When a British bookmaker installed Stephen Elop as favorite to take over the soon-to-be-vacant CEO slot at Microsoft Corp last week, most tech observers laughed it off as a publicity stunt.
But Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's handset business, announced late on Monday, has suddenly made Elop one of the most visible candidates for the top spot at the company where he once worked.
Investors and others familiar with the board's thinking reject any suggestion that the deal was done with Elop in mind, and his track record at Nokia is decidedly mixed.
At a minimum, though, the understated, steely Canadian will play a critical role in managing Microsoft's controversial entry into the mobile handset market, and thus shape the future of the software giant as it plunges headlong into the hardware business.
On paper at least, 49-year-old Elop fits the role. He knows broadly how Microsoft works, having spent nearly three years there running the highly profitable Office unit, and has just spent three years in the thick of the mobile war at Nokia.
But that is not enough time to cast him as an "insider" in the minds of many looking to shake up insular Microsoft.
"People are looking for Microsoft to go through some dramatic change," said Kevin Walkush, an analyst at Jensen Investment Management, which holds Microsoft shares. "He has a very good understanding of what happens at Microsoft, and he has made hard decisions in the face of big challenges. It's a pretty strong combination."
The jury is still out on whether Elop saved or put a nail in Nokia's coffin by making the pivotal decision to adopt Microsoft's Windows Phone system as its smartphone platform in 2011.
Nokia's shares fell more than 60 percent during Elop's tenure as CEO, and its sales collapsed as it jumped from its long-held but outdated Symbian system to the largely untested and unknown Windows, choosing it over the more popular Android system by Google Inc.
"They (Nokia) only have 3 percent market share in smartphones. They lost 40 percent of their revenue in mobile phones in Q2. That's not a business on stable ground," said Hakan Wranne, an