Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Say Hello to the Yahoo Board Members

One of the most overlooked parts of Web companies are their board members, so I think it is time to start looking more carefully at those firms where the role of directors is going to be increasingly important in 2008.


First stop, obviously, is Yahoo, which reports its fourth quarter and also full-year earnings (and also perhaps some board-approved layoffs) tomorrow after the markets close.

With everything from consistently persistent takeover rumors, a still-lagging stock price and continued scrutiny on its moves to revive itself, the company’s managers and–it must be assumed–its directors obviously face challenges in the year ahead.

They certainly seem to be a pretty experienced group, with just the right kind of expertise in retail, telecommunications, engineering and entertainment.

Curiously, with all the noise around Yahoo, this has been a circumspect bunch and it’s not clear how much influence this group is exerting over management or how willing it is to roll up its sleeves and get into it.

Still, board members are supposed to be where the buck actually does stop, so, as a BoomTown public service, here’s a little primer of who’s who on the Yahoo BOD, so you know who is actually in charge (and, of course, who is to blame):


First among equals is obviously Yahoo CEO and Co-Founder Jerry Yang, who needs no introduction. Born in Taiwan and raised in San Jose, Calif., he has been trying to bring back the company he founded with David Filo since taking over the top slot at Yahoo last June. The obviously iconic figure within the company, he occupies the hottest seat of all. Some think his leadership has not been nearly bold enough, while others think his steadier approach to Yahoo’s revival is just what the company has needed.


Terry Semel served as Yahoo CEO from 2001 to 2007. After he left that job when the company’s troubles became more pronounced (to be fair, Semel did do a great job getting Yahoo back from its last brink when the first bubble popped), the former Hollywood mogul kept his title as chairman. He is also on the board of Polo Ralph Lauren, as well as many arts and cultural organizations. Recently, Semel revived his Los Angeles-based new media investment firm, Windsor Media, and rumors abound to his intentions–including possibly making a play for a Hollywood studio. Big question: Will Semel continue as chairman of Yahoo in 2008?


What to make of Roy Bostock, who has been on Yahoo’s board since 2003? I’ll tell you what: If Semel were to step down as chairman, the chatter is that the former top-level advertising exec (chairman and chief executive officer of D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles) is best suited to the job, given the importance of Yahoo’s ad business. Bostock also serves now has chairman of Northwest Airlines and is on the board of Morgan Stanley and is a principal at Sealedge Investments LLC.


Ron Burkle, founder and managing partner of the Yucaipa Companies, a private investment firm, has been a director since 2001. The high-profile Burkle, of course, is better known for being best billionaire buddy of Bill Clinton (and big fundraiser for Hillary Clinton). He is a curious choice to be on the board, although he is said to add an interesting perspective and also has obvious experience in retail and distribution (largely in the supermarket industry). He is also on the boards of Occidental Petroleum and KB Home.


Vyomesh Joshi joined the Yahoo board in 2005. He probably brings a good consumer product perspective to the company from his perch as executive vice president of the Imaging and Printing Group at Hewlett Packard, a $26 billion business with an operating profit of $3.8 billion, which is a whole lot of the kind of ink Yahoo needs. The longtime HP exec also has responsibilities in the entertainment arena for HP, which should be a boon to Yahoo.


The same goes for Robert Kotick, the chairman and CEO of games maker Activision, which recently merged with Vivendi’s Blizzard Entertainment unit, to create one of the biggest gaming companies in the world. Yahoo could use a little Guitar Hero buzz that Kotick’s company has gotten from the third version of the popular interactive game, a big holiday success, and also Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.


The other Northwest Airlines link is its Chairman Emeritus Gary Wilson, who has been on the Yahoo board since 2001. Wilson, who is also on the board of CB Richard Ellis, has an extensive financial background, working as the top numbers guys at places like Walt Disney (where he was a longtime board member) and Marriott. But can he lend his expertise to make the numbers work better at Yahoo?


The only woman director, Maggie Wilderotter, joined last July and serves as the chairman and CEO of Citizens Communications, which is an independent provider of telecommunications services. That background is important for Yahoo, but perhaps more important is her experience as a SVP at Microsoft (rumored to be the main company interested in acquiring Yahoo). Wilderotter has also been president and CEO of Wink Communications and has held a number of jobs at AT&T, and serves on the board of Xerox and the Tribune Company.


Eric Hippeau, managing partner at Softbank Capital Partners, is one of the two granddaddy Yahoo board members (along with Arthur Kern), having served as a director since 1996. Before Softbank, he was chairman and CEO of Ziff-Davis in its heyday. Hippeau is also on the board of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide.


Arthur Kern has also been on the Yahoo board since 1996. Kern made his fortune selling off American Media, an owner of radio stations, which he co-founded and ran. Kern now invests in marketing and media companies. (BoomTown, with great regret, has never met him after all these years–lazy, lazy BoomTown! And everyone says how nice he is. Lunch, Arthur?)


Ed Kozel, the CEO of the start-up Skyrider (a P2P search engine), is perhaps the most experienced technologist on Yahoo’s board and another key member of the board, say many, where he has served since 2000. He’s been a VC (Open Range Ventures), a consultant (Integrated Finance) and also was a longtime Cisco exec (he was CTO and SVP of business development there) and board member. He’s also been on the board of Reuters and is a director for Network Appliance.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work