India-born Satya Nadella, currently heading Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group, is listed among likely successors to the information technology giant's CEO Steve Ballmer, who is set to retire within a year.
As executive vice president, Nadella "runs a group that continues to churn out growth and profits", noted Seattle Times in a story on the start of a guessing game among Microsoft watchers since Ballmer's impending departure was announced.
"There is no single clear successor to a lightning rod of a leader who remains one of the most identifiable CEOs in the country," it said.
"What's more, the next CEO may well have a far different job than the one Ballmer is vacating," the Times said as "once the dominant force in technology, Microsoft now finds itself chasing companies in key businesses such as Google in web search and Apple in mobile devices".
Nadella, 44, as head of Microsoft's $19 billion Server and Tools Business, is credited with the transformation of the business and technology from client-server software to cloud infrastructure and services.
Before joining Microsoft in 1992, where he initially worked as the senior vice president of R&D for the Online Services Division and vice president of the Microsoft Business Division, Nadella worked with Sun Microsystems as a member of the technology staff.
Listing Nadella among potential Ballmer successors, the Wall Street journal noted he "ran the Server and Tools business successfully from 2011 to this year and took over running the company's important cloud-computing efforts in last month's management reshuffle".
"Indeed, in reassigning a number of top executives, that reorganisation seems a tailor-made bake-off for the top job," it said.
Nadella also figures on the New York Times' list of current Microsoft executives who could be contenders besides Tony Bates, former director of Skype and now executive vice president of business development and strategy.
Speculation by analysts and executives about external candidates included Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; Reed Hastings, chief executive of Netflix and a former director at Microsoft; Scott Forstall, who ran iOS at Apple until last year and John Legere, chief executive of T-Mobile, it said.
Nadella holds a Master of Science degree in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a master of business administration from the University of Chicago, and a Bachelor of Engineering in Electrical Engineering from the Manipal Institute of Technology.
He is also an alumnus of the Hyderabad Public School, Begumpet.