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Ford CEO fights with former Skype and Nokia bosses for top Microsoft job

Nokia's Stephen Elop has been considered the leading candidate to replace outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer but All Things D has just reported that Ford chief Alan Mulally "has vaulted to the forefront of the candidates to become the new CEO of Microsoft."

Mulally, 68, has been at the helm of Ford for seven years and is considered a turnaround artist capable of guiding a slow-moving industry heavyweight — perhaps like Microsoft — through a transition period during difficult times. All Things D's Kara Swisher, citing unnamed sources, wrote that Ford loyalist Mulally had "become more amenable to the idea" of changing jobs in recent weeks.

Swisher also noted that the former Boeing executive still had ties to the Seattle area which could influence his decision to accept the top position in Redmond if offered. It's also been reported that Ford's board recently gave Mulally permission to leave the company before his contract is up.

Ballmer announced in August that he'd be stepping down as Microsoft chief within a year. In early September, the software giant announced a blockbuster deal to acquire Nokia's handset business for $7.2 billion — news that immediately vaulted Nokia CEO Elop to the head of the speculative list of Ballmer's successors.

Elop, who headed Microsoft's Business Division before taking over Nokia in 2010, is returning to the Redmond firm as part of the deal. Another executive reportedly in the running to become Microsoft's next chief executive is former Skype CEO Tony Bates, who also joined the software giant as a result of his company's acquisition by Microsoft in 2011.

Naturally, Microsoft has not confirmed any of this speculation.

If Elop, Bates, and now Mulally are indeed on the shortlist to succeed Ballmer, it's easy to see the pro-and-con arguments which might be made for each candidate. Elop brings the valuable mobile experience Microsoft craves as it lumbers out of the PC-dominated era, while Bates offers the same expertise in cloud and communications services.

Elop, 49, and Bates, 46, are both considerably younger than Mulally, who is 11 years older than Ballmer himself. But Nokia didn't exactly wow the world under Elop's guidance and Bates only ran Skype for about a year before Microsoft acquired it.

Mulally brings considerably more leadership experience to the table. He worked his way up the engineering ranks at Boeing after joining the company in 1969 and was named CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) in 2001. More recently, he guided Ford back to profitability after the financial crash of 2008 without taking a government bailout.

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