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Microsoft narrowing list of CEO candidates

– Microsoft’s board is working toward having the successor to Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer in place by the end of this year and is winnowing a list of candidates, said people with knowledge of the discussions.

The board is narrowing its choices amid preliminary interviews, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. Some candidates have declined to be considered, including eBay CEO John Donahoe, said two people. The board has also solicited advice from Silicon Valley veterans such as Charles Giancarlo, a former Cisco Systems executive and now a managing director at private-equity firm Silver Lake, said other people with knowledge of the matter.

Board members have already spoken with candidates such as Ford CEO Alan Mulally; former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, who will join Microsoft when its $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia’s handset unit closes; former Microsoft No. 3 executive Paul Maritz, who is now CEO of cloud venture Pivotal; and Microsoft business development and evangelism chief Tony Bates, said the people.

The precise timing of a CEO announcement will depend on negotiations over matters like compensation and, in the case of an external candidate, departure from their current company, said the people.

Even if that delays an appointment until next year, the current time frame for the CEO search underscores the urgency for a new leader at the world’s largest software maker. With rivals like Apple and Google pulling away in key markets like mobile and tablet computing, Ballmer is overhauling Microsoft’s strategy and culture to focus on devices and services. Any new CEO must manage that transition, as well as integrate Nokia’s phone business and run the company.

Microsoft has only had two CEOs – co-founder Bill Gates and Ballmer – in its 38-year history. Ballmer, who has led the Redmond, Wash.-based company since 2000, said in August that he plans to retire within a year.

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