Wenda Was Robbed
When I wrote that Wenda Harris Millard had better watch her back last week, in this post I did about my educated guesses about further executive departures at Yahoo, I had no idea that the struggling company was that quick about anything.
In fact, the longtime ad sales chief was out by this weekend, moving on to another job at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia as its president of media.
But I did have an idea about how cloddishly that Yahoo could handle Millard’s departure, in a vain attempt to make it look like they are on the ball in a time of management turmoil that seems only to roil and boil more as time goes on. The decimation of executive ranks there is like watching an online version of “Ten Little Indians,” or for you kids, “Hostel.”
And when you badly treat an employee who has worked pretty hard over the years for you as Yahoo did Millard, you have to wonder how in the world the company is going to attract top talent from the outside–let alone keep those valuable employees on the inside from bolting.
But Millard’s departure–which seems to be a case of her looking for and getting another job, all while Yahoo was also rejiggering its approach to ad sales–was handled with no grace and much confusion.
And that’s just about how the company handled the departure of CEO Terry Semel last week and its reorganization before that. While one longs for some clarity from a company just bursting with amazing assets, all you get is an endless game of management musical chairs, with all the same players.
Let’s review this mess. According to this report in The Wall Street Journal, MSLO CEO Susan Lyne had been recruiting the 52-year-old Harris since the beginning of 2007. I know Lyne, and she is about as straight a shooter as it gets, so I am going with her version.
But Millard, an experienced online ad exec who really should get big credit for revitalizing Yahoo’s ability to sell to major-brand advertisers when she came on in 2001, was also probably about to get the lion’s share of the blame for an expected falloff in graphical ad sales at Yahoo in its upcoming quarterly report.
That’s really bad news, since it was formerly the one business Yahoo has excelled in, as Google has bested it in the search ad business. Thus, the rumors that Millard was first going to be offered a job she would never accept, running international sales.
It’s a goofy tactic Yahoo also used in the case of Hollywood veteran Lloyd Braun, by the way, instead of just being honest about parting ways with him after his job as head of its entertainment initiatives did not gel.
And so, the lack of thanks and finger-pointing was barely concealed in the obtuse quote from the press release attributed to Gregory Coleman, the executive vice president of global sales (who, I also said in last week’s post, should wonder when the next shop would drop).
“While Wenda was a big contributor to our success in the past, the industry has shifted and requires a different set of skills to take the business forward,” he said. “We appreciate her dedication during her years of service and wish her well in the next chapter of her career.”
Apparently, the Yahoo equivalent of saying: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Millard, no shrinking type herself in any of my encounters with her, fired right back in the Journal story: “I feel badly that Yahoo has had such a tough time lately, and I’m sorry they announced the story this way because clearly I resigned and I have a great new job.”
Indeed, while it is not as vast as Yahoo, at MSLO she will oversee a broad swath of businesses, including online, publishing, TV and radio. (Plus: Martha!)
At Yahoo meanwhile, David Karnstedt, 41, is now the head of its North American advertising sales, consolidating both Web-search ads and display ads (and it’s about time, I say). Pictured here, he used to be in charge of just the U.S. search ad sales.
I have emails into both Yahoo and Millard, and will report more as I find out more.
But, until then, the new Yahoo motto might be: Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
And now, I have to predict, that means all of you.
Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.