Should Microsoft Hand CEO Reins to Nokia's Stephen Elop?
Stephen Elop couldn't fix what ailed Nokia, and eventually ended up selling the business to Microsoft. So why is there so much talk about Elop stepping into Steve Ballmer's shoes as the company's third-ever chief?
With Redmond's $7 billion acquisition of Nokia, Elop becomes an insider who may find favor with the board to assume the CEO role when Ballmer retires in the months ahead. Elop stepped down as CEO of Nokia and will serve as executive vice president of Devices & Services at Microsoft -- at least for now.
We asked several tech industry watchers for their thoughts on Elop as the next CEO of Microsoft. The reactions are mixed.
Elop Too Committed to Windows
Adam Hartung, author of "Create Marketplace Disruption: How to Stay Ahead of the Competition," and managing partner for growth strategy firm Spark Partners, said Elop is not the right guy because he's firmly committed to Windows 8 and trying to keep Microsoft alive by defending and extending its historical core.
"His decisions at Nokia to wholly commit to Windows caused a 70 percent decline in market share," Hartung said. "Bringing him back to Microsoft in an effort to make Win8 devices -- phones and tablets -- which the market will want, is a foolish move starting with a nearly $8 billion investment to buy Nokia, and what will surely be billions more spent to develop and attempt selling additional devices."
As Hartung sees it, Microsoft cannot succeed by continuing to push Windows 8 and Office. The market has shifted to mobile devices running iOS and Android, and users are taking advantage of lighter applications like Google Docs.
"That shift has happened, Microsoft missed it, and trying to catch that shift is a money-losing effort," Hartung said. "As we've seen with Nokia's move to Win8 devices and the subsequent market share declines, plus the write off of Surface by Microsoft, promoting Windows products will not turn around Microsoft."
No One Can Fill Gates' Shoes
Mark Faust, principal at Echelon Management International, a growth and turnaround advisory firm, disagrees. He told us Microsoft needs a "controlled revolution" and if anyone can pull that off it is Elop.
"Microsoft doesn't warrant the same message as the 'burning platform' letter but they warrant the same impetus to increased innovation and speed to market," he said. "Elop is an exhorter, and the culture at Microsoft is stale and needs a strong wind of change. Elop can deliver."
Joseph M. Pastore Jr., Professor Emeritus in Residence at Pace University's Lubin School of Business in New York, told us what is happening at Microsoft is what happens to all innovative firms: The fate of the successful entrepreneur is ultimately her or his own demise. Elop probably can't stem the tide.
"Ballmer was left to close the door on the firm's entrepreneurial past," he said. "As for who will open a new door, it's little surprise that there is no 'crowned prince.' Structure follows strategy. Absent the latter, there can be no former. But, we'll know it when we see it."
Bad PR Move?
From a public relations perspective Stephen Elop is the wrong choice to replace Steve Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft, said David Johnson, CEO of public relations firm Strategic Vision. He told us Microsoft has to think about its audiences when selecting a new CEO and Ellop will not satisfy those audiences and send the message Microsoft wants to send.
"First, there are the investors who were unhappy with Ballmer's performance and are feeling uneasy. Replacing Ballmer with Elop would be like rearranging the deck furniture of the Titanic," Johnson said. "Nokia stock declined under Elop's stewardship and that's a major red flag to investors."
Second and more importantly, he continued, there is the dramatic decline of Nokia's market share under Elop's command. Investors are looking for reassurance, a track record of success, and a forward looking vision.
"Elop's being tapped as the CEO doesn't fit the bill. They want a name that will standout and make analysts take notice," Johnson said. "Consumers are looking for a wow factor for the next CEO -- someone who promises innovation. CEOs are part of the story for consumers now in branding and Elop doesn't meet that need."