Microsoft CEO Drama Intensifies As VMware, Qualcomm Execs Surface As Candidates

On Thursday, AllThingsD reported that Microsoft was considering a "male tech executive" who hadn't previously been mentioned as a potential successor to Ballmer. AllThingsD speculated that the executive might be VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger, based on his vast enterprise experience gained during a 33-year career at Intel and EMC.

Later Thursday, Bloomberg reported that Microsoft was talking to Qualcomm COO Steve Mollenkopf, a 19-year company veteran who was second in command to CEO Paul Jacobs, about the CEO job.

[Related: Microsoft Stakes Its Claim As Top Dog In Enterprise Cloud Market ]

The plot thickened further on Friday when Qualcomm named Mollenkopf to replace current CEO Paul Jacobs effective March 4. The unexpected appointment suggests Qualcomm moved quickly to lock in Mollenkopf once it learned of Microsoft's interest.

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Jacobs isn't denying that this how it went down. "Our executives are very talented and very sought after," Jacobs told Reuters. "The timing is a little faster than we originally planned but the key thing is to make sure we kept management continuity."

So where does this leave Microsoft? Several Microsoft partners contact by CRN Friday declined to comment on who they think Microsoft should pick. Microsoft is expected to name Ballmer's successor by the end of the year, but its board said in August it was giving itself 12 months to pick a new CEO.

Gelsinger, who joined EMC in 2009 after a 30-year career at Intel, is said to be in line to replace EMC CEO Joe Tucci when he decides to retire. Tucci intends to remain EMC CEO until at least early 2015.

One VMware partner told CRN it's hard to imagine Gelsinger, who took over as CEO nearly 16 months ago, leaving at this stage.

"It's pretty apparent that Gelsinger is being groomed for that position, and that would be something hard to give up," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he's not authorized to speak about such matters.

Another partner described VMware's leadership situation as "stable" at the moment after a series of high-profile executive departures over the course of 2013, including CTO Steve Herrod and CMO Rick Jackson.

As VMware enters its "next growth surge" with the software-defined data center, where networking and storage are virtualized along with servers, it would be tough to imagine Gelsinger leaving at such a critical stage, said the source, who also requested anonymity for the same reasons.

One name that hasn't been talked about much is Hewlett-Packard COO Bill Veghte, who left Microsoft in January 2010 and joined HP a few months later. Veghte, who spent 19 years at Microsoft in various Windows division executive roles, appears to be in line to replace HP CEO Meg Whitman, and she has said HP's next CEO will come from within the company.