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Sundar Pichai vs Satya Nadella: Two Indians in the running for the Microsoft CEO post

Updated: February 3, 2014, 10:25 AM IST
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Sundar Pichai vs Satya Nadella: Two Indians in the running for the Microsoft CEO post
The appointment of 46-year-old Nadella or Pichai would be a significant achievement for both, as they would join a circle of India-origin executives leading top global firms.

New Delhi: Contrary to the Bloomberg report which suggested that Indian-American Satya Nadella may replace long-time Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer as he steps down, a new report has emerged saying that Google's Andorid head Sundar Pichai is the front-runner for the CEO job at Microsoft.

Sundar Pichai, the 42-year-old head executive for Google Chrome and Apps, is the "top choice" for the position of Microsoft CEO and negotiations with him are on in full swing, reported SiliconANGLE, a media website that focusses on the technology industry. "Many industry insiders like Satya Nadella for CEO because of his enterprise and cloud background. However, Sundar Pichai is the leading external candidate and is in discussions with the hiring committee," John Furrier, founder of the blog SiliconAngle.com, said in a blog post.

Indian-origin Sundar Pichai, an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus, caught media attention in India when he was named as the new head of Google's Android division, making him one of the most powerful executives at the Internet giant, last year. Sundar Pichai is currently the senior Vice President of Android, Chrome and Apps at Google.

Pichai's success with the Chrome browser during the past four years has helped Google generate more revenue. He has a Bachelor's degree in Technology from IIT-Kharagpur, holds an Master's degree from Stanford University and an MBA from Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

"Microsoft could really move the ball down the field with Sundar Pichai in creating a new open operating system model for cloud, mobile and social," Dave Vellante, chief analyst at Wikibon, was quoted as saying in the report.

On the other hand, Bloomberg in its recent report had said that Microsoft was poised to take the route of least risk and tap rising internal star Satya Nadella for the job.

It remains unclear whether the 46-year old Indian-born executive, Satya Nadella, will meet some investors' desire for more radical moves at the software maker, after Ballmer announced in August that he planned to retire. Nadella, a native of Hyderabad, India, was promoted to run Microsoft's fast expanding internet-based computing initiative in July last year as part of current CEO Steve Ballmer's radical re-organisation of the company.

Before that he was in charge of Microsoft's growing server and tools business, following on from high-level roles in Microsoft's Office and Bing search engine units. "He's a solid choice," offering continuity of strategy and proven execution, said Sid Parakh, an analyst at fund firm McAdams Wright Ragen.

Microsoft's CEO search has taken longer than most expected when Ballmer announced his plan last August to retire within a year.

If Nadella wins the day, it will be for his innovative work on Microsoft's growing server and tools business, which provides online computing and storage for companies, said a source briefed on the search process.

Microsoft is expected to announce its new CEO, only the third in the company's 38-year history after co-founder Bill Gates and current chief Steve Ballmer, this week. The emergence of Pichai's name, pitted against another Indian for the top job at the world's leading technology company, appears unprecedented and reflects the growing number of India-born executives climbing corporate ladders globally.

Nadella has been getting a vote of approval by a number of advocates for change at Microsoft who believe the company's leader needs to have stronger technical expertise than Ballmer, whose background was in sales.

The appointment of 46-year-old Nadella or Pichai would be a significant achievement for both, as they would join a circle of India-origin executives leading top global firms.

Candidates Dropout

In the meantime, outsiders Steve Mollenkopf from Qualcomm Inc and Ericsson's Hans Vestberg gained ground, the sources said, as they engaged more openly with the board. Both ultimately dropped out, Mollenkopf after he was offered a promotion to CEO at Qualcomm.

At the same time, Microsoft refocused on insiders, including Nadella, Tony Bates - the former Skype boss now in charge of Microsoft's business development - and Stephen Elop, who is set to rejoin Microsoft when its acquisition of Nokia's handset business closes.

Microsoft has declined to discuss individual candidates. Mulally never publicly confirmed his interest in the job but stated his intention to stay at Ford in early January. Vestberg and Mollenkopf also declared their intention to stay at their respective companies. Insiders Bates, Elop and Nadella have not spoken publicly about the process.

Nadella's appointment has not been finalized, the source cautioned. The Microsoft board is set to meet early next week, where the terms of the new arrangement will be finalized.

Nadella has a strong reputation inside the company. His inquisitive mind set him apart early in his career, friends in India say.

"Satya is by far the best internal choice," said Brad Silverberg, who was in charge of Microsoft's breakthrough Windows 95 release and went on to start Seattle-based venture capital firm Ignition Partners.

To other Microsoft observers, Nadella's longevity at the company suggests that he is not a radical thinker and more of a political animal.

"They need and will pick only a bendable guy, who will preserve the existing culture of saying yes," said Joachim Kempin, a former senior vice president of Microsoft and a long time critic of its management.

(With inputs from Agencies)

First Published: February 3, 2014, 10:25 AM IST
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