Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yang Yahoo Departure Leaves Unanswerable Questions

Jerry Yang and the Yahoo board of directors announced that Yang will resign his post as CEO once a successor is found, but will retain his seat on the board and reclaim the honorary title of "chief yahoo."

Kara Swisher, who broke the news, published the full text of Yang's email to Yahoo employees, in which Yang said, "since taking on the ceo role, i have had an ongoing dialogue with the board about succession timing."

So all this time, he was plotting his own departure? Oh, and Yang and the board talked about timing, but not about who would replace him?

In his most recent turn as CEO, Yang presided over the continued decline of the Yahoo brand while engaging in the kind of destructive behavior that, were Yahoo a person, would have friends recommending some form of therapy.

In the past year alone, Yahoo rejected the advances of Microsoft, spurned the hand of would-be savior Carl Icahn, and then engaged in a failed dalliance with Google.

Yahoo will now have to answer two questions: who next and, most importantly, what next?

Om Malik thinks Yahoo should get back to basics:

Hopefully they will bring on a no-nonsense, [HP CEO] Mark Hurd-style executive who can stabilize and revive the company by making it leaner, simpler and have it focus on its core competencies.

Rob Hof at BusinessWeek says that president Sue Decker shouldn't hold her breath, even if she wasn't too involved in the Microsoft fiasco:

But she also has been Yang’s chief lieutenant throughout a period in which Yahoo has been unable to inspire confidence among investors or many employees, who remain divided about her leadership. If she were chosen, investors no doubt would assume there will be little change in Yahoo’s direction—especially with Yang still on the board.
Erik Sherman at BNET notes that anyone taking the CEO role is walking into a no-win situation, given that the board isn't admitting it's done anything wrong, and that Yang remains on the board as well.

How will anything change? If the board is sure that it has been right, that the Microsoft and Google deals falling apart were just unfortunate circumstances, then who would it let a new CEO go in another direction? And what person, capable of running the company, would want to walk into a situation where his or her hands might be tied? Unless the egos on the board are willing to admit that they have badly erred and need to change course, there is no reason to think that anything will change for the better over the next few months.
Fred Vogelstein at Wired makes the point that Yahoo failed to make smart business decisions because it was more concerned with religious questions. "According to those who know him, Yang still won't use any device remotely associated with Microsoft technology. And so it is no surprise to anyone that he figured out a way to scuttle that deal."

There is also rampant speculation that Yang's departure will bring Microsoft back a'courtin', but Henry Boldget at Silicon Alley Insider opines that if this happens at all, it will only occur once a successor is in place.

This may seem like vapid speculation, but given that Yang will continue to hold sway over the Yahoo board, a Microsoft acquisition may be the only thing that could change the culture at Yahoo.

What any new CEO--or acquirer, for that matter--will have to address first and foremost is, what does Yahoo do better than anyone else? What purpose does it serve?

As someone who in 2001 used Yahoo for everything from email to gaming to news, and who now uses it exclusively as a junk mail folder, I couldn't say.

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