History suggests Thompson's days numbered at Yahoo

Top executives at RadioShack, Veritas, and Lotus all left their jobs after falsehoods were found on their resumes. A business ethicist calls the academic misstatements of Yahoo's CEO "fatal."

Yahoo

Yahoo's Scott Thompson isn't the first senior executive to get caught padding his resume with false academic credentials. And in the few examples from the tech world, history has shown that those caught find themselves out of a job.

Six years ago, RadioShack CEO David Edmondson resigned after The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the executive didn't have the two college degrees he claimed to have had. At the time, the retailer's executive chairman, Leonard Roberts, said Edmondson's departure was a mutual decision, made to address concerns about credibility.

"One of the most important things we have as a corporation is integrity and trust," Roberts said at a news conference at the time, according to a New York Times report. "We have to restore that back to the company."

A decade ago, Kenneth Lonchar left his job as chief financial officer at Veritas after falsely claiming to have earned an M.B.A. from Stanford University.

In 2000, Lotus Chief Executive Jeffrey Papows resigned, in part, over a resume scandal. He incorrectly claimed, among other apparent falsehoods, that he had obtained a Ph.D. from Pepperdine University.

It's still early in the unfolding scandal of Thompson's apparent deception. Yahoo has called Thompson's inaccurate academic claim that he earned a computer science degree from Stonehill College -- he actually holds a degree in accounting -- an "inadvertent error." Yahoo, it seems, would like the matter to blow over.

It won't be that easy, though. Dissident shareholder Dan Loeb, whose Third Point hedge fund uncovered the resume padding, is using that information in his proxy battle with Yahoo, and shows no signs of letting it go. Earlier today, he demanded that Yahoo fire Thompson by Monday.

Thompson's misstatement about his academic credentials isn't something that should be brushed aside, said Kirk O. Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

"It's a material error," Hanson said. "This is the kind of deception that is awkward to have in any employee, but is fatal to have in a CEO."

The problem is that the credential inflation seems clearly aimed at falsely enhancing Thompson's bona fides in order to have helped him get a job at some point in his career. Hanson said that raises questions that Thompson might engage in similar "shabby ethical behavior" in the future.

The fact that the issue was discovered by Loeb makes dealing with the claims tricky for Yahoo's board. They don't want to be seen giving into a dissident shareholder for fear that it could undermine them during a proxy battle. But Hanson said corporate credibility is more important.

"No matter how this came to light, it's still an issue the board needs to address," Hanson said.

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About the author

Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).

 

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