The Carol Bartz flame-out is only the latest in a long list of failures racked up by Yahoo's board of directors.
Charles CooperFormer Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Carol Bartz is a big girl with a potty mouth who can take the heat.
And rest assured, there will be no shortage of criticism directed her
way now that Bartz is out as Yahoo chief executive officer (fired on
the phone, no less.)
But as Bartz's name gets inscribed onto the
lengthening list of failed Yahoo CEOs--a roster that also includes
Tim Koogle, Terry Semel and Jerry Yang--there are a couple of salient
points to remember as revisionist versions of this chapter in the
company's history start turning up.
Don't pay attention to the meme that Yahoo is ungovernable because
it's become the proverbial lost cause. The company still has enormous
assets and remains one of the best-recognized Internet brands in the
With a board of directors as incompetent as this one, even the
most talented CEO would be hard pressed to engineer a Yahoo
The surprise is that Yahoo has hired the wrong people for critical
jobs. When the board let Yang, a company co-founder, try his hand at
running Yahoo at CEO, they put their bets on a technologist who had
never been a chief executive or had deep operational experience.
After 14 years running Autodesk, Bartz was a known quantity. But she
had no advertising or consumer experience. Still, that was good enough
for the board of directors to hire her. I suppose there is precedent
for parachuting CEOs into new situations where they have little or no
experience with a tech company's actual business. Think Lou Gerstner
at IBM. But Gerstner, one of the best tech CEOs ever, was an exception
to the rule. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, the flame-out of the
board's last couple of choices to fill the top role are that much more
"It's a terrible board," a person with deep ties to Yahoo told me
late today after hearing the news of the latest corporate
For board critics, Yahoo's refusal to accept Microsoft's $44.6
billion buyout bid is Exhibit A (maybe going all the way to Z.)
Back in Feb. 2008, Microsoft's $31-per-share stunner constituted a 62
percent premium to Yahoo's trading price at the time. Considering how
badly Google was beating Yahoo in search, this could have been the
proverbial life safer but Yahoo balked. Yang and board chairman Roy
the offer as too low. After Bartz came on board Yahoo and
Microsoft settled on a lesser
deal in which Microsoft outsourced search services to Yahoo in
return for a cut of search ad revenue. OK but not the sort of
world-beating, transformative, shock & awe impact of a
Yahoo-Microsoft hookup. But that chapter is now history and given the
different trajectories taken since then by Yahoo, Google and
Microsoft, it's hard to imagine that another suitor might ever dangle
that kind offer again.
Besides blowing the Microsoft deal, the board is also on the hook
for thinning out a roster that once was filled with experienced
executives, such as the ad sales head, Greg Coleman, or the chief
sales officer, Wenda Millard. Both knew the business that Yahoo was in
and for whatever reasons, the board got rid of both of them.
"It's Bostock," this one Yahoo observer argued. "He's the same guy who
blew the Microsoft deal."
None of this means that Yahoo is can't pull itself together and make
another run. But it presupposes that the board comes to a Socratic
juncture where it knows itself. Yahoo's fate remains bound up with
audience aggregation and audience monetization. As one of the top
three biggest sites on the Internet, the company should be able to
squeeze more profit out of a huge user base, even if it's not growing
at Google-like rates.