Microsoft's ongoing search to replace departing CEO Steve Ballmer is proceeding apace, the company revealed on Tuesday. Posting to the company blog on Tuesday, Microsoft's lead independent director John Thompson expressed confidence that the search will wrap up some time early in the next year, but he noted that it is a complicated process to find a candidate capable of stepping in as only the third CEO Microsoft has had in its 38-year history.
"As the chair of the Board's search committee, I'm pleased with our progress," Thompson wrote. "The Board has taken the thoughtful approach that our shareholders, customers, partners and employees expect and deserve. After defining our criteria, we initially cast a wide net across a number of different industries and skill sets. We identified over 100 possible candidates, talked with several dozen, and then focused our energy intensely on a group of about 20 individuals, all extremely impressive in their own right. As you would expect, as this group has narrowed, we've done deeper research and investigation, including with the full Board. We're moving ahead well, and I expect we'll complete our work in the early part of 2014."
Thompson went on to praise the work Microsoft's employees have done even as the company prepares to swap out heads. Specifically, he pointed to the company's continuing profitability, new versions of Windows, new Surface devices, and the launch of the Xbox One console.
The news of Ballmer's departure shocked the tech world. In light of Apple and Google's ongoing successes in the mobile market, and Microsoft's continuing struggles, the company has been under pressure to drop Ballmer as CEO for some time. Still, Ballmer just this summer began a corporate restructuring effort at the Redmond giant, one aimed at bringing all operations together as the company transitions toward being a software, services, and devices firm.
A number of candidates have been proposed to replace Ballmer, including Ford CEO Alan Mulally. Sources close to Mulally, though, say that he has no intention of leaving the automaker before the end of 2014, which likely removes him from serious consideration for the position.
Also in the running was Qualcomm COO Steve Mollenkopf. The mobile chip maker, though, promoted Mollenkopf to CEO recently, heading off the possibility that Microsoft might pick him up.
Ballmer recently explained his thinking behind announcing his retirement, saying that he is, perhaps, a symbol of an older era that the company needs to move past in order to thrive.
"As much as I love everything about what I'm doing," Ballmer said in November, "the best way for Microsoft to enter a new era is a new leader who will accelerate change. At the end of the day, we need to break a pattern... face it: I'm a pattern."