Report: Ford CEO downplays chatter that he's in line to replace Ballmer

Alan Mulally is reportedly a favorite among the candidates being considered to become Microsoft's next CEO

By , IDG News Service |  Software

Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally, considered a front-runner among candidates to replace Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, has reportedly tried to put the brakes on the accelerating rumors.

Interviewed by USA Today on Tuesday, Mulally said he loves "serving Ford" and that he has "nothing new to add" to his plans to continue working at the automotive company.

The 68-year-old executive, who was also president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, has emerged in the past week as a top choice to take over from Ballmer among search committee members, according to media reports based on anonymous sources.

On Thursday, the AllThingsD technology blog reported that Mulally had "vaulted to the forefront" among candidates due to his successful stints at Ford and Boeing, his reputation as a turnaround expert and his ties to Microsoft, which include being a close advisor to Ballmer, and to Seattle, where he has a home.

According to USA Today, Mulally's contract with Ford runs through next year.

During his tenure, Ford collaborated with Microsoft on the development of Ford's Sync in-car "infotainment" system, but Mulally would still be considered an outsider. It could signal a willingness among board members to bring in someone with no IT industry nor Microsoft baggage who could dispassionately question and revise Microsoft's current strategy and plans.

In addition, it may mean that the board is looking for a CEO with strong "leadership soft skills," said Forrester Research analyst David Johnson.

"Mulally has a long track record of building company cultures with a positive outlook and trust, infusing the organization with confidence and energy," Johnson said via email. "He's seen as a cheerleader and advocate for employees -- an essential quality for turnarounds."

A pressing issue the new CEO will likely face include the mixed-reviews and lukewarm adoption of new products that were supposed to boost Microsoft's weak position in smartphones and tablets: Windows 8, the Surface tablets and Windows Phone 8. Some have said Microsoft should take them back to the drawing board.

The new CEO will also inherit a wide-ranging corporate reorganization drafted by Ballmer to make Microsoft function more cohesively and transition from its packaged software focus into a company that sells hardware devices and cloud services. That restructuring is being implemented and it's not clear when it will be completed.

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