Summary: The next CEO of Microsoft is going to be someone Bill Gates and his advisors trust and respect to fulfill the CEO role over the next 15-20 years. Microsoft is a company built on writing software, therefore the CEO should have the ability to support the vision of developing innovative software that leads the industry in growth. Satya Nadella is a leading candidate. What is unknown is what Bill Gates thinks of the other candidates vs. Satya.
Background: I spent 1980 - 1985 at HP and have observed the transition through multiple CEOs after David Packard. I was at Apple from 1985 - 1992 which gave me a perspective of the long series of CEOs until Steve Jobs returned. From 1992 - 2006 I was at Microsoft and while working on software I saw a wide range of executives rise to senior positions.
Analysis: There is a wide range of media coverage on Steve Ballmer's announced retirement. What few people state is why Steve Ballmer had the CEO job and what would lead Bill to choose the next CEO. Bill is the Chairman of the Board, Founder, largest shareholder, and most influential person in Microsoft. Bill supported Steve Ballmer in the CEO job because Bill trusted and respected Steve to be the CEO to the best of his ability, a role that Bill had from the beginning and knows what it takes to be CEO of his company, Microsoft.
You can find fault in what Steve Ballmer did, but he was always trying to do his best.
“Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.” – John Wooden
Who does Bill Gates trust and respect to be Microsoft's CEO? Someone he has history with and the selection board agrees is the best candidate to run Microsoft in the best interest of shareholders of which Bill is the largest. And someone who will make the effort to be best of which they are capable of.
Satya Nadella is mentioned most frequently in the media as a possible future Microsoft CEO. GigaOm's Barb Darrow covers the range of CEO candidates. I know Barb and like her method of researching a post.
I have already said I think Satya Nadella, the executive VP of cloud and enterprise, should be on the very short list or prospective CEOs. One current Microsoft exec, who understandably can’t be quoted on this, agreed and added that Tony Bates, the former head of Skype who now heads up biz dev, should also be considered.
My perspective on Satya is different than many as I remember Satya from days of working on Microsoft's Interactive TV where he was a product manager and I was a program manager. We were chatting a bit back in June 2013 at GigaOm Structure. Satya joined Microsoft in Feb 1992. I joined in Apr 1992. Satya has worked in a wide range of roles at Microsoft and has taken the path of being groomed for executive leadership.
Paul Maritz was the #3 man in Microsoft after Bill and Steve. Paul retired from Microsoft in 2000, and eventually EMC snapped him up to run VMware. Paul still lives in the Seattle area. What is unknown is how Bill and Paul get along after 13 years.
"During Paul's 14 years with Microsoft, he has played a key role in virtually every major initiative, from the evolution of Windows and Office to the .NET strategy," said Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft. "Paul's vision and technological insight has had a major impact not only on Microsoft but on the entire computer industry."
"Microsoft is one of the great places on earth to work," Maritz said. "It has been a real privilege to have worked with so many wonderful and talented people and to have been able to participate in so many interesting and important endeavors. With the recently announced Microsoft .NET strategy now in place, there is an amazing opportunity to fully realize the potential of software and the Internet to change how people communicate and experience information. Microsoft is very fortunate to have a world-class generation of young leaders ready to step up to build on these opportunities and ensure Microsoft's continued success as the global leader in software technology."
Barb mentions Steve Sinofsky and Stephen Elop. Steve and Stephen didn't leave with a glowing endorsement from Bill. And it just sounds strange that a Steve/Stephen would take over Steve Ballmer's job.
Two other executives who were inside Microsoft and and didn't last are Kevin Johnson and Bill Veghte. If Kevin and Bill were potential CEOs wouldn't Microsoft had rotated them into other positions in Microsoft. You could speculate that Kevin and Bill were CEO material, but didn't want to wait until 2017 when Steve Ballmer said he would think about retiring.
The list of executives whose names have been floated for the top job is long, including the likes of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and AOL CEO Tim Armstrong. Others mentioned include Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson and Hewlett-Packard COO Bill Veghte.
In regards to Sheryl Sandberg, would Bill have an ex-Facebook/Google executive without software development expertise run Microsoft? not likely.
Speaking of Google executives, another is Vic Gundotra, SR VP of Google social who was a GM at Microsoft. It would be so embarrassing to have a Google employee be Microsoft CEO, the PR would be tough to bear.
Among the list that Microsoft might consider are two India-born tech executives: Satya Nadella and Vic Gundotra.
You can see how it gets kind of ridiculous who the press thinks could run Microsoft. Really, ex-Google execs to be Microsoft CEO. Why not just hire Larry Page, Sergey Brin or Eric Schmidt?
People that Bill is probably talking to about who should be CEO are
Nathan Paul Myhrvold (born August 3, 1959), formerly Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft, is co-founder of Intellectual Ventures—one of the largest patent holding companies in the world, as well as the principal author of Modernist Cuisine.
Richard (Rick) F. Rashid oversees Microsoft Research's worldwide operations. Previously, he was the director of Microsoft Research. He joined Microsoft Research in 1991, and was promoted to vice president in 1994. In 2000, he became senior vice president. He has authored a number of patents in areas such as data compression, networking, and operating systems, and was a major developer of Microsoft's interactive TV system.
Craig James Mundie (born July 1, 1949 in Cleveland, Ohio) is Senior Advisor to the CEO at Microsoft and its former Chief Research and Strategy Officer. He started in the consumer platforms division in 1992, managing the production of Windows CE for hand-held and automotive systems and early console games. In 1997, Mundie oversaw the acquisition of WebTV Networks. He has championed Microsoft Trustworthy Computing and digital rights management.
Jeff Raikes, CEO of Gates Foundation, ex-Microsoft exec.
Jeffrey Scott "Jeff" Raikes (born May 29, 1958) is the chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Until early 2008 Raikes was the President of the Microsoft Business Division and oversaw the Information Worker, Server & Tools Business and Microsoft Business Solutions Groups.  He joined Microsoft in 1981 as a product manager. He retired from Microsoft in September 2008, after a transitional period, to join the Gates Foundation. Raikes is credited with driving much of Microsoft’s early work in business applications.
Whoever is the next Microsoft CEO it is going to be someone who Bill trusts and respects to run Microsoft. Bill is the Chairman of the Board, Founder, Largest shareholder and the most influential Microsoft employee. Bill is still a Microsoft employee he did not retire. He transitioned away from day to day duties, and is still a Microsoft employee.
William (Bill) H. Gates is chairman of Microsoft Corporation, the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.
On June 27, 2008, Gates transitioned out of a day-to-day role in the company to spend more time on his global health and education work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Bill works from a separate office and has a space to think about who should have his old job.
Setting a curious mind free
Bill Gates 2.0 will have three offices: one at Microsoft in Redmond, a second about 15 miles away at the Gates Foundation in downtown Seattle, and a third almost exactly equidistant between the other two (and much closer to home). In typical hyper-systematic fashion, Gates has allocated blocks of time to each location: a day in Redmond, two at the foundation, and two at the personal office, which he suspects will be his real "center of gravity." There will be a lot of overlap among his three roles. That's because the guy's greatest pleasure seems to be in finding connections among things he's interested in.
The biggest change, of course, will be in his workload at Microsoft, which will drop drastically. He'll remain chairman and weigh in here and there. "Other than board meetings and consulting on projects like Internet search technology, the only things I'll do are some company visits when I'm in developing countries," he says. "Or if there's some special award for someone at a company meeting, I'll come and present it. But that's about it." (For more on how Microsoft is coping with Gates' retirement, see the accompanying story.)
"The classic CEO needs to be right, or rather needs to appear to be right more than he needs to actually be right - and that's not Bill," says his pal Myhrvold. "Lewis and Clark were lost most of the time. If your idea of exploration is to always know where you are and to be inside your zone of competence, you don't do wild new shit. You have to be confused, upset, think you're stupid. If you're not willing to do that, you can't go outside the box."