The Web pioneer hired Carol Bartz to restore its lost luster. With that strategy failure, the time to start selling the company, in pieces or in total, is now.
Jay GreeneFormer Staff Writer
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).
Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock hinted at a few possibilities in the press release announcing Bartz's departure. Bostock talked up the company's growth prospects, something that seems almost ludicrous given its recent financial performance. And he underscored the corporate talent, a nicety that seems out-of-touch with the reality that Yahoo's relevance continues to erode.
But just as Bostock's bluster about how positive things look at Yahoo approached a crescendo, he suggested what may soon come--an asset sale.
"We are committed to exploring and evaluating possibilities and opportunities that will put Yahoo! on a trajectory for growth and innovation and deliver value to shareholders," Bostock said in his statement.
Sometimes, "evaluating possibilities and opportunities" is just a euphemism for selling the company, in part or in total. And that may be the best strategy for Yahoo.
The fact is, despite Yahoo's remarkable slide from Web visionary to virtual afterthought, the company has some tremendous assets. It includes some of the most trafficked sites on the Web--sites such as Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Finance. It owns the popular Web photo-sharing service Flickr. Its Yahoo Mail has more than 250 million users worldwide.
There are even some uncovered gems in Yahoo's portfolio. According to MDB Capital Group, an investment banking firm that focuses on intellectual property, Yahoo has applied for or been granted 665 mobile device patents in the United States, more than Apple, Verizon, and Google. Those are hugely lucrative assets these days. Motorola Mobility's deep patent portfolio is one reason why Google was so willing to agree to buy the handset maker for $12.5 billion.
That's why it makes sense for Yahoo to start shopping itself, either in part or in total. Bartz's attempt to restore Yahoo's glory has failed.
AllThingsD's Kara Swisher notes that the vultures are already circling. She reports that potential buyers or some or all of Yahoo include some of the biggest money in Silicon Valley--including Silver Lake Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, and Providence Equity Partners. And she notes that large companies such as AT&T, News Corp., and Verizon are considering Yahoo options as well.
While Yahoo will never get the sort of money Microsoft offered the company three years ago, it doesn't have to sell off pieces in a fire sale. Its assets have plenty of value, even if they're being managed poorly. Parsing Bostock's words might lead to the conclusion that Yahoo is ready to deal. It's about time.