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What if Ford’s boss took over as Microsoft’s boss?
Ballmer, 57, has said his father worked for Ford for more than 30 years. And Mulally and Ballmer are friends. Ballmer even spoke with Mulally over coffee about a wide-ranging reorganization that Microsoft announced in July.
As a Top 5 holder of Microsoft's shares, Ballmer's support is essential, and Mulally would clearly have it.
In a 2009 contribution to Time magazine's Time 100 issue, Ballmer praised Mulally effusively, saying his support for the auto chief was "both emotional and rational."
"He understands the fundamentals of business success as well as any business leader I know," Ballmer wrote.
HE'S A SOFTWARE SOPHOMORE: As a trained aeronautical engineer with an MIT management degree, Mulally lacks the programming chops of the troops he would be leading.
Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights and Strategy, says that's a knock against him: "In today's tech world, I think we've seen the best leaders, whether in software or hardware or consumer devices, have very deep background in technology."
The analyst favors Tony Bates, a self-taught programmer and the former Skype CEO who is now Microsoft's executive vice president of business development, strategy and evangelism. Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011 for $8.5 billion.
HE'S OLD SCHOOL: At 68, Mulally would strike a grandfatherly presence among Microsoft employees. The average age of Microsoft workers is 34, according to compensation research firm PayScale Inc. While that's higher than companies such as Google (29) and Facebook (28), a younger leader may help Microsoft attract and inspire new recruits.
Yahoo Inc., for example, regained some of its cool and saw its stock price double after hiring as CEO Marissa Mayer, who's 38. After arriving more than a year ago, she quickly moved to boost morale and improve Yahoo's recruiting and retention of talented workers, the lifeblood of any tech company.
"If (workers) see a younger CEO, there's more reason to believe they can get ahead," Moorhead says.
HE ALREADY HAS A LEGACY: Mulally has cemented his reputation and could retire from Ford into a lucrative world of speaking engagements and board positions.
While Mulally is fit and enthusiastic, a turnaround of Microsoft could take five years or more. He would have to decide if he wants to be a CEO into his mid-70s.
"Unless Ford completely collapses, Alan's tenure at Ford is going to be regarded as one of the greatest CEO stints in corporate history," says Morningstar analyst David Whiston. "If he goes to Microsoft in a totally new industry and it doesn't work out, that could tarnish his legacy a little bit."