With killing spree looming, Elop’s rivals at Microsoft strike first

Ever since Elop left Microsoft to run Nokia, his rivals back in Redmond have been preparing for his return and likely attempt to seize control of the company. Immediately after Microsoft’s deal to acquire Nokia’s handset unit was announced, Elop became one of three leading candidates to become the next CEO. Should he succeed, his modus operandi will be similar to what he demonstrated at Nokia: Kill all major initiatives that threaten his own turf, get rid of all high-level executives who cannot be shaped into loyal allies and bring in absolutely loyal lieutenants.

The formula worked like a charm at Nokia where placid Finnish executives bent to his will or agreed to fade out without a fuss. But Redmond is a more brutal place than Keilaniemi and Elop’s rivals are going for the jugular by turning his own reputation against him. The recent leak about Elop’s plans to kill both Bing and Xbox may have a devastating impact on his candidacy.

The leak sounds so plausible because it fits like a glove with what Elop did at Nokia, where he snuffed out everything that was not Windows with blinding speed. Bing may be roadkill, but Xbox has widely been viewed as the cornerstone of Microsoft’s plans to become a serious player in digital content distribution, particularly in living rooms.

Elop’s bid to destroy Xbox will trigger furious resistance inside Microsoft.

If Xbox is axed, the company must succeed in a big way with Nokia’s Windows Phone products or it will drift into a profound crisis. This, of course, was Elop’s approach at Nokia, where he signed a contract that forbade Nokia from developing Android or Linux products. Elop effectively made himself irreplaceable at Nokia by binding the company’s handset unit irrevocably to Windows Phone.

That is why the leak about killing Bing and Xbox sounds so convincing — and likely lethal. If Elop manages to kill Bing and Xbox and push the Office suite aggressively to iPads, he will effectively defang the executives currently running Microsoft’s Bing, Xbox and Windows units, making himself the God Emperor of Redmond.

In this scenario, he would be the only high-level Microsoft leader with deep knowledge of the handset industry — and handsets would become the true core of Microsoft’s business. Surrounding Elop would be a small cluster of former Nokia executives who owe him total loyalty, because Elop is the only man who can keep their careers on track inside Microsoft.

The soft-spoken Canadian may be chasing absolute power.

Since Bloomberg was able to ferret out no fewer than three separate sources for its big scoop, resistance towards Elop must be running hot indeed. Before Elop ascended to CEO at Nokia, no Finnish executive leaked information about his selection or plans. Now, three Microsoft executives are already running a huge risk just to strangle Elop’s candidacy in its cradle.

This is a rare spectacle — much like “Game of Thrones” but without dragons or magic or glamor or sex or nobility or physically attractive people.