With Microsoft's $7 billion acquisition of Nokia, it also got a front-runner for its open CEO position: Stephen Elop, the former CEO of the Finnish phone company who just stepped down from that post to act as the Executive Vice President of Devices and Services. Current (but fleeting) CEO Steve Ballmer confirmed to The Seattle Times that Elop is now an "internal candidate" for his job. "Stephen will go from external [candidate] to internal," Ballmer said in an interview last night. "We’re excited about the talent capabilities it will bring to Microsoft," he added in an interview with The New York Times's Nick Wingfield. Although Ballmer assured The Seattle Times that "the board will continue [to look at] all appropriate candidates," AllThingsD's Kara Swisher says the acquisition puts him at the top of the list. So, if this is the guy slated to take over Redmond, what's he like? The short answer: A Microsoft guy, which might not be exactly what the company needs right now.
Before going to Nokia in September 2010, Elop headed up Microsoft's business unit, which he left to help the struggling phone company — once so dominant in the days of brick phones and snake games — gain back some of its market share. He hasn't quite succeeded on those fronts, in part because of his loyalty to Microsoft. Elop called Nokia a "burning platform" before aligning its smartphone business with Microsoft, hoping to stop that burning. From then on, the Nokia Lumia became the Windows phone, running Windows software under Nokia hardware.
Since, Elop has had to defend his choice of Microsoft's phone software over Android. The flagship Windows phone, the Nokia Lumia 900 got decent reviews from the techies, but not too many people bought it — it accounted for only 3.7 percent of total smartphone shipments last quarter, according to the IDC research firm. Nokia's not even in the top 5 smartphone makers worldwide, according to Strategy Analytics, who put together the chart at right.
While Elop has justified the move, arguing that the the Windows phone provided a third alternative in an oversaturated Android market was already too saturated, he also happened to choose the operating system of his former employer, notes Ben Thompson over at Stratechery. "Coming from Microsoft, he failed to appreciate that Nokia’s differentiation lay not in software, but in everything else in the value chain," he writes in light of the acquisition — "the deal that makes no sense," he says.
Elop, in a press conference yesterday, admitted that he made "difficult decisions," including his choice to go with Microsoft, presumably. But, he also suggested that Nokia would learn from those mistakes. "The decisions we made there is no doubt that they will improve our position and our security going forward," he said.
Even if Elop did align Nokia too closely with Microsoft, he does have two advantages as the potential future CEO of Microsoft now: Money and a name. "We need financial muscle to truly break through with consumers," he added. Microsoft just injected $7 billion and all the resources of its huge corporation into Nokia. And if all else fails, he has the right name for the job. If he gets the job, he'll join the tradition of Steves — Ballmer, Jobs, Sinofsky, etc. — running tech companies.