The not-so-shocking news came yesterday afternoon that embattled Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz was fired. When Bartz came to power in January 2009 I compared her to then newly elected Barak Obama. Both confronted crises and high expectations. Both have seen goodwill erode and give way to disappointment.
Low Employee Approval
The task of both chief executives was to turn around a their respective enterprises. Obama has not been able to do it and may face an electoral ouster next year. And after a number of flat or down quarters Bartz was removed over the phone yesterday. That followed several months of rumors that she would be fired.
Bartz’s employee approval rating had sunk to 33 percent, according to Glassdoor, Obama’s numbers are in the low 40s. Among the Yahoo-employee comments on Glassdoor,”execution” failures were cited as a major reason for disapproval of Bartz.
Bartz confirmed the termination herself (from her iPad) before Yahoo itself did in a press release. People are now reading between the lines of that press release for signals as to what Yahoo may do next. The particular line drawing scrutiny is Yahoo’s Chairman Roy Bostock’s statement, “We are committed to exploring and evaluating possibilities and opportunities that will put Yahoo! on a trajectory for growth and innovation and deliver value to shareholders.”
Carve It Up, or Sell the Whole Hog?
That statement, together with the fact that CFO Tim Morse is now the acting CEO, is being seen as a suggestion of a sale of some or all of the company. However a carving up of the company’s assets seems less likely than a sale of the entire company. But that in turn seems less likely than an attempt to find a new CEO and try again. A merger of AOL and Yahoo would probably be a disaster.
Bartz’s ouster has prompted many to say again that Yahoo made its first mistake by not selling whole hog to Microsoft for $45 billon several years ago. Many people also believe that selling search to Microsoft was a mistake. I agree, but Bartz followed a certain kind of cost-cutting logic in doing that deal as well as other “outsourcing” deals at Yahoo.
Others are speculating about who the next CEO might be or should be. GigaOM’s Om Malik likes Jason Killar (of Hulu) as a strong, product-oriented CEO. Yahoo is bidding for Hulu. Mike Shields in Digiday lists numerous current and former interactive and media company CEOs as possibilites (including Michael Eisner), arguing that Yahoo’s next CEO should be from New York and fully position Yahoo as a “media company” rather than a Silicon Valley based tech company.
Yahoo Needs to Find Its Steve Jobs
Yahoo needs a master marketer and visionary to help focus and market the company to employees, investors and consumers. Effectively it needs its own version of Steve Jobs.
Yahoo has already given co-founder Jerry Yang a try, without success. And finding a person with the leadership skills, charisma, vision and overall capabilities of a Steve Jobs is impossible. But if it is going to regain momentum the company still needs someone almost as inspired to help lead the company out of the wilderness.
Yahoo is still a powerful brand with considerable traffic and assets. The company has not fallen as far for “regular people” as it has for technology journalists and insiders. If it is going to avoid being carved up and “sold for parts,” the company will need to find the right CEO who can reinvigorate the company, create a product vision and restore growth. Yahoo isn’t going to get more than about one more chance to “get it right.”
Postscript: Kara Swisher at AllThingsD has compiled a list of potential CEOs for Yahoo, including names such as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, News Corp’s Jon Miller and Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi. Most of the candidates, however, are unlikely for one reason or another.
Postscript II: From the WSJ: “One of these people said Yahoo is open to selling itself to the right bidder.”