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Microsoft board said to seek Ballmer successor this year

Special committee working to have a new chief executive in place before the end of the year, sources tell Bloomberg.

Outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Screenshot by CNET

Steve Ballmer may be retiring sooner than many expect.

Microsoft's board of directors is working to have Ballmer's successor in place by the end of this year, according to a Bloomberg report that cited unidentified people with knowledge of the discussions. The timetable for announcing a new Microsoft chief executive hinges on negotiations over compensation and departure from the current employer if the selection comes from outside the company, the sources said.

Ballmer, who has led the company for the past 13 years, announced in August that he would retire within 12 months once a replacement is found who will carry out Microsoft's new vision of offering more devices and services. The company's board has formed a special committee to seek out potential candidates. Meeting with Microsoft's shareholders, the committee has been narrowing down its list of possible successors from an initial 40 people, both internal and external.

The committee has already spoken with Ford CEO Alan Mulally, Bloomberg reported, as well as former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, who will rejoin Microsoft when its $7.2 billion acquisition of the Finnish company's handset division closes. Mulally, who has been CEO of Ford for seven years, initially expressed disinterest in the position but has reportedly warmed up to the idea in recent weeks.

Among others rumored to be leading the list of candidates are Microsoft Executive VP Tony Bates, who had previously been CEO of Skype, Computer Sciences CEO Mike Lawrie, former Windows Chief Steven Sinofsky, and former Juniper Networks CEO Kevin Johnson.