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And then there were two... Microsoft CEO candidates that is

According to Bloomberg and Reuters, organisations that are continuing to work as the rest of the US population beat the living you-know-what out of one another at the violent saturnalia that is the Black Friday sales binge, Microsoft has winnowed the list of the people that could become the third CEO in the company's history down to just two -plus some hangers on (just in case either or both of the prized pair decide not to take the job).

We have known for some time now that the long-list of possible appointees comprised of 40 names and that the short-list was of five. Now, according to anonymous, but "well-placed people in Microsoft familiar with the matter" the top two "probable" candidates are Alan Mulally, the 68 year-old CEO of the Ford Motor Company, and Satya Nadella, head honcho of Microsoft's cloud and enterprise offerings.

Then there are the "possibles". That list comprises the sometime CEO of Skype, Tony Bates and Nokia's nemesis, Stephen Elop. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, does not feature in either list despite being touted as a long-odds "possible" a few weeks ago.

Ms. Sandberg is under some pressure in her present job and on the defensive after Facebook CFO, David Ebersman, complained that the social media site has a "teen problem". Teenagers are, of course, Facebook's major demographic and the CFO is apparently exercised that they are churning away from the site in their hundreds of thousands every month, mainly because of privacy concerns and a growing conviction that the data they supply to Facebook is being exploited and even misused.

Meanwhile, back at Microsoft, it is becoming evident that the company is coming to a fork in the road and will soon be forced to take the advice of Yogi Berra, the famed sage of the New York Yankees baseball team, and "take it". The choice will be either to replace Steve Ballmer with another Microsoft insider or take a gamble and bring in an outsider.

Alan Mulally has massive experience in turning around massive enterprises that had lost their way (Boeing and Ford) and few would deny that Microsoft seems to be lost in the woods and floundering around at the moment. It needs a news sense of direction and Mr. Mulally could well be the man to refocus the sprawling company. Perhaps most important of all he is not a software wonk and wouldn't have any of that baggage holding him down were he to move to Redmond.

That said, Alan Mulally is 68 and has repeatedly and publicly promised to stay at Ford until at least the end of 2014. We all know words are cheap but even if he went to Microsoft in January, he is hardly likely to be there for all that long. He might have three years or so to make his mark and re-orientate the company before his successor would need to be recruited.

A moderately short tenure may be no bad thing, after all, since 1975 Microsoft has transmuted from a fleet-of-foot upstart into a huffing and puffing, lumbering, overweight middle-aged lump.

However, history is hard to overturn and a corporate predelection for the sort of stability than can result from the long-term retention of C-suite personnel may yet win the day. Many analysts and investors think that would be unfortunate at best and potentially disastrous at worst.

Microsoft desperately needs a cultural blood transfusion and to make a clean break with the bombastic reign of its last imperial CEO. Appointing a replacement from a list of internal candidates would be simply to go back to the future and Microsoft can't afford to do that. More of the same just won't cut it.

I suppose we can be at least a little more optimistic now that Stephen Elop seems to be out of the frame. Should he leave Microsoft in a fit of pique after being passed over for the top job, a suggestion might be that he and Leo Apotheker could become partners in a consultancy:" Nostrums R Us. Give us the tools and we will finish the job. Literally".

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