Steve Sinofsky, Bill Gates, blah. Microsoft doesn’t need an old-guard insider taking over the reins as Steve Ballmer retires. It needs someone with the right mix of energy, experience and creativity to take the company in exciting new directions. At this very critical juncture, Microsoft requires a leader that can finally help it compete against the likes of Apple and Samsung, while keeping its Office and enterprise products humming along. Although dozens of names are floating around, these are the executives I would tap to get the job done.
Sundar Pichai (SVP, Google)
A Googler jumping ship for Microsoft? It sounds blasphemous, but if we’re talking about a new direction for the company, Pichai could be just the right fit. As a senior vice president at Google, Pichai oversees Android, Chrome and Google Apps, which is an enormous amount of responsibility. It also proves that Google has the faith in Pichai to eventually unify its mobile and desktop platforms. Microsoft is on a similar path now with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. And given that he also leads the group responsible for the Chromecast and Google TV, this exec has the trifecta of expertise Microsoft needs to lead its next stage of growth.
Julie Larson-Green (Executive VP, Microsoft)
Wired called her the heir apparent at Microsoft, and it’s easy to see why. Julie Larson-Green now leads the Devices and Studios group at Microsoft, and she’s responsible for all hardware development, including Xbox and Surface. If Microsoft hopes to compete against Apple and Samsung in tablets, phones and the living room, it’s Larson-Green who will lead the charge. She was formerly the engineering head of Windows, replacing Steven Sinofsky. Larson-Green was initially rejected from working at Microsoft before winning some execs over 5 years later with her assessment of their software code compilers. Now she could take over the whole show.
Scott Forstall (Former Senior VP, Apple)
It could be great fodder for a redemption movie. Scott Forstall was allegedly let go from Apple following a refusal to apologize for the Maps app flop. But one shouldn’t overlook all of Forstall’s accomplishments while working under both Steve Jobs and Tim Cook. The executive helped forge iOS, the operating system that today runs a gazillion iPhones and iPads. He would eventually become senior vice president of iOS and helped introduce the world to Siri.
Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO)
Since 2008, Sheryl Sandberg has been managing multiple facets of Facebook’s business, including everything from sales and marketing to business development and communications. Tenacious, smart and experienced, Sandberg could be the one to help Microsoft make good on its recent realignment and execute against its services-and-devices-first strategy. Before joining Facebook, Sandberg was VP of global online sales and operations at Google. Most important, she helped Facebook do what a lot of doubters didn’t think could be done: make the company profitable. Business Insider calls her “at once a safe, but exciting bet.” That sounds like a good combo to me.
Reed Hastings (Netflix CEO)
The head of the world’s leading video streaming service could be just the leader Microsoft needs. He’s certainly good at weathering a storm when his customers resist change. Netflix subscribers were raving mad when the company decided to raise prices and decouple streaming from the DVD delivery service. But Hastings now has more than 38 million members paying $8 per month. Microsoft could use someone who could help Windows 8 users get over a big change. At the same time, Hastings is known for instituting a culture that doesn’t stand for mediocrity, letting mere average performers go. He also promotes both freedom and responsibility, a message that every new hire is made to understand. Microsoft could use a clearer cultural direction, given its many tentacles.
More: Top 25 Windows 8 Apps
Marissa Mayer (Yahoo CEO)
How’s this for a possible 2-for-1 deal. Microsoft should finally acquire Yahoo (after an aborted first attempt) and get an enormous prize in the process in Marissa Mayer. During her short tenure at the company, the former Google exec has managed to edge out Google in U.S. Web traffic. Mayer’s famous attention to detail has played a role in this rebound, as she has pushed her charges to improve the user experience across multiple services. Although Mayer caused some controversy by coming down on working remotely, the stock is up approximately 75 percent since she took over. It’s hard to argue with those results.