Current Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally has moved into second place behind former Nokia chief Stephen Elop in the betting pool as the next Microsoft CEO, according to an Irish bookmaker.
As of Monday, PaddyPower had Elop at odds of 4-to-11 in a listing of potential CEO replacements for outgoing chief Steve Ballmer, meaning someone would have to bet $110 for the chance to take away $40 in profit.
Mulally, whose name resurfaced last week as a serious candidate for the job, was at 3-to-1 odds, good enough for second on PaddyPower's chart: Wagering $100 on Mulally would, if he were named chief executive, return a profit of $300.
Kara Swisher of the AllThingsD blog, an offshoot of the Wall Street Journal, said on Friday that "sources close to the situation" reported Mulally, 68, had gone to the front of the line of potential CEOs.
Mulally has been the president and CEO of Ford Motor for seven years, and had been widely credited with guiding the automobile maker through the 2008-2009 industry crisis when the other two of the Big Three -- General Motors and Chrysler -- went bankrupt and required government bailouts to survive.
He also assumed the job of finishing Ford's restructuring, dubbed "The Way Forward," that began before his hiring.
Mulally started his career at Boeing, where he last served as the president and CEO of its Renton, Wash. commercial aircraft division, which designs and builds passenger planes ranging from the aged 737 to the newest 787, or Dreamliner.
When Ballmer was pondering a restructuring of Microsoft -- eventually tagged with the slogan of "One Microsoft" -- he reportedly consulted with Mulally frequently.
Other candidates forwarded by analysts and pundits have largely been limited to current and former Microsoft employees, including Steven Sinofsky, the leader of the Windows group who was ousted last year; and Tony Bates, who joined Microsoft after it acquired Skype, and who now leads business development and evangelism at the Redmond, Wash. company. A few without ties to Microsoft, however, have been mentioned, including Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, and Mike Lawrie, the CEO of Computer Sciences, a multi-national IT service provider that is also in the middle of a turn-around project.
Both Sandberg and Lawrie were on PaddyPower's betting list at odds of 20-to-1 and 10-to-1, respectively. Sinofsky and Bates were listed at 12-to-1.
The bookmaker's odds are not its take on the CEO race, but instead reflect how it believes people will wager, which tilts the odds towards names that have been widely discussed in the media, and thus read or heard by gamblers. A true dark horse candidate would be unlikely to even appear on a betting list.
A special committee composed of several Microsoft board members is conducting the CEO search. Headed by John Thompson, the board's lead independent director, the committee also includes Bill Gates, the company's co-founder and chairman of the board.
Microsoft has said virtually nothing about its search for a new leader other than to maintain that the process continues. Nor has it set a deadline more specific than the 12 months that Ballmer noted when he announced he would retire.
Many analysts believe that the company's long search span, or the fact it had no immediate replacement for Ballmer in August, showed it lacked a clear succession plan, and that contrary to its assertions, Ballmer's exit was not only unexpected but also probably forced upon him to some degree.
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 email@example.com.