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Set to depart Nokia, Stephen Elop eyed as top candidate for CEO of Microsoft

Some motivation behind Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's handset division may be to tap CEO Stephen Elop as the successor to outgoing Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, observers have speculated.

Ballmer and Elop were asked about the possibility of Elop becoming Microsoft's next CEO in an interview with The Verge. Ballmer, who will have input on Microsoft's next leader, declined to say whether Elop is now Microsoft's top choice for CEO.

"Our board will consider everybody," Ballmer said. "They will do it in private — that's the right way for the board to conduct its business."

But he did go one step further in a separate interview with The Seattle Times, saying the purchase of Nokia's phone division will take Elop from an "external to internal" candidate.

Microsoft's CEO also revealed that the deal to buy Nokia's phone business was in place before he announced his plans to retire within the next year. Ballmer plans to call it quits once his successor has been chosen, bringing to an end his 13-year tenure as Microsoft CEO.


Ballmer's impending departure comes after his company failed to respond quickly enough to Apple's iPhone and Google's Android platform. As a result, Microsoft's Windows Phone devices have largely floundered in the market, which is dominated by Apple and Google.

Elop was former head of Microsoft's Office division before he was snagged by Nokia to take over as CEO. Nokia announced on Monday that Elop will resign as part of Microsoft's proposed $7.2 billion buyout of its mobile division, citing potential conflicts of interest.

Once at Nokia, one of Elop's first decisions was to issue a scathing memo in which he compared the company's Symbian platform to a burning oil platform. Nokia, he said, was akin to a man standing on that platform, "faced with the decision to die in a fire or plunge into the icy sea."

Elop's solution was to switch Nokia to Microsoft's Windows Phone platform for its high-end smartphones. But that strategy has seen Nokia remain a marginal player in the smartphone space, while Apple and Samsung have dominated in hardware marketshare.

Over the years at Microsoft, Ballmer has drawn the ire of some Apple supporters for comments disparaging the iPhone, iPad, Mac and other platforms. In one infamous incident, Ballmer saw a Microsoft employee taking a picture of him with an iPhone, which prompted him to take the device, place it on the ground, and pretend stomping on it.

Elop had his own similar incident earlier this year during a television interview, when he took the host's iPhone and tossed it on the floor.