Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Yahoo's Tech Mission Impossible

Who, who, who has the guts to take over running tech at Yahoo, in the wake of the sudden departure last week of CTO Farzad Nazem?

(“Your job, should you choose to accept it, Mr. Phelps, is to beat the Goog Borg.”)

Nazem said in a post on a Yahoo blog that he had decided to slow down, but it’s clear there is more to the story. So I will be spending this week, semirecovered from the hubbub of our D conference last week, ferreting out more information about the latest development in the ongoing saga of Yahoo’s management upheavals.

(I have written about the turmoil here and here.)

But his leaving should come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time with any midlevel Yahoo executive. Without fail in any conversation with those toiling to launch or improve products at the struggling online portal, most fingered “Zod,” which is Nazem’s nickname internally, as one of the choke points at the company.

nazem3

So many wondered why Nazem, pictured here, had escaped the swirling maelstrom of changes that has impacted its top management to the core in recent months.

That’s especially true because technology has been at the center of Yahoo’s ongoing struggle to chase Google in the monetization of search. In order to compete better, Yahoo recently launched its new system, called Panama. But it is too early to tell if the upgrade is paying off, as recent results have not been the blockbuster ones expected.

Things will surely improve, of course, but the problem is that neither Google nor anyone else is standing still. In fact, new reports show Google’s search-share advances increasing, with Yahoo still playing sloppy second.

Another problem cited by many is that few in any of the divisions have adequate control of the technology development of their products and had to channel too many of their requests through Nazem’s Technology Group.

While engineers rule with an iron fist at rival Google, Yahoo has many more kinds of consumer products (and they are more complicated) that need much more cooperative efforts between the techies and other players like product managers and marketers.

Slowness to act or even react was at the center of most of the complaints leveled at Nazem, who has been at the company since very early, joining 11 years ago (he has been CTO for nine of those years, in fact). He is one of the few old-timers left at the top, in fact, except for co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo.

Yang and not the more techie Filo, interestingly, will become “interim executive sponsor”–whatever that means–of the tech group until an internal or external candidate is found. That mission-impossible job, as you might imagine, will be a hard one to fill.

Nazem’s departure now leaves two major divisions with no head honcho–Technology and its Audience Group. For now, Sue Decker, who runs its Advertiser and Publisher Group and is considered the next in line to CEO and Chairman Terry Semel, is alone near the top.

Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.


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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo