ballmer acknowledged in July with his One Microsoft reorganization plan, which aims to unify the company's business units and create a more collaborative work environment.

"Microsoft is highly structured and very often broken into fiefdoms," Blake said via email, adding that the new CEO will have to eliminate those corporate silos.

The other area that needs fixing is Microsoft's licensing, the complexity of which harms the company competitively, even though "the pipeline of products is still very impressive," Blake said.

It has been about five months since Ballmer made the surprise announcement he would step down by August of this year. Some speculated at the time that his successor would be named sooner rather than later, but the search continues.

Along the way there's been constant chatter about the potential candidates. Ford CEO Alan Mulally was seen as a front-runner for a while but recently stated he would stay put at Ford. Other names that have been mentioned include Satya Nadella, executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise Division; Kevin Turner, the company's chief operating officer, who was CIO at Walmart and CEO of Sam's Club; and Stephen Elop, the former Nokia CEO and former division president at Microsoft who is due to return to Redmond when Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's smartphone business is complete.

"You could say they're taking their time, being very careful, or you could say that they hadn't been grooming someone for this position. Is that good or bad? It's hard to say," said Greg Urban, CTO and deputy CIO of the state of Maryland, which uses Office and Windows software but also Google Apps. "I'd say it's good for them to take a really long, hard look because there are some definitive changes they need to make."

The months-long process and the media speculation don't bother Peter Rothman, CIO at Alcott HR, a human resources outsourcing company in New York that is heavily invested in Microsoft's desktop and server products. In fact, he's happy to see Microsoft's board and search committee taking their time. "I see it as a positive," he said.

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