Microsoft said to be close to naming a new chief

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICEFebruary 1, 2014 

SEATTLE — Microsoft has spent five months looking for a new face to help the company evolve along with the mobile age. Turns out, it seems to be choosing a familiar face and largely sticking to its current path.

The company is close to naming Satya Nadella, head of its corporate software and cloud computing business, as its next chief executive, according to people briefed on the process. Nadella’s selection has not been completed, but it could be announced as early as next week, said these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

As part of its conversations with Nadella, the Microsoft board has also discussed possible changes to the role of Bill Gates, the company’s co-founder, these people said. One possibility is that Gates will step down as chairman, keep his board seat and become more involved as a strategic adviser for Nadella. The board has not made a final decision on Gates, and he could remain as chairman, one of these people said.

The move to pick Nadella as its next chief executive —he would be only the third in the company’s history of almost 40 years — is a sign that Microsoft does not intend to pursue the kind of far-reaching shake-up many people within the industry have called for.

Companies in crisis, and even those a little off-balance like Microsoft, often recruit new leaders from the outside to bring in a fresh pair of eyes, among other things. Microsoft, too, considered a broad group of external candidates, including Alan Mulally, chief executive of Ford; John Donahoe, chief executive of eBay; and Paul Maritz, a former Microsoft executive who now runs a startup called Pivotal.

In the end, though, Microsoft gravitated to Nadella, a 22-year Microsoft employee who is fluent in Microsoft’s rough-and-tumble culture and comes with the kind of strong technical skills that Gates was said to favor in a new leader.

Bloomberg reported the possible changes Friday. Microsoft declined to comment.

One reason Nadella, 46, emerged as the board’s choice is the sheer vastness of Microsoft. The company has about 100,000 employees and will add another 32,000 through its acquisition of Nokia’s mobile phone business.

And the company is in the process of a major reorganization. Before the current chief executive, Steve Ballmer, announced his plans to retire from Microsoft in August, the company began a significant restructuring meant to increase responsiveness to new developments in the industry, namely mobile devices, and discourage infighting between its powerful divisions.

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