Trending: Twitter COO predicts streaming devices like Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast will go extinct in 5 years

Steve Ballmer and Alan Mulally
Steve Ballmer and Alan Mulally

If a new report is to be believed, the pool for who’s going to become the next top dog at Microsoft has just become more like a hot tub.

According to the report by Reuters, Microsoft has narrowed the list of candidates to replace CEO Steve Ballmer down to “about five people.” As many observers expected, Ford CEO Alan Mulally and former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop are on the list, alongside former Skype CEO Tony Bates, Satya Nadella and at least one other internal candidate. Bates is currently running Microsoft’s business development, while Nadella is in charge of the Cloud and Enterprise development group, which includes Windows Azure.

Stephen Elop
Stephen Elop

Mulally has been one of the top names floated by the rumor mill since Ballmer announced his retirement. While the Ford CEO and his company’s public relations department have tried to downplay those rumblings, both have stopped short of an outright denial. Ballmer was reportedly inspired by Mulally’s lead when fashioning the One Microsoft reorganization plan, which makes a Mulally-run Microsoft seem more likely.

As a part of Nokia’s sale to Microsoft, Elop left the company, and is supposed to become the head of Microsoft’s handset business, which the company will inherit through its pending Nokia acquisition. That, of course, assumes Elop’s not running Microsoft by that point.

Bates and Nadella have also been floated as potential candidates in the past, though most rumors about Ballmer’s successor have focused outside Microsoft.

In an additional wrinkle, the report also says that activist investor ValueAct Capital Management, which has an option to take seat on the company’s board of directors, will also be given the same access to the five CEO candidates as the other board members.

According to one of Reuters’ sources, it could still be another few months before Microsoft decides on a successor, even given this small pool. Ballmer said in August that he would retire within a year, so there’s still some time yet for Microsoft to decide.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


Job Listings on GeekWork

IT Operations ManagerHarnish Group, Inc., N C Machinery
Optical Software EngineerRadiant Vision Systems
Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.