By Bill Rigby
SEATTLE Dec 17 The board member leading
Microsoft Corp's search for a new chief executive said
on Tuesday he expects an appointment to be made early next year,
the first time the board has been so specific on timing.
The announcement suggests the world's biggest software
company is nearing the end of its search for a new leader, which
began in August when Steve Ballmer announced his plan to retire
within 12 months.
Microsoft pledged to pick a successor within that timeframe,
although most investors had expected the process to be finished
by December or January.
"It's a complex job. I don't think it's surprising that it
is taking some time to try to find the right person," said Kirk
Materne, an analyst at Evercore Partners.
Microsoft shares were down 1.1 percent at $36.47 on Nasdaq.
"We're moving ahead well, and I expect we'll complete our
work in the early part of 2014," Microsoft lead independent
director John Thompson said in a blog post on the company's
Thompson is leading the four-man committee to find a new
CEO, which includes co-founder and chairman Bill Gates.
Sources familiar with the search process have told Reuters
that the committee is down to a "handful" of candidates,
including Ford Motor Co CEO Alan Mulally, at least one
external candidate from the technology industry and one or two
"We identified over 100 possible candidates, talked with
several dozen and then focused our energy intensely on a group
of about 20 individuals," said Thompson in the blog. "As this
group has narrowed, we've done deeper research and
investigation, including with the full board."
Intense speculation has surrounded Ford's Mulally as a
leading candidate. He has not denied interest in the job, but
has repeatedly said he enjoys working at Ford, where he is
slated to remain through 2014.
Last week it was reported that Qualcomm Inc
executive Steve Mollenkopf was a leading candidate for the job,
but the chip maker forestalled that by making him CEO.
In choosing between Mulally, a candidate from the technology
industry, and its own ranks of executives, Microsoft must make a
decision on how much it desires large-scale management
experience or deep technical knowledge in its CEO.
On Tuesday, Thompson's blog emphasized the tech-heavy
requirements of the position: "This is a complex role to fill,
involving a complex business model and the ability to lead a
highly technical organization and work with top technical