India-born Microsoft executive Satya Nadella appears most likely to succeed Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer after emerging as a popular choice with his deeper engineering background compared to other internal candidates, a media report said.

Mr. Nadella, a Hyderabad native, is a longtime Microsoft executive who leads its initiatives in cloud computing.

He is a “popular choice partly because of his oversight of the enterprise software and cloud computing businesses at Microsoft, one of the strongest and fastest growing parts of the company,” the New York Times said in a report.

It added that Mr. Nadella also has a deeper engineering background than many other internal candidates.

Mr. Nadella has been getting a vote of approval by a number of advocates for change at Microsoft who believe the company’s leader needs to have stronger technical expertise than Mr. Ballmer, whose background was in sales.

The company’s former chief financial officer John Connors, now a venture capitalist in the Seattle area, said Mr. Nadella would be an “outstanding choice” for chief executive.

“I think he’s a strong enough leader and general manager that he’ll do just fine,” Mr. Connors said in the report. “The company has a lot of talent and ability to recruit a lot of talent. He’s a guy who could run a multi-portfolio business.”

While the company’s board has not decided on a successor for Mr. Ballmer, several people observing the search process said Mr. Nadella was the favoured candidate, the NYT report said.

In addition to Mr. Nadella, Microsoft has interviewed Kevin Turner, its top sales executive, and Tony Bates, who joined Microsoft through its acquisition of Skype.

Stephen Elop, former chief executive of Nokia who said he would rejoin Microsoft once its purchase of the Finnish company’s mobile business was complete, has also been considered.

The report said an announcement is expected only next week.

Mr. Nadella, 46, is responsible for building and running the company’s computing platforms, developer tools and cloud services.

He and his team delivered ‘Cloud OS,’ Microsoft’s next-generation backend platform, which not only powers all of Microsoft’s Internet scale cloud services but also meets the mission-critical computing needs of global enterprises.

Previously, Mr. Nadella was president of Microsoft’s 19 billion dollar Server and Tools Business and led the transformation of the business and technology from client-server software to cloud infrastructure and services.

Prior roles include senior vice president of R&D for the Online Services Division and vice president of the Microsoft Business Division.

Before joining Microsoft in 1992, Mr. Nadella was a member of the technology staff at Sun Microsystems.

A native of Hyderabad, Mr. Nadella earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Mangalore University, a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.

If chosen, Mr. Nadella would be only the third CEO in Microsoft’s 38-year history, after co-founder Bill Gates and Ballmer.

Mr. Nadella does not have a proven track record in consumer businesses, which are becoming a bigger part of the company’s focus through its Xbox game console, Surface tablets and its acquisition of Nokia’s mobile unit.

The Wall Street Journal quoted people familiar with the process as saying that Microsoft is getting closer to naming a CEO, with sentiment inside the company shifting to Mr. Nadella.

It said as potential candidates outside of Microsoft were ruled out of the CEO hunt, in recent weeks the sentiment inside Microsoft and among people familiar with the company about the most likely successor shifted in favour of Mr. Nadella.

The Microsoft board is also discussing replacing Mr. Gates as chairman, in what would be a historic change for the company.

The board is believed to be considering Microsoft lead independent director John Thompson as Mr. Gates’s replacement.

Appointing Mr. Nadella would be a significant achievement as he would join a circle of India-origin executives manning top global companies.

Indians at the helm include PepsiCo Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Indra Nooyi, MasterCard President and Chief Executive Officer Ajay Banga and Deutsche Bank Co-CEO Anshu Jain.

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