Steve Ballmer's to-do list for the 'day after'

When he looks down his bench, Microsoft's CEO doesn't have a no-brainer choice to put in charge of Yahoo. This occasion may call for a Solomonic decision.

One more Microhoo observation before:

A) They announce the tech deal of the century
B) They go to the mattresses
C) Continue to screw around just to keep us sleep-deprived

So let's assume that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wakes up tomorrow and Yahoo's a done deal. First order of business is to find the right person for the job. But that's where Ballmer's going to have to summon the wisdom of Solomon.

Yahoo

You know Jerry Yang is out of there the day the change of title gets signed. Sue Decker? She's currently Yahoo's No. 2 and merits the opportunity. She's smart and capable and sits on Berkshire Hathaway's board with Bill Gates. Then again, maybe someone at Microsoft may (wrongly) associate her with Yahoo's ancient regime. Too much bad blood may have been spilled in this takeover fight, and there's going to be lots of collateral damage.

Sue Decker Yahoo

Unfortunately for Microsoft, there's nobody else inside Yahoo with the gravitas to step into the void. In the best of all worlds, you'd want a general manager with enough backbone to survive Microsoft's hardball corporate culture who also can inspire the remaining Yahoos that their best work remains ahead of them. If Decker gets ignored, what does Ballmer do?

For its part, Microsoft has a lot of solid performers--Brian McAndrews and Kevin Johnson head any list--but outside of Ray Ozzie, there's not another superstar in the organization. Take a gander at this page of Microsoft's top executives. Doesn't exactly shout "change." There are two women--one is the corporate spinmeister while the other heads human resources. The remaining bunch would make an outstanding recruiting poster for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Microsoft

Translation: Time to call in the head hunters.

Let's turn this into a community exercise. Chime in at the end of this post with your picks. Here would be my top three:

•  Bill Campbell's the dream pick to run Yahoo but he is unavailable. The chairman of Intuit has the industry chops and a heap of charisma to inspire any dispirited Yahoos to again charge the ramparts. But Campbell sits both on Google and Apple's board--and he's filthy rich. Besides, no way in hell would he ever salute Ballmer.

• Former Facebook No. 2 Owen Van Natta is still living off the dole and probably tired of playing the role of wealthy beach bum. Van Natta knows Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and Web 3.0 and is old-young enough to straddle both generations. He wasn't going to convince Mark Zuckerberg to step aside and let him become CEO. Running Yahoo wouldn't be the big boss he craves. Still, it's a nice consolation prize and would lead to bigger and better things if he restored Yahoo's sizzle.

Dan Rosensweig

•  With all due respect to Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again. It's just a real pain returning to familiar routine. But this wouldn't be so familiar because there's a mandate for change. If he received the green light to shake things up, Yahoo's former chief operating officer, Dan Rosensweig, would be a strong pick. He knows what needs fixing and is a charismatic leader who is savvy about the advertising business. Although Rosensweig's not heavy on technology, that's where Ozzie can parachute in when needed.

A lot's going to depend on Ballmer's ability to convince anyone to deal with the hassle. Microsoft is a tough place for outsiders. Some of the more notable failures include:

Michael Hallman came over from Boeing in 1990 and was dismissed a couple of years later. Gates told The New York Times that Hallman "wasn't the right person for the job."

Rick Beluzzo had an impressive resume with stints at Hewlett-Packard and SGI when he arrived in 1999 to run Microsoft's interactive operations unit. He was out by spring 2002.

Steve Berkowitz, the former CEO of Ask.com, came over in 2006 to run Microsoft's online services, including MSN.com and Windows Live. He's outta there come this August.

Of course, maybe there's a real glutton for punishment out there who's just dying for the opportunity. Anyway, your turn.

 

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