The final frontier of executive search: Finding the next CEO

The final frontier of executive search: Finding the next CEO

The final frontier of executive search: Finding the next CEO

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, shocked his organization and the tech industry by announcing his retirement earlier this year, after 13 years as the organization’s CEO. He will be retiring within 12 months.

Unlike Ballmer, who was handpicked by Bill Gates as his successor, the search for Microsoft’s next CEO involves a committee which includes Gates, as well as current and former CEOs and CFOs of large organizations.

Executive search heavyweight Heidrick & Struggles has also been enlisted.

Following Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia, however, it is believed Ballmer may be grooming Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia and former head of the Business Division at Microsoft, to take over.

Elop is often referred to as the “prodigal son” of Microsoft.

In what is perhaps more a sign of the times than anything officially endorsed by Microsoft, a website ( has launched to poll who the general public thinks should head Microsoft. The website has no registration, and anyone can vote or submit a possible CEO to be added to the list (provided they are a relevant choice).

While certainly designed in a light-hearted fashion, the list does provide some insight into who consumers of Microsoft products would like to see in the position of CEO. Examples thus far include Gabe Newell, managing director of Valve Corporation, Linus Torvalds, software engineer of Linux Foundation, and Larry Page, CEO of Google.

Quickly finding an already appropriate, external candidate to become CEO may be Microsoft’s only option, as there does not appear to have been adequate succession planning established to fit Ballmer’s timeframe.

“CEO succession is a process that should be on-going within an organization and is one of the most, if not the most important task of the Chairman and the Board,” Nicholas Conigrave, associate director at Hay Group Australia, told HC.

“For organizations to succeed in today’s turbulent times, they need to develop a culture of agility that engages and enables the Board and the executives to shift their strategy to meet the changing dynamics in their market place,” he added.

Conigrave said CEOs must be able to reflect the changing context an organization may find itself in, and be agile enough to execute change where necessary.


Key HR Takeaways

Conigrave views CEO succession planning as a long process. Succeeding here is crucial to the future of any organization, and involves a number of steps:

  • Have the whole board agree on the future of the business strategy, and the implications it will have for the next CEO’s role. (3-6 months)
  • In light of the agreed strategy, define the CEO’s profile. (3 months)
  • Assess internal candidates against this profile, and provide feedback to both the board and the individual candidates. External candidates should be sought benchmarked against the profile. (3-6 months)
  • Agree upon and execute development plans for the internal candidates, preparing them for the role; this is more difficult with external candidates. (12 – 18 months)
  • Now that the CEO is in place, use the profile and outcomes of the development plans to help on-board them into the role.

Have you been involved in finding a new CEO for your organization? How did you go about it?