Rumors of Jerry Yang's Dethroning Are Greatly Exaggerated
Off with the Yahoo CEO’s head!
OK, maybe not so much, at least today.
Indeed, according to many sources, Jerry Yang’s head still sits squarely on his neck.
And, moreover, his job as CEO has not been usurped by Yahoo (YHOO) Chairman Roy Bostock, who was allegedly–as one rumor went–authorized by Yahoo’s board, instead of Yang, to restart negotiations with Microsoft (MSFT).
(Which is kind of obvious when you actually think about it, given that Bostock is mired in this takeover collapse mess up to his own at-risk neck along with Yang. Bostock has been deeply involved all along and will likely continue to be.)
Thus, lots of smoke and little fire, contrary to rumor-based reports, like this one from TechCrunch–most of which seem to hang on the thinnest of threads (Where in the world is Yahoo board member Eric Hippeau?).
More importantly, even though they move share price, these rumors show almost no knowledge of how public company boards actually operate, which is to say with slug-like speed, even when under fire as Yahoo clearly is.
And if Yang were to go, I would guess it would be under his own steam or he’d be run out with Yahoo’s directors on a rail by angry shareholders.
Still, as a post yesterday of BoomTown’s book excerpt on the AOL Time Warner (TWX) debacle illustrates, even shoving aside a much-pilloried exec like former Chairman Steve Case, who presided over the merger disaster of all time, it took months and months and months and months and finally came well after the wheels fell off the bus there in a move made by Case and not his detractors.
And such a move to denude Yang, in the midst of the most trying time for the company, would make Yahoo’s board seem like particularly thickheaded morons–backing Yang strongly one day and throwing him overboard the next.
That is not to say Yang has not lost a mountain of credibility with Wall Street, investors, his own employees and in the industry in general, over the way he has handled the situation with Microsoft. The fallout from the debacle has damaged him badly.
The reviews are in and it is pretty much one million angry thumbs down.
Unfortunately, Yahoo’s leadership team has not exactly distinguished itself in the aftermath with their public statements, whether it be Bostock’s fanciful musings that Yahoo had the support of shareholders or President Sue Decker’s ungracious dissing of disgruntled Yahoo employees or pretty much the bulk of the backpedaling Yang has done.
And I don’t even know what to say about the excuse about the $33 offer not being written down as a problem by Yahoo execs, which makes them all move a little closer to Nearly Headless Nick in “Harry Potter,” in my estimation.
I do get their fervent need to explain themselves, especially in the face of such ferocious criticism.
But it has been so cringe-inducing to watch, that part of me wishes they would slink back into that cave Yang and his team have been living in all year long.
Obviously, Yang cannot and must now take the heat and find a way to clearly articulate a really good vision of what lies ahead for Yahoo.
That does not mean dangling the possibility of another deal with Microsoft to placate critics or pretending Yahoo wanted such a merger.
The very fact that Yang brought the painfully terse Yahoo Co-Founder and tech guru David Filo–who has fervently opposed a lot of Yahoo hookups in the past, like with eBay (EBAY) many years ago–with him to the key meeting last weekend with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was all I needed to know to determine that the company did not want to sell.
So, Yang and the board got what they wanted–for now, at least–which is a very painful dose of independence.
If they want that to mean going back to talk with Microsoft, Yahoo should stop playing games and do so with a minimal amount of jockeying.
If it means making a series of bold moves to focus and define its business, then Yahoo should do that and quickly.
And if Yang can’t lead or is still lonely–he said last year of the CEO job, “It is a lonely job in the sense that you have to make some of the tough calls”–he needs to step aside for a new leader of Yahoo.
Because, even if Yang lives to fight another day, this much is clear: The clock is running down for him and his stewardship of Yahoo.
Yang is, as Dean Vernon Wormer of “Animal House” said so eloquently, on double secret probation.
So, if I were to predict, I would say six months without meaningful change is all he has.
And after that, I would imagine, is when the blade really starts really falling.