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

Juan Carlos Perez | Jan. 20, 2014
Microsoft can't afford picking the wrong person as its next CEO, they say.

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.

Taking up to a year to choose Ballmer's replacement increases Microsoft's chances of picking the right person and gives the process transparency, Rothman said. It shows Microsoft learned from other companies' mistakes, he said, citing as an example Apple, which in his view struggled with disclosures about Steve Jobs' illness and with the eventual transition to Tim Cook.

"The way they're doing it gives Microsoft an image of trust that the company's vision and direction will be maintained," he said.

It will be important for the new CEO to retain the group of top executives who now report to Ballmer, he said. They include Nadella, Turner, Operating Systems Engineering Group leader Terry Myerson, Devices and Studios Engineering Group chief Julie Larson-Green, Applications and Services Engineering Group leader Qi Lu, marketing head Tami Reller and Tony Bates, the former Skype president who is now leader of the Business Development and Evangelism Group.

That doesn't mean the new CEO should simply maintain the status quo, Rothman said. One of the issues he'd like Ballmer's replacement to review is the pricing of Microsoft's cloud computing services, which he finds generally too high for midsize companies.

Rothman also wants the new CEO to reconsider Microsoft's efforts to accelerate the pace of its product updates. He's not sure this approach jibes with the mindset and purchasing strategies of many of the company's institutional customers, who he believes prefer more stable, longer product refresh cycles.

Christian McMahon, managing partner, Board and CIO Advisory, at Belgium-based Jamaza, concurs that the new CEO must maintain internal stability and continuity while also bringing a fresh approach to identify what needs fixing.

"Don't bring in somebody who will make too much change too quickly to your corporate culture," said McMahon, a past CIO at GoIndustry-DoveBid and at Ovum who is also a contributor to technology publications, including IDG's The Business Value Exchange.

If the new CEO plans to shake up Microsoft internally in a significant way, the board must make sure the staff is fully engaged with the plan before rolling it out, he said via email.

At the same time, the new CEO must have an independent mindset so he or she can spot market-changing opportunities, as well as be able to go on an acquisition spree to build up Microsoft's presence in key sectors where it's weak, he said.

 

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