The Bartzometer: Off the charts

I was keeping tabs during Carol Bartz's first earnings conference call with the Wall Street crew. You know what? Yahoo's got a real keeper--finally.

Eight days into the job and she hasn't yet fixed Yahoo! What is this world coming to? OK, I'm obviously mugging for the cameras, but Carol Bartz's first earnings conference call as the new boss was an unqualified hit.

Like a lot of people watching Yahoo through the years, I've long wondered whether a straight shooter would ever emerge to run this company. With all due respect to Bartz's predecessors, but Messrs. Koogle, Semel, and Yang usually weighed down their responses to tough questions with enough multisyllabic business cliches to sink the Titanic.

Yahoo Chief Executive Carol Bartz Yahoo

That wasn't the modus operandi today. At times Bartz did get a little too cute with the "gee whiz" stuff, but let's cut her a little slack. More importantly, she demonstrated a leader's ballsy temperament with a symphony conductor's ear for striking the right note. That alone is worth a buck climb in Yahoo's stock.

Here's the checklist I was keeping during the conference call:

Clarity: B
Bartz spoke in clear and concise sentences. I'm sure that the MBAs listening in on the other end of the conference call were thankful she did not drone on endlessly. This is a crowd that's not big on nuance. So it was that Bartz took the Howard Cosell route: Tell it like it is--or at least as much as she can say after little more than a week as the boss. As she uncovers the skeletons in coming weeks, Bartz will have more detail when she hosts Yahoo's next quarterly conference call.

Direction: A
She used the occasion wisely to send out a group hug to the folks in the cubicles. "Really smart people," Bartz called them. She said what they need is a structure to foster better lines of communication. Perhaps that's overly kind. Still, it was a much needed public compliment for a workforce demoralized after a year-long soap opera buffa. At the same time, Bartz offered up a strong and simple summation of what she envisions as the Yahoo brand: "I think the Yahoo brand needs to stand for the best information site on the Internet, the front page you walk through when you decide how you're going to start your day and manage your day...." Everything else flows from that.

Her best line of the day: "This is not a company that needs to be pulled apart and left for the chickens." Reminds me a lot of what Lou Gerstner said after replacing John Akers. The Akers plan was to break IBM up into several "Little Blues." It was a dopey idea that Gerstner shelved after taking over. "This is a fantastic Internet property," Bartz said. "It doesn't make sense to pull it apart."

Bartz also demonstrated the common touch with her promise to have brewskies with her sales force "because that's the best way" to get to know who's working for you. I can see this boss knocking down shots with the hired help and enjoying herself.

Sense of authority: A
The Microsoft rumors just won't go away. Understandable, but that's a needless distraction as she maps out a near and longer-term strategy. So early on in her remarks, Bartz put the kibosh on the rumor that she was brought in to sell company. At the same time, she was quick to add that if a deal for Yahoo's search business came along, she was keeping an open mind. Above all, Bartz wanted to leave the impression that somebody was in charge. Finally.

Financial command: Incomplete grade
Too soon to say. Bartz handed off most of the financial questions to Blake Jorgensen, the company CFO. At this point, that was probably the smart decision. Most CEOs follow the same practice during earnings calls.

Sense of Humor: A
It's nice to know that real blood flows through the new leader's veins. Jerry Yang's associates say he is a nice guy, but he was awfully hard to read. In public, he too often came across as a stiff. From the moment she took the microphone Tuesday, Bartz was ready to goof. At one point, she teased Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster, who recently ran an open letter to Bartz urging her to buy a major print company, mentioning The New York Times. When Munster asked his question, Bartz immediately responded, "Well Gene, I thought I'd buy The New York Times tomorrow....."

A sense of humor will help. Even with an ace CEO, Yahoo's revival isn't a lock. And in a lousy economy, the job becomes that much tougher.

 

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