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Microsoft CEO should be ...

January 23, 2014: 2:08 PM ET
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Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen should succeed Steve Ballmer as Microsoft CEO. He's gets the cloud. Wall Street is a fan.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul R. La Monica. Other than Time Warner, the parent of CNNMoney, Abbott Laboratories and AbbVie, La Monica does not own positions in any individual stocks.

Microsoft is still searching for a new CEO to replace Steve Ballmer. But I have a suggestion. Hire Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.

I'm a bit surprised that Narayen's name hasn't been mentioned at all.

For one, Adobe (ADBE) and Microsoft (MSFT) both share a common enemy in Apple (AAPL). The late Steve Jobs famously wrote about the many misgivings of Adobe's Flash media player in a blog post in 2010.

Interestingly though, Adobe has evolved in the past few years and is no longer a "Flash" in the pan. Under Narayen's leadership, the company has successfully morphed into a cloud computing powerhouse. And that's exactly what Microsoft needs to do.

Related: Steve Ballmer's legacy at Microsoft

I wrote in November about how Adobe's stock was at an all-time high despite some serious security problems related to its software.

The reason why Wall Street was willing to look the other way on the breach was the excitement about Adobe's growing cloud revenue for its creative suite of tools, such as Photoshop, InDesign and Acrobat.

Adobe is abandoning the "old" model of selling software in shrink-wrapped packages at retailers in favor of a subscription model. And guess what? Investors are even more enthusiastic about Adobe's prospects now than a few months ago.

Since my November column, Adobe shares have gone up another 8%. Microsoft's stock has fallen 4% in the same time frame.

And looking even further back, it's clear that Wall Street likes Narayen -- who has been with Adobe since 1998 and was named CEO in 2007 --  and is not a fan of Ballmer.

Now, there are also several internal candidates at Microsoft who could be a good fit to fill Ballmer's corner office.

First is Stephen Elop -- the ex-Nokia (NOK) CEO who has rejoined Microsoft now that Mister Softee is buying the device business of Nokia.

Former Skype head Tony Bates is also said to be on the shortlist. Microsoft bought Skype in 2011 and Bates is now a Microsoft executive VP.

Finally, there's Satya Nadella, who heads Microsoft's cloud and enterprise group.

Of those three, I think Nadella makes the most sense -- for precisely the same reasons why I think Narayen would be a great choice.

Related: Microsoft is one of the stocks in CNNMoney's new Tech 30 index

Forget about how Microsoft is embracing hardware more with its own tablets and the Xbox/Kinect home entertainment franchise.

Forget about Bing and Microsoft's many other mostly mediocre online offerings.

Microsoft is still, at its core, a software company that caters to big business. And doing that well in the 21st century means embracing a subscription model and the cloud.

Office can still be a cash cow but Microsoft has to really go all-in on the cloud if it wants to stay competitive in a world where Google's (GOOG) Docs are starting to gain more and more users.

So why do I think Narayen is a better pick than Nadella? It seems pretty clear that investors would prefer that Microsoft hire someone from outside the company. Plus, Narayen already has experience as the top dog of a public company.

Think about it. If Microsoft really was that excited about one of its in-house candidates, wouldn't it have already named one of them to succeed Ballmer?

Instead, we were subjected to numerous speculative reports about Ford (F) CEO Alan Mulally rescuing Microsoft. That pipe dream finally seems to be put to rest. It only took about 408 denials from Mulally and other Ford sources.

Related: Mulally quashes Microsoft rumors again

But there also has been chatter recently that Microsoft may be considering Ericsson (ERIC) CEO Hans Vestberg.

And you have to think that Microsoft also seriously looked at Qualcomm (QCOM) COO Steven Mollenkopf for the job. Last month, Qualcomm announced it was promoting Mollenkopf to be its CEO --  one day after a Bloomberg report suggested that Mollenkopf was in the running for the Microsoft top spot!

This is not a knock against Nadella or any other internal candidate. But Microsoft probably should look outside the company.

Related: Can activist investor Jeffey Ubben shake up Microsoft?

Some fresh blood and a new perspective would not be the worst thing in the world for the company. Just ask shareholders of Yahoo (YHOO). Marissa Mayer still can't do anything wrong.

And then there's BlackBerry (BBRY). New CEO John Chen -- who was not a BlackBerry lifer -- has excited investors during his short tenure.

The stock is up more than 35% this year -- although admittedly from a low base. That's mainly due to hopes that the worst may be over and that Chen could work his turnaround magic just like he did at Sybase.

One final thing in Narayen's favor? He probably has a good understanding of the inner workings of Microsoft considering the 2010 rumors that Microsoft wanted to buy Adobe.

Now I doubt that Microsoft is going to take my advice. But I think it would be making a big mistake if it did not reach out to Narayen. He's got the most relevant experience that the company needs and he's an outsider. At the very least, Wall Street would probably love the move.

Reader Comment of the Week! This week's winner is getting the award for a sports-related tweet ... that isn't about Richard Sherman! Imagine that. In fact, it's not even about the Super Bowl. It's about a lowly basketball team playing in the capital of California.

The Sacramento Kings may be the most high-tech team in sports thanks to the recent news that it's accepting Bitcoin and will be featuring Google Glass as part of their broadcasts.

But their 15-26 record is not very regal. It's certainly not befitting of the sky-high prices for Bitcoin and Google.

That's why one Twitter follower joked that the Kings need to return to their roots.

I like it! They could then change their name to the Kansas City Fiber ... brought to you by Google.

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