Ford: Mulally plans to stay through 2014

Speculation remains he will still become CEO of Microsoft

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For more than three months now, corporation watchers and tech followers have been playing a lively parlor game: Who will be the next CEO of Microsoft?

Numerous names -- from within the company and without -- have been tossed around.

One name that has consistently been rumored to be at the top of the list is Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford and former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Some had expected -- and still expect -- Microsoft to name Mulally as its new chief executive sometime this month.

But a wrench was thrown into that speculation with the news Thursday that one of Ford's board directors had said Mulally would be staying at Ford through 2014.

Edsel Ford II told Bloomberg News that "frankly, he has told us that his plan is to stay with Ford through the end of 2014."

How big a wrench that statement was, however, was subject to a level of scrutiny akin to Kremlinology.

Some parsed the word "plan," saying that while Mulally doesn't plan to leave Ford at this point, that doesn't mean he can't or won't.

Others speculated that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who had announced in August he would retire within 12 months, might stay on until Mulally is able to come aboard toward the end of 2014.

Mulally himself would not comment on the subject during an appearance on CNBC Thursday.

"I am honored to serve Ford and we have no change in my plan," he said when asked if he'd been approached by the Microsoft board or its representatives about the CEO position.

When pressed again, Mulally said: "We don't comment on speculation."

Microsoft declined to comment on the CEO search.

Ford did not respond to a request for comment, but the company has said in the past that "nothing has changed" regarding Mulally's leadership there.

Veteran Microsoft analyst Rick Sherlund, with investment bank Nomura, issued an investor's note Thursday saying he still believes Mulally will likely be named Microsoft CEO.

Sherlund said he regards Mulally's statements so far, about there being no change in his plans, as "non-denial denials. If he were

not in discussions, it would be easy to say I am not interested and will not go, as some other candidates have said," Sherlund wrote. "He does not say this."

Regarding Edsel Ford II's statement, Sherlund wrote: "This has been interpreted as he is not going until the end of 2014.

"Alternatively, it can be viewed as he has not changed his plans because he does not yet have the offer to go."

Mulally is one of several candidates rumored to be on the Microsoft board's shortlist for CEO.