3 Ways Microsoft Could Find a CEO Today

Many CEO candidates are reportedly uncomfortable with Steve Ballmer hanging over their shoulders. Image source: Microsoft.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) has been looking for a new CEO since August 2013. Longtime leader Steve Ballmer will retire at some undefined point in 2014, making way for fresh blood in Microsoft's executive suite.

But The Wall Street Journal reports that top candidates don't want the job with not one but two former CEOs hanging over their shoulders in the boardroom. Ballmer is expected to stay on Microsoft's board after retiring from the CEO post, and company founder Bill Gates is Microsoft's chairman, for crying out loud!

Here are three simple ways for Microsoft to work around this issue and land the CEO of its dreams:

  • Do whatever it takes to get Ford CEO Alan Mulally to take Microsoft's top title.

    Mulally has experience working in the shadow of ex-CEO and founding family member Bill Ford Jr. in Detroit, and still managed a tremendous turnaround in the last five years.

    If anyone can make the Gates/Ballmer influence work while pulling off another massive turnaround, it's Alan Mulally. For this simple reason, he's worth almost any price Microsoft could come up with.

  • Reduce Ballmer's promised post-retirement position.

    A board seat gives the much-maligned executive entirely too much influence over Microsoft's future, and the WSJ says that Ballmer alone has scared off more top candidates than anything else. But you can't just throw him out with the bathwater, losing three decades of Microsoft experience and more than a decade of CEO-level insights.

    So move him out of the boardroom and make Ballmer an "advisor" to Microsoft's top brass for a couple of years. Whatever valuable knowledge he alone might possess is preserved, without the scary power to enforce Ballmer's tried-and-failed policies.

  • Keep Ballmer around, but let Gates retire completely.

    If at all possible, avoid giving Ballmer the chairman title as Gates slips away to focus fully on his charitable efforts. Seagate CEO Stephen Luczo could easily take the chairman's seat and bring a breath of invigorating air into Microsoft's boardroom. With only one ex-CEO to worry about -- albeit the most recent and overbearing one -- someone like Mulally could feel comfortable leading Microsoft into entirely new strategies.

    And let's say that Luczo actually takes the chairman position -- Microsoft would finally be free to take hardware operations seriously. Wouldn't that be a revolution in itself?

I'm not holding my breath for any of these solutions to happen, of course. This boardroom is dominated by longtime directors, including two dating all the way back to 1981. Only three out of nine directors have served fewer than eight years -- including my chairman candidate Luczo, who only joined the board in 2012. So there's plenty of inertia to overcome here.

But if any of these pie-in-the-sky solutions does come true, I think Microsoft would be well on its way to a full recovery. The stock has trailed the S&P 500 index by a large margin over the last decade, and it's high time for some completely fresh thinking in Redmond.

MSFT Chart

MSFT data by YCharts.

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