It wouldn't be a surprise. Elop was the early favorite in this race by most accounts, long before Microsoft decided to cut another big check this morning.
The allure of Elop is simple. He's a former Microsoft exec. He was the head of its business division -- governing over the still-lucrative Office software franchise -- until being lured away by the challenge of turning Nokia around three years ago. Between his experience at Microsoft and his three years of watching over the company that once ruled the mobile market, Elop would seem to be a sensible choice to lead the tech bellwether into its new age as a devices and services company.
Some are even daring to compare this to Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) decision to buy NeXT in 1996, a move that returned Steve Jobs to his company. It may be fair to compare Microsoft to Apple now, as this decision all but cements that Windows Phone will be an in-house mobile platform -- because no one is going to want to stray from Android to embrace Windows on smartphones outside of Nokia now -- but this isn't exactly the acqui-hire that brings the prodigal son back in time for a renaissance, like Apple experienced.
Yes, Elop's returning to Microsoft to head up its devices division now. It doesn't mean that he's the guy that can turn Microsoft around. Heck, he couldn't even turn Nokia around. Even after today's pop, the stock is still trading for a little more than half of where it was at when he arrived at Nokia 36 months ago. Some can even rightfully argue that it was Elop's deal to tie Nokia to Windows Phone that doomed the company's handset business.
Is Elop better than many of the internal candidates that Microsoft is considering? Absolutely. Is he the best choice? Absolutely not. Microsoft needs an outsider, and Elop doesn't count. If the market's going to get excited enough to justify the stock's pop the day that Steve Ballmer announced that he would be stepping down, it's going to have to be a visionary from the outside.
I realize that many will not share my zeal for Reed Hastings or Sheryl Sandberg as the next Microsoft CEOs, but the market won't be satisfied with an internal promotion for a company that needs a serious attitude adjustment. If Elop is named Ballmer's replacement, it will face the same outcry as Ben Affleck's casting as the new Batman.
Fans expect more. Investors demand it.
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