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Yang: Being Yahoo CEO is a 'lonely job'

At conference "fireside chat," Yahoo CEO talks about the changing online advertising market and how culture is vital to Yahoo's future.

HALF MOON BAY, Calif.--Being chief executive of Yahoo is "a lonely job," says Jerry Yang, who co-founded the company in 1994 and was promoted to the top job in June in a management shakeup.

"It is a lonely job in the sense that you have to make some of the tough calls," he said in a "fireside chat" session at a conference here. "It feels like I've been in training for the past 13 years." The conference was put on by the Right Media Exchange, the advertising marketplace of Right Media. Yahoo acquired the company earlier this year.


In the wake of Google's dominance in the search and online advertising markets, Yang and other executives have done "some soul searching."

"Earlier this year it felt like it was, in my own words, either now or never," he said. "I feel some urgency for what Yahoo has to do and we have some challenges...It feels like forever but it's also gone by very fast."

Fostering Yahoo's start-up and customer-centric culture is critical for the company's future, according to Yang. "When things are going great you want to feel like you belong to something, and when things are not going great the (company) identity can help you get through it."

The company has "morphed" multiple times over the years, according to Yang. "We're in that transformation again where there's a change in the way advertising is sold" as well as with the way media is created by Internet users, he said. "We are embracing the change."

Yahoo is differentiating itself in the new online advertising world by enabling an open environment in which everyone can operate and by partnering with companies to expand the ability of advertisers to reach potential customers, Yang said.

Social media is growing in importance and Yahoo has Yahoo Answers and Flickr, two of the largest social environments on the Web, he said.

"I don't think Yahoo can be Facebook tomorrow; I don't think we want to be Facebook," he added. Meanwhile, Yahoo is serving ads on Bebo, the U.K.'s largest social network, after failing to snag deals with Facebook and MySpace in the U.S.

While Google leads the market in monetizing search advertising, Yahoo leads in display advertising. But display advertising should be more relevant than it is today to be more effective, Yang said. "There hasn't been a lot of innovation around display relevancy."

He didn't discuss the defection rate of executives and managers of late, but did credit exiting Chief Marketing Officer Cammie Dunaway with helping to create the Yahoo brand.

"I'm in the position of pinching myself everyday to say I started the company, but we lucked into creating the Yahoo name. Today I'm still not sure why we added the exclamation point," he said.

Now, the company needs to freshen up the Yahoo brand, he added. "We have a lot of work to do there."