A clear preference for the next Microsoft chief?

Kathleen Atkins

In the Puget Sound region, Microsoft is — not surprisingly — a frequent topic of conversation.

Never more so than these days, with the release of Xbox One, the end of the hated stack-ranking employee-evaluation system — and especially the question of who will replace Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

A Microsoft alum, I stay in touch with a sizable contingent of current and former Microsoft friends and colleagues. Curious about rumors and speculations concerning who has the inside track to be the next CEO — and whom insiders are rooting for — I conducted an unscientific poll among my closer contacts. (Their names will remain a secret; for current MS employees, talking to the press without permission can earn you a quick exit from the company.)

My poll had virtually unanimous results. Everyone I talked to expressed hope that the latest rumors are true: Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally is the front runner for the daunting role of Microsoft chief executive. (One former colleague prefers former MS Platforms VP Paul Maritz (more info) but thinks that’s unlikely to happen. And even the Maritz fan likes Mulally.)

Why? Mulally’s tenures at Boeing and Ford served both companies well, and his positive leadership style could bring some significant, much-needed culture change to Microsoft. “He has wisdom,” says one engineer who’s still with the company. “Microsoft needs that.”

Adding grist to the rumor mill is an increased number of sightings of Bill Gates on the Microsoft campus. “Maybe he’ll be around more,” says one longtime engineer, sounding hopeful.

For most people, the matter of who will lead Microsoft is pure speculation; significant change at Redmond could depend more on how the company treats its thousands of bright personnel. For many Microsofties, the end of stack ranking might be a greater morale booster than who’s picked as the next CEO. It’s a thoughtful move in a good direction — at least we hope so.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2013-12-04:

Kathleen Atkins

About Kathleen Atkins

Kathleen Atkins is the Windows Secrets associate editor. She's also a freelance writer, editor, and photographer. Prior to joining Windows Secrets, she worked at Microsoft Press.