Bookmaker handicaps Microsoft CEO race

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is the current favorite at 5 to 1; Apple CEO Tim Cook is at 100 to 1

Adding insult to injury after Wall Street boosted Microsoft's stock price when CEO Steve Ballmer announced he would retire, now a U.K. bookmaker is taking bets on Ballmer's replacement.

Ladbrokes, a 127-year-old bookmaking conglomerate that runs nearly 3,000 betting shops in the U.K., Ireland, Belgium and Spain, has opened wagers on Microsoft's next CEO with a list of 26 candidates that include current and former Microsoft executives as well as people from rivals such as Apple and Facebook.

"There is always interest in high-profile CEO vacancies and we feel that offering the odds gives our view of the likelihood of the chances various contenders have," said Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes in an email.

Current Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop was the favorite, at odds of 5 to 1. Betting $100 with Ladbrokes on Elop to get the CEO chair would return a profit of $500 if he was, in fact, named to the top spot.

Elop, 49, worked for Microsoft two years, running the group responsible for Office after another former executive, Steven Sinofsky, left that position to head up Windows development. Elop has been the CEO at Nokia since September 2010.

Kevin Turner followed Elop at odds of 6 to 1, while Sinofsky and Julie Larson-Green were listed at 8 to 1.

Turner, currently Microsoft's COO, was previously the CEO of Sam's Club, the warehouse outlet owned and operated by Wal-Mart. Sinofsky was ousted from Microsoft last November, reportedly after clashing with Ballmer, but according to some analysts also because of his strategy and execution on Windows 8 and Windows RT. Larson-Green, a Sinofsky protégé, has worked for Microsoft for two decades and now runs the Devices and Studios Engineering Group, which handles hardware device design, including the Surface tablet line and Xbox game console. Previously, she was in charge of Windows engineering.

Ladbrokes' list leans toward former and current Microsoft employees; 58% of the wager-ready candidates have ties to Microsoft.

Along with Elop and Sinofsky, the eight former executives on the bookmarker's list included co-founder, former CEO and current chairman Bill Gates at 50 to 1; Jeff Raikes, who runs Gates' foundation (25/1); and Paul Maritz, who stepped down as VMware's CEO last September (14/1).

All seven current Microsoft employees on the list have been touted on one roundup or another of possible Ballmer replacements, including Qi Lu (10/1), head of the new Applications and Services Group; Terry Myerson (12/1), leader of the Operating Systems team; and Satya Nadella (14/1), the chief of Cloud and Enterprise.

The 11 outsiders included Reed Hastings, CEO of NetFlix and a former Microsoft board member (16 to 1 odds); eBay CEO John Donahoe (20/1); Marissa Mayer, the new CEO at Yahoo (33/1); and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook (40/1).

But the oddest candidates on Ladbrokes' odds list were Jonathan Ive, who overseas all software and hardware design at Apple, and current Apple CEO Tim Cook. Ladbrokes gave Ive odds of 40 to 1, and Cook even longer odds of 100 to 1.

In the off chance that Cook moved north to Redmond, Wash., someone who put down $100 would see a profit of $10,000.

"We often take bets on things like this, under the umbrella of 'novelty betting,'" said Donohue of Ladbrokes. "It's not something we will take vast sums of money on at all, with the average stake less than £10 [$15.54 at today's exchange rate]."

Ladbrokes' odds are listed on its website.

Ladbrokes odds for Microsoft CEO job
The bookmaker's line on the top 10 candidates for Ballmer's CEO chair. (Data: Ladbrokes.)

Adding insult to injury after Wall Street boosted Microsoft's stock price when CEO Steve Ballmer announced he would retire, now a U.K. bookmaker is taking bets on Ballmer's replacement. Who would you put your money on to be Microsoft's next CEO?

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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