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Microsoft Corporation (MSFT): The Odds Of The Next CEO

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British gamblers don’t just bet on cricket and soccer. Bookmakers across the pond like to offer betting action on all kinds of events, like the winner of celebrity Big Brother, or who will be the next mayor of London.

Starting this week, the Brits are betting on who’s the next CEO of Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), thanks to Middlesex-based bookie Ladbrokes.

The wisdom of crowds can yield serious insights — that’s what our own CAPS community is based on, for example. So let’s see what the wise crowds say about the third CEO in Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s 38-year history.

Source: Screenshot of Ladbrokes.com.

Since the bookmaker’s odds are based on actual bets, with a hefty profit margin added on top (a 65% vig in this case), the handicap statements offer a direct look into the popular opinion on every event. Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) won’t pick a leader based on a public vote, or even a shareholder referendum, so the odds aren’t exactly a dead giveaway in this case.

Moreover, frontrunner Stephen Elop only gets 5/1 odds, or a 20% chance of winning the race. In other words, there is no odds-on favorite here. Several of the top picks stand a real chance of winning the CEO job, and there’s plenty of room for dark horse surprises.

No. 1 Stephen Elop: 20% odds
Elop is a semi-internal candidate for Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT). He left Redmond to become CEO of Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:NOK) in 2010, but the job always felt like a temporary position. Elop’s presence at Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:NOK) ushered in the switch to Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s Windows Phone platform, and rumors about a Microsoft buyout popped up in short order.

Stephen Elop and Steve Ballmer, celebrating Nokia’s commitment to Windows software. A harbinger of the torch being passed to Elop? Source: Microsoft.

Maybe this is the time to bring the prodigal son back home from Finland — perhaps along with that long-rumored Nokia acquisition. But Elop hasn’t exactly been a smashing success at Nokia, so I’m kind of a skeptic. Let’s move on.

No. 2 Kevin Turner: 17% odds
Turner is a true insider. The former Sam’s Club CEO became Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s chief operating officer in 2005, and is a member of Microsoft’s strategic inner circle. Picking Kevin Turner would be the closest thing to declaring “business as usual,” and this might be Steve Ballmer’s favorite option to replace him.

Source: Microsoft.

Then again, Turner’s extensive retail experience might turn the company in a new direction with a much heavier retail-store component. Don’t laugh, but if Kevin Turner takes the corner office, I would expect him to make a serious buyout offer to Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) very quickly. The struggling big-box store chain is looking for an exit strategy, and the Turner-flavored Microsoft would want an instantly massive retail footprint. He doesn’t quite have that clout as COO, but that middle “E” would make a big difference.

No. 3 Steven Sinofsky: 13% odds
Here’s another expatriate Microsoft insider. Sinofsky was a Redmond lifer who managed Office products for many years and then spearheaded the life-saving Windows 7 development in the wake of the Vista disaster. When he left the company last fall, insiders said that he quit because Ballmer wouldn’t anoint him as his heir apparent. A triumphant return to the CEO chair he always coveted would be packed with sweet irony.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Sinofsky’s name is behind much of what’s right with Microsoft today. There’s no question that he can do the job, and I’m sure that Microsoft would be a healthier business with this Steve at the helm.

But he just took a new job with venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz — I mean, the day before Ballmer made his big announcement — and is teaching classes at Harvard’s prestigious business school, to boot. The timing might be too awkward. The cynic in me wonders whether that’s why Ballmer made his move right after seeing Sinofsky committing to something else.

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