SEATTLE – Ford CEO Alan Mulally has unequivocally taken himself out of the running to replace Microsot CEO Steve Ballmer.
"I would like to end the Microsoft speculation because I have no other plans to do anything other than serve Ford," Mulally told the Associated Press in Detroit. "You don't have to worry about me leaving."
That thundering sound you hear is the other horses jockeying for position to head the world's largest software company.
The big question is whether Ballmer will pick an insider to replace him, or reach outside of the company's Redmond complex.
Frontrunners include Stephen Elop, the former CEO of Nokia, who rejoined Microsoft as an executive vice president last September when Microsoft announced the acquisition of Nokia for $7.2 billion. Prior to taking the Nokia gig in 2010, Elop had headed up Microsoft's Office business for two years.
Elop stepped into the senior role at Microsoft after climbing the ladder to senior positions at Adobe, Macromedia, Boston Chicken and Lotus Development Corp.
Hot on Elop's heels are Microsoft's business development boss Tony Bates, former CEO of Skype, who joined when Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5 billion in 2011, and Satya Nadella, who heads up Microsoft's cloud and enterprise businesses.
Outside candidates said to be in the running include Pivotal CEO Paul Maritz, VMWare CEO Pat Gelsinger and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, says Daniel Ives, analyst at FBR Capital Markets,.
"Ultimately we believe Mr. Elop is positioned as the close second pick to Mr. Mulally given his previous Microsoft experience and demonstrable expertise in the mobile space, and as he has shown a willingness to make hard decisions," Ives says in a report.
Elop executed layoffs, organizational changes and new partnerships at Nokia. And, of course, he steered the European phone giant into a merger with the U.S. tech giant from whence he came.
"While we commend Mr. Elop's experience at Nokia, we still deem the headwinds that Microsoft's bread-and-butter Windows and Office franchises face in the PC market as a Kilimanjaro-like challenge to overcome," Ives says. "The Street continues to be naturally laser focused on Microsoft's ongoing search for a new CEO to replace Steve Ballmer . . . given the uphill battle faced in the overall PC market and the company's lack of success in both the mobile and tablet markets."