Microsoft Corp. is close to naming a new chief executive, most likely its cloud-computing head Satya Nadella, a source close to the matter said Thursday, concluding a five month search for a heavy-hitter to lead the world's largest software company.
As part of the move, co-founder Bill Gates may step aside as chairman but remain on the board, while lead independent director John Thompson will take on the chairman role, the source said on condition of anonymity because the process is private.
Bloomberg first reported the news Thursday.
Nadella, a native of Hyderabad, India — where Microsoft has its largest non-U.S. research center — was promoted to run the company's fast expanding cloud, or internet-based, computing initiatives in July last year as part of current CEO Steve Ballmer's radical re-organization of the company.
Nadella's appointment would make him the most powerful Indian-born tech executive in the world and put him alongside PepsiCo Inc.'s chief Indra Nooyi as the leader of a well-known, large-cap U.S. corporation.
Before his role in shaping Microsoft's cloud computing business, Nadella was in charge of the company's growing server and tools unit, following on from high-level roles in Microsoft's Office and Bing search engine teams.
"He's a solid choice," offering continuity of strategy and proven execution, said Sid Parakh, an analyst at fund firm McAdams Wright Ragen,
Some investors had campaigned for an external CEO who might be more likely to shake up the company and reward shareholders with greater dividends and share buybacks, but Parakh said that did not mean Nadella would necessarily be unpopular with Wall Street.
"Any new CEO is going to have to have the shareholders' say in mind. But it's not certain that will translate into actions," said Parakh.
Sources had previously told Reuters that Microsoft was down to a "handful" of candidates, including Nadella, executive vice president of the cloud and enterprise group, and Tony Bates, executive vice president of business development, plus at least one external candidate.
Bloomberg added the Nadella plans had not been finalized. Microsoft declined to comment.
Microsoft shares rose 0.8 percent to $37.15 after hours, after gaining slightly in regular Nasdaq trading.
There have been calls for months for Gates to step down from a group of investors who believe the company's co-founder is a block to radical change and investor-friendly moves at the technology giant.
Some investors have urged Thompson to consider the CEO role himself, sources told Reuters this week. One person close to the board told Reuters on Thursday that Thompson was not in the frame to lead the company, but did not rule out a senior executive role, such as chairman.
Microsoft's CEO search has taken longer than most expected when Ballmer announced his plan last August to retire within a year.
In a blog post on the company's website in December, Thompson emphasized the need for a CEO with "an ability to lead a highly technical organization and work with top technical talent."
Thompson, who leads the four-member CEO search committee, said at the time he expected the panel to reach a decision "in the early part of 2014."
The appointment of a company veteran like Nadella, which follows an extended flirtation with outsiders such as Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Alan Mulally, could disappoint some investors who were hoping for a more radical transformation at the software giant.
"While many on the Street are now expecting Mr. Nadella to get the CEO spot, we believe filling this position with a core Microsoft insider will disappoint those hoping for a fresh strategic approach (e.g. potential breakup of enterprise/consumer, Xbox spin off) an outside executive could have brought to the table," FBR analyst Daniel Ives said in a research note, adding that innovation and fresh strategies were essential for the company.
"With that said, we believe Mr. Nadella's prior roles in the Online Services Division, Business Division, and most recently as president of the Server and Tools business position him as a strong internal candidate with a broad set of knowledge around Microsoft's massive product portfolio," Ives wrote.