A pity for Yahoo that John McCain didn't win

Making up for a lost decade has to be Job No. 1. And that means getting someone at the top who won't march Yahoo around in wrong directions again.

Unfortunately for Yahoo, Barack Obama's otherwise engaged.

As headhunters from Heidrick & Struggles scroll through the available A-listers for Yahoo's next CEO, they might be excused for secretly wishing John McCain had won the election.

That's because after all this company has gone through, it is going to take some sort of superstar to rally the troops now that Jerry Yang is returning to his former role of "chief Yahoo."

Truth be told, you should be happy for Yang. He no longer has to suffer the indignity of playing the role of human pinata. I never thought Yang was the right guy for the job, but give him credit for taking on a tough job. After Terry Semel's ouster, Yang did his best to revive a company he helped found and obviously still loves. Can't fault him for giving it a shot. Unfortunately, Yahoo's brain-dead board of directors took way too long to realize that it was a bad match almost from the get-go. But that's another story.

After the on-again, off-again Microsoft novella, the final straw was Google's decision to bow out of a pending ad pact. That agreement was supposed to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Before barreling ahead, however, the board might have considered whether the Justice Department would try and block that combination.

Yang's subsequent uninspiring public performance at the Web 2.0 conference only reinforced the impression that he was in over his head. Rightly or not, Yang was then variously described as "a train wreck, self-delusional, and as making a mockery of the vaunted company he helped create."

That's now all in the past. Yahoo's pressing challenge now is to find somebody who can rally employees to make one last, best effort to get it right. Talk all you want about Yahoo being a basket case, but that ignores the reality on the ground. Yahoo remains a company with some 500 million users and that's quite a coveted franchise. And if the economy would give everyone a break, several of Yahoo's announced initiatives might actually bear fruit. (And who knows? Public bluster notwithstanding, Steve Ballmer may yet take another run at Yahoo.)

Sure, a real superstar would make a big difference, but Yahoo does not need a miracle worker. It does need someone with passion, vision and managerial chops. Lots of names have been bruited about as possible successors-thankfully, Mark Cuban is otherwise engaged -and I can't say who has the inside track.

This much I do know. After a lost decade in which Yang, Semel and Tim Koogle marched the company around in circles, CEO competence has to be more than a throw-away line on a potential resume.

The board doesn't have the luxury of blowing it again.

No pressure. (Right.)

See also:
• Yahoo CEO Yang to step down
• Yahoo's ultimate search: A new CEO
• Yang's travails: A Yahoo timeline
• Jerry Yang memo to staff about stepping down
• Microhoo revisited: Would it be a search-only deal?

 

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