Day 73: The (Sleepy) Attack of the Yahoo Vice Presidents
Despite a lot of noisy speculation all around the Internet yesterday about big changes afoot, let me give you the skinny on exactly what is going to happen today at Yahoo when all its top brass gather at its Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters for an all-day confab.
Some lovely breakfast pastries. Blah, blah, blah, better corporate culture! A doubtlessly tasty lunch. More blah, blah, blah, more content and ad coordination! Some yummy afternoon snacks. Blah, blah, blah, we really appreciate your efforts and goodbye!
Other than that: A whole lot of nothing.
First off, let’s set the record straight about this “confidential meeting” of Yahoo’s leadership team–meaning everyone with a vice president or higher in their title. I am not sure exactly how sneaky CEO Jerry Yang and President Sue Decker can be when that means about 300 VPs and several dozen senior VPs, as well as the clutch of tippy-top execs.
Yahoo is a VP-heavy culture and so it is likely the event will be pretty packed, but also pretty dull. In fact, corporations have these kind of gatherings all the time, which are usually about as spontaneous as a presidential debate. Wait, make that a vice presidential debate.
Wait, both of those are less scripted and more exciting than this meeting will be.
“I want to figure out a way to sneak out,” said one VP to me about it, sick as this exec is of Yahoo’s meeting-centric culture.
So as much as I would love it if Yang gathered all the VPs in a room, split them into two tribes and declared that Yahoo’s new plan for reinvigorating itself was to conduct a corporate version of “Survivor,” let us all level set our expectations.
(Although it would be a lot of fun to watch wily Brad Garlinghouse vs. energetic Jeff Weiner in a reward challenge to see who could, as on a Vanuatu episode, “deliver coconut juice from the starting line through a series of obstacles and finally into a glass jar.”)
But this is Yahoo, after all, which so far in Yang’s 100-day No-Sacred-Cow Vision Quest–he told investors on July 17 that he was going to take that long to refurb Yahoo with all company bovines at risk of death–has been less than gripping (even though BoomTown has been following it all as if it were the first season of “Heroes” and saucy cheerleader Claire Bennet’s in danger again from that creepy Sylar!!!)
Sure, there have been some nice baby steps, like axing some minor crappy products (such as yesterday’s dumping of its moribund podcast offering). And some of the acquisitions have been pretty good, like BlueLithium and Zimbra, although none are the kind of game changers needed to really get things going.
In fact, while Time Warner execs are busy torching AOL’s HQ in Dulles, Va., laying off scads of people and pretty much decimating the service to become a glorified ad network (now that’s certainly cheeky of CEO Randy Falco!) and while Facebook is hard at work trying to ransack Bill Gates’s wallet and while widget companies are Hoovering up audiences with their zombies and superpokes, Yahoo feels preternaturally calm.
Well, about as calm as you can be living in the eye of the hurricane, I guess, which is why it is probably a good idea to gather the troops at HQ and give them a more meaty idea of direction, given all the unrest and uncertainty of late.
But there’ll be no sudden announcement of cuts in, say its Santa Monica, Calif., office, which has often been rumored. (Anyway, why do that when most of those properties, save its premium music service, are doing OK?)
Indeed, Entertainment and Video head Vince Broady’s blog post about better integration of its entertainment properties today practically screamed: You’ll have to do a beach invasion to unseat us from our cushy Colorado Center offices!
That post said a whole lot of nothing too, although it was breathtaking in its mastery of Web 2.0-speak: “We’ll be investing in the development of next-gen media platforms, applications and services, creating cool new opportunities for third-party publishers and media companies while also harnessing the power of social media and user-generated content.”
I have absolutely no idea what that means, but sign me up!
As to its also rumored Project Apex, which Valleywag wrote about yesterday and which will be discussed today, too–that’s about three months old already and simply a renewed push to coordinate ads and content to compete better with Google’s similar services. Another good idea, but it’s just another obvious fix that needs to be made.
So what else? Probably the most important part of tomorrow’s gathering will be to give Yahoo’s culture a kick in the pants.
I cannot tell you how many Yahoo execs at all levels complain about the inability to launch products and services easily, to make decisions without fear of getting a no from on high, to take the kind of crazy risks needed to succeed (and sometimes fail, which can also be a good thing).
There’s an old bromide that it’s always better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
So maybe the best takeaway that herd of Yahoo VPs will get from their bosses is simple: Success means always having to say you’re sorry.