Elop moves from long shot to shoo-in as next Microsoft CEO

Betting firms shorten odds on the former Nokia chief executive, make him the front-runner by far

Former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop has moved into a commanding position as the overwhelming favorite to win the chief executive's chair at Microsoft, according to online bookmakers.

Stephen Elop is now seen as the frontrunner for the CEO post at Microsoft. (Photo: Mickey Aldridge)

Just over a week ago, U.K.-based Ladbrokes had Elop at 5 to 1 in its listing of potential CEO replacements for outgoing chief Steve Ballmer. As of Sunday, however, the odds had shortened dramatically: Elop, still the favorite, was at 1 to 4.

Betting $100 on Elop to get the nod would return a profit of just $25, compared to the earlier odds, which with the same $100 bet would have produced a profit of $500.

Another bookmaker, PaddyPower, had even less attractive odds for Elop. The Irish firm listed him at 1 to 12, meaning someone would have to put up $120 for the chance to earn a profit of only $10.

What changed? Microsoft's planned acquisition of Nokia, the Finnish phone maker that Elop has led since 2010.

On Tuesday, Microsoft announced it will pay 3.79 billion ($5 billion) for "substantially all" of Nokia's Devices & Services business and 1.65 billion ($2.17 billion) to license Nokia's patents. If the deal passes regulatory scrutiny in the U.S. and elsewhere, and closes in early 2014 as Microsoft expects, Elop and several other top Nokia executives will become Microsoft employees.

Elop, 49, will take the title of executive vice president for Devices, one of the groups under Microsoft's reworked corporate structure, and replace Julie Larson-Green, who held the spot for less than two months. Larson-Green will report to Elop after he joins Microsoft.

His return to Microsoft, the odds makers concluded, makes Elop the obvious front-runner.

Ladbrokes also trimmed its candidates list from the original 26 to just 11, and changed the odds for others as well.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, moved up from odds of 40 to 1 to 7 to 1, good enough for second place on the Ladbrokes chart. Steven Sinofsky, ousted from Microsoft last November -- reportedly after clashing with Ballmer -- dropped from 8 to 1 to 12 to 1, but remained in third.

Ladbroke and PaddyPower weren't the only ones betting on Elop. Many industry analysts and observers have also tapped him as the most likely replacement for Ballmer, perhaps assuming that Elop would not take a demotion unless there was a clear understanding that he would be appointed CEO of Microsoft.

Some experts, however, have put the spotlight on others that Ladbrokes touted, including Kevin Turner, Microsoft's COO (at 16 to 1); and Satya Nadella, the chief of the Cloud and Enterprise group (20 to 1).

In interviews, Ballmer has said nothing of Elop's chances, other than to state the obvious, that Elop would be an internal candidate rather than an external one. Ballmer has also said that the CEO search will continue.

The latest betting line on the candidates for Microsoft's new CEO has Stephen Elop, now with Nokia but destined for Microsoft, as the overwhelming front-runner. (Data: Ladbrokes.)

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.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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