What CEO skills should Yahoo look for?

Yahoo can pick a CEO for a bold new vision or the ability to execute the company's strategy--or something else altogether. What's the best approach?

Yahoo's board and outgoing Chief Executive Jerry Yang agree that his skills aren't the right ones to turn the company around. What strengths, then, should his successor have?

Given Yahoo's sluggish responsiveness and years of trouble, a turnaround expert with a high pain threshold certainly is a good place to start. But there are other options beyond that.

News.com Poll

What kind of CEO does Yahoo need?
Yahoo concluded Yang is the wrong CEO. What kind of person is the right one?

visionary to chart a new course
insider who knows the company
outsider to shake things up
operations expert to get things done
M&A guru to sell the company



View results

Among the options are a mergers-and-acquisitions specialist who might broker a deal with Microsoft or another partner, a buttoned-down operations expert who could speed up Yahoo's existing strategy, and a bold visionary who could take Yahoo in a new direction altogether. (Vote your opinion here, and weigh in with comments below.)

Opinions varied among experts surveyed about the matter, but one thing seems clear: a fresh set of eyes soon will look at Yahoo's business.

"An outsider seems like the best possible option," said Jennifer Chatman, an organizational behavior expert at the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "They need someone who's less invested. Jerry Yang was there from the beginning...I think he's really suffered from not having an objective view of what the company is worth."

One source familiar with Yahoo's thinking shared the company's wish list of desirable attributes for Yang's replacement: someone with prior CEO experience who's got both operational and strategic skills, someone experienced in technology, and somebody energetic and young--which apparently means in his or her 40s or 50s. The company expects to come up with a pool of about a dozen candidates and settle on one within six months, though there's no hard deadline, the source said.

Companies searching for a new CEO typically select a handful of top requirements and attributes then work with an executive search firm to refine the qualifications list, said David Nosal, chief executive of Nosal Partners, one such firm. Yahoo could come up with a short list of candidates within 45 days or so.

Analysts also believe it's better to hire a new CEO whose experience tilts more toward the advertising and media realm than the technology realm. Yahoo still has a powerfully large audience, and it's not going to outdo Google when it comes to letting the robots rule the roost.

"You're in the business of aggregating audiences and selling them to advertisers," said Forrester analyst David Card. "How you create that has more technology than in TV or movies or newspapers, but it's not like you're in the business of having armies of developers who run massive server farms and bring efficiencies out of algorithms."

Outsell analyst Ned May agreed. "I think the technology is less important than the advertising and media focus," he said. Just coming up with new technology doesn't guarantee it'll be a hit, he said, citing Google Docs as an example. "You can build it and they won't come."

Opinions varied, though, on whether Yahoo wants a CEO who will bring a new strategy to the company or one that will bring the existing one to fruition.

May expects somebody who can execute the plan Yang set in place, which seeks to improve search and display advertising on the one hand and to offer users more active, useful Web sites on the other.

"I think it's an execution person--someone who works well with current company," May said.

But Terry Hendershott, a professor at Haas, expects bigger changes.

"They have a strategy problem," Hendershott said. "They've been existing on the idea that they have a lot of traffic and they'll someday monetize this. And they're not doing this very well."

Forrester's Shar VanBoskirk believes the current strategy is workable but needs some pizazz.

"They need somebody with a little bit of guts and some operational expertise," VanBoskirk said. "They don't lack for legacy, they don't lack for data, they don't lack for experience. They lack for the flash in making that all sexy again."

CNET News staff writer Dawn Kawamoto contributed to this report.

 

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