A force for change at Yahoo

CFO Susan Decker will take on a key advertising role next year as the suddenly wobbly company looks to get back on firm ground.

In January, the woman many believe is the heir apparent to run Yahoo made a very public splash by bluntly saying she didn't expect her company to beat Google at the search game anytime soon.

"We would be very happy to maintain our market share," Susan Decker, Yahoo's chief financial officer, reportedly said. Decker's frank assessment caused major ripples at Yahoo's Sunnyvale, Calif., office. Some executives believed she had been misquoted. Two search vice presidents even posted a Yahoo corporate blog distancing Yahoo from Decker's comments and reaffirming the company's commitment to search.

As the year comes to a close, it's looking more and more like Decker may have the last word on what's right for Yahoo as she takes on a lead operational role in the suddenly wobbly Net company's future.

On December 5, Yahoo announced it was reorganizing into three areas; advertising, audience and technology, and Decker was named to head the ad group beginning January 1. At the same time, the company said it was losing some top executives, including Chief Operating Officer Dan Rosensweig and Lloyd Braun, head of Yahoo's media and entertainment group. The executive departures seem to continue. Former vice president of brand marketing Murray Gaylord just left for NYTimes.com, for example.

While no one inside Yahoo will come out and say it, the recent management shuffle has given Decker the opportunity to prove she has the management chops to take over for CEO Terry Semel, who some believe will give up his post within the next year. Yahoo declined comment for this article.

The changes put Decker squarely in charge of the area in which it needs to improve the most to keep pace with Google--perfecting Panama, the new advertising platform that executives and analysts expect will raise Yahoo's ad performance and revenues. So far, insiders say the ad platform is testing well.

Susan Decker Susan Decker

Another big challenge for Yahoo will be to clean up organizational redundancies and disconnects that were outlined in the so-called "." In one example of such issues, the music services Yahoo Music and Musicmatch--a paid music service that Yahoo acquired years ago--haven't historically been combined, creating competitive operations in the same company and potential overlaps in workforce.

In recent years, Yahoo's new media arm in Santa Monica, Calif., also created its own marketing group independent of the company's headquarter team, which could be another potential redundancy, according to onlookers.

Finally, Yahoo needs to play catch-up in one of the hottest areas of the Internet--video. Two years ago, Yahoo formed a new media group in Santa Monica under Braun--a Hollywood player who while chairman of ABC Entertainment Television had given the green light to hits like Lost--with the expectation that Yahoo would become an Internet media heavyweight.

But instead of churning out successes, Yahoo's ambitions were eclipsed by nimble upstarts like YouTube, which Google bought for $1.65 billion. Yahoo is currently scouting for a new executive to head up its Audience Group; that person will oversee search, media, communities and communications.

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