Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

A Garlinghouse Memorial: BoomTown Decodes the Infamous "Peanut Butter Manifesto"

Now that he’s officially–well, Yahoo has not said so, but it is so–leaving the company later this summer, what say we blame Brad Garlinghouse for all the woes of Yahoo!

After all, Garlinghouse’s infamous “Peanut Butter Manifesto” was the key ur-moment that one could point to as the one in which the curtains were pulled back at the troubled Internet company to reveal, well, a very sticky mess.

Garlinghouse (pictured here), who ran communications and communities for Yahoo (YHOO), is set to be replaced in part by Scott Dietzen, who was the president and CTO of Zimbra (and before that CTO of BEA Systems). Yahoo bought the highly innovative open-source email startup last fall for $350 million.

(By the way, Dietzen will get only 50%–communications products and services–of Garlinghouse’s job, while Front Door head Tapan Bhat will get communities.)

But back to Brad and peanut butter: The 2006 internal document, penned by the Yahoo senior vice president, essentially unfairly impugned delicious peanut butter by using it as a metaphor for Yahoo spreading its resources too thinly.

As far as I am concerned, life is all in the spreading–you can go thick with peanut butter, Brad!

In any case, as a memorial to the Garlinghouse era, BoomTown decodes the manifesto:

Brad wrote: Three and half years ago, I enthusiastically joined Yahoo! The magnitude of the opportunity was only matched by the magnitude of the assets. And an amazing team has been responsible for rebuilding Yahoo!

It has been a profound experience. I am fortunate to have been a part of dramatic change for the Company. And our successes speak for themselves. More users than ever, more engaging than ever and more profitable than ever!

I proudly bleed purple and yellow everyday! And like so many people here, I love this company.

Translation: This is the borderline cultish kissing-up part, before I deliver the coup de nut.

Thus: Blah, blah, blah–love it! Blah, blah, double blah–so profound I think I shall weep!

And the nuclear blah, blah, blah–I pull out the bleeding purple and yellow expression, used way too often at Yahoo, which, when you really think about it, is just gross.

Brad wrote: But all is not well. Last Thursday’s NY Times article was a blessing in the disguise of a painful public flogging. While it lacked accurate details, its conclusions rang true, and thus was a much needed wake-up call. But also a call to action. A clear statement with which I, and far too many Yahoos, agreed. And thankfully a reminder. A reminder that the measure of any person is not in how many times he or she falls down–but rather the spirit and resolve used to get back up. The same is now true of our Company.

It’s time for us to get back up.

Translation: Cue ominous music! Drag out the “Rocky I-VI” cliches (except for V, which sucked)! Order those I’ve-Fallen- and-I-Can’t- Get-Up thingies for the entire company. Also, insult the media, even though that’s exactly where all Yahoo employees get the most up-to-date information about what’s what here.

Brad wrote: I believe we must embrace our problems and challenges and that we must take decisive action. We have the opportunity–in fact the invitation–to send a strong, clear and powerful message to our shareholders and Wall Street, to our advertisers and our partners, to our employees (both current and future), and to our users. They are all begging for a signal that we recognize and understand our problems, and that we are charting a course for fundamental change. Our current course and speed simply will not get us there. Short-term band-aids will not get us there.

It’s time for us to get back up and seize this invitation.

Translation: You realize, of course, this was written in 2006! Um, almost two years ago. And nothing has, well, changed all that much.

Strong, clear and powerful message that we understand our problems and are charting a course for fundamental change?

A cow could fall through the crack that task disappeared into!

Brad wrote: I imagine there’s much discussion amongst the Company’s senior most leadership around the challenges we face. At the risk of being redundant, I wanted to share my take on our current situation and offer a recommended path forward, an attempt to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Translation: No one in senior management is listening to me. I’ll show them Tom-Cruise- Jerry-Maguire style!

Show me the money!

Brad wrote: Recognizing Our Problems

Translation: Help me, help you. Help me, help you.

Brad wrote: We lack a focused, cohesive vision for our company. We want to do everything and be everything–to everyone. We’ve known this for years, talk about it incessantly, but do nothing to fundamentally address it. We are scared to be left out. We are reactive instead of charting an unwavering course. We are separated into silos that far too frequently don’t talk to each other. And when we do talk, it isn’t to collaborate on a clearly focused strategy, but rather to argue and fight about ownership, strategies and tactics.

Our inclination and proclivity to repeatedly hire leaders from outside the company results in disparate visions of what winning looks like–rather than a leadership team rallying around a single cohesive strategy.

Translation: This, of course, is the description of the basic family setup of “The Sopranos.” Except we have no Bada-Bing.

I so wish we had a Bada-Bing at Yahoo, instead of that not-Google cafeteria.

In fact, I wish we had Tony Soprano running the place, except I personally think he got shot during that annoying “Don’t Stop Believin’” ending (see video below!).

Brad wrote: I’ve heard our strategy described as spreading peanut butter across the myriad opportunities that continue to evolve in the online world. The result: a thin layer of investment spread across everything we do and thus we focus on nothing in particular.

I hate peanut butter. We all should.

Translation: I hate peanut butter. We all should.

That is, those of us whose parents did not know how to make a proper sandwich.

Brad wrote: We lack clarity of ownership and accountability. The most painful manifestation of this is the massive redundancy that exists throughout the organization. We now operate in an organizational structure–admittedly created with the best of intentions–that has become overly bureaucratic. For far too many employees, there is another person with dramatically similar and overlapping responsibilities. This slows us down and burdens the company with unnecessary costs.

Translation: Again, this was two years ago. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

That’s French for peanut butter.

Brad wrote: Equally problematic, at what point in the organization does someone really OWN the success of their product or service or feature? Product, marketing, engineering, corporate strategy, financial operations…there are so many people in charge (or believe that they are in charge) that it’s not clear if anyone is in charge. This forces decisions to be pushed up–rather than down. It forces decisions by committee or consensus and discourages the innovators from breaking the mold…thinking outside the box.

There’s a reason why a centerfielder and a left fielder have clear areas of ownership. Pursuing the same ball repeatedly results in either collisions or dropped balls. Knowing that someone else is pursuing the ball and hoping to avoid that collision–we have become timid in our pursuit. Again, the ball drops.

Translation: It is like Al Haig gone wild at Yahoo–I’m in charge here!

And then right onto the business-as-a-baseball game cliche, as we are like “The Bad News Bears” at Yahoo. Except we could use a drunk coach like Walter Matthau right about now.

Brad wrote: We lack decisiveness. Combine a lack of focus with unclear ownership, and the result is that decisions are either not made or are made when it is already too late. Without a clear and focused vision, and without complete clarity of ownership, we lack a macro perspective to guide our decisions and visibility into who should make those decisions. We are repeatedly stymied by challenging and hairy decisions. We are held hostage by our analysis paralysis.

Translation: Yahoo Held Hostage! This is an eerie precursor to CEO Jerry Yang’s 100-day No Sacred Cow Vision Quest, isn’t it?

Brad wrote: We end up with competing (or redundant) initiatives and synergistic opportunities living in the different silos of our company.

• YME vs. Musicmatch

• Flickr vs. Photos

• YMG video vs. Search video

• Deli.cio.us vs. myweb

• Messenger and plug-ins vs. Sidebar and widgets

• Social media vs. 360 and Groups

• Front page vs. YMG

• Global strategy from BU vs. Global strategy from Int’l

Translation: There can be only one! Although one is the loneliest number, which is why we have two of everything.

Brad wrote: We have lost our passion to win. Far too many employees are “phoning” it in, lacking the passion and commitment to be a part of the solution. We sit idly by while–at all levels–employees are enabled to “hang around.” Where is the accountability? Moreover, our compensation systems don’t align to our overall success. Weak performers that have been around for years are rewarded. And many of our top performers aren’t adequately recognized for their efforts.

As a result, the employees that we really need to stay (leaders, risk-takers, innovators, passionate) become discouraged and leave. Unfortunately many who opt to stay are not the ones who will lead us through the dramatic change that is needed.

Translation: By “phoning” it in, I mean from their cellphones at home. By “hang around,” I mean at the bar near the office.

By employees that we really need to stay (leaders, risk-takers, innovators, passionate) become discouraged and leave, I mean me! Buh-bye, Ash!

Brad wrote: Solving our Problems

Translation: And now I return to Jerry Maguire!–Help me, help you. Help me, help you.

Brad wrote: We have awesome assets. Nearly every media and communications company is painfully jealous of our position. We have the largest audience, they are highly engaged and our brand is synonymous with the Internet.

If we get back up, embrace dramatic change, we will win.

I don’t pretend there is only one path forward available to us. However, at a minimum, I want to be part of the solution and thus have outlined a plan here that I believe can work. It is my strong belief that we need to act very quickly or risk going further down a slippery slope. The plan here is not perfect; it is, however, FAR better than no action at all.

Translation: More Maguire required! I will not rest until I have you holding a Coke, wearing your own shoe, playing a Sega game *featuring you*, while singing your own song in a new commercial, *starring you*, broadcast during the Super Bowl, in a game that you are winning, and I will not *sleep* until that happens. I’ll give you 15 minutes to call me back.

Brad wrote: There are three pillars to my plan:

1. Focus the vision.

2. Restore accountability and clarity of ownership.

3. Execute a radical reorganization.

1. Focus the vision

a) We need to boldly and definitively declare what we are and what we are not.

b) We need to exit (sell?) non-core businesses and eliminate duplicative projects and businesses.

My belief is that the smoothly spread peanut butter needs to turn into a deliberately sculpted strategy–that is narrowly focused.

We can’t simply ask each BU to figure out what they should stop doing. The result will continue to be a non-cohesive strategy. The direction needs to come decisively from the top. We need to place our bets and not second guess. If we believe Media will maximize our ROI–then let’s not be bashful about reducing our investment in other areas. We need to make the tough decisions, articulate them and stick with them–acknowledging that some people (users / partners / employees) will not like it. Change is hard.

2. Restore accountability and clarity of ownership

a) Existing business owners must be held accountable for where we find ourselves today–heads must roll.

b) We must thoughtfully create senior roles that have holistic accountability for a particular line of business (a variant of a GM structure that will work with Yahoo!’s new focus).

c) We must redesign our performance and incentive systems.

I believe there are too many BU leaders who have gotten away with unacceptable results and worse–unacceptable leadership. Too often they (we!) are the worst offenders of the problems outlined here. We must signal to both the employees and to our shareholders that we will hold these leaders (ourselves) accountable and implement change.

By building around a strong and unequivocal GM structure, we will not only empower those leaders, we will eliminate significant overhead throughout our multi-headed matrix. It must be very clear to everyone in the organization who is empowered to make a decision and ownership must be transparent. With that empowerment comes increased accountability–leaders make decisions, the rest of the company supports those decisions, and the leaders ultimately live/die by the results of those decisions.

My view is that far too often our compensation and rewards are just spreading more peanut butter. We need to be much more aggressive about performance-based compensation. This will only help accelerate our ability to weed out our lowest performers and better reward our hungry, motivated and productive employees.

3. Execute a radical reorganization

a) The current business unit structure must go away.

b) We must dramatically decentralize and eliminate as much of the matrix as possible.

c) We must reduce our headcount by 15% to 20%.

I emphatically believe we simply must eliminate the redundancies we have created and the first step in doing this is by restructuring our organization. We can be more efficient with fewer people and we can get more done, more quickly. We need to return more decision-making to a new set of business units and their leadership. But we can’t achieve this with baby-step changes. We need to fundamentally rethink how we organize to win.

Translation: In a peanutshell, let’s be Google (GOOG).

Brad wrote: Independent of specific proposals of what this reorganization should look like, two key principles must be represented:

Blow up the matrix. Empower a new generation and model of General Managers to be true general managers. Product, marketing, user experience and design, engineering, business development and operations all report into a small number of focused General Managers. Leave no doubt as to where accountability lies.

Kill the redundancies. Align a set of new BU’s so that they are not competing against each other. Search focuses on search. Social media aligns with community and communications. No competing owners for Video, Photos, etc. And Front Page becomes Switzerland. This will be a delicate exercise–decentralization can create inefficiencies, but I believe we can find the right balance.

Translation: Or, maybe we could be Facebook.

Brad wrote: I love Yahoo! I’m proud to admit that I bleed purple and yellow. I’m proud to admit that I shaved a Y in the back of my head.

Translation: More yucky purple and yellow bleeding with a cup full of Britney-Spears-crazy hairstyling on top!

Brad wrote: My motivation for this memo is the adamant belief that, as before, we have a tremendous opportunity ahead. I don’t pretend that I have the only available answers, but we need to get the discussion going; change is needed and it is needed soon. We can be a stronger and faster company–a company with a clearer vision and clearer ownership and clearer accountability.

We may have fallen down, but the race is a marathon and not a sprint. I don’t pretend that this will be easy. It will take courage, conviction, insight and tremendous commitment. I very much look forward to the challenge.

So let’s get back up.

Catch the balls.

Translation: My motivation for this memo is the adamant belief that it will drive my bosses nuts and someone will surely leak it to the press.

Thus, I wind up with the marathon-not-a-sprint cliche, sprinkle in the get-up one and round the bases with the baseball cliche.

Brad wrote: And stop eating peanut butter.

Translation: Despite my unfair impugning of the peanut-loving work of George Washington Carver, I secretly love peanut butter.

But it once got in my chocolate. Or did my chocolate get in my peanut butter?

In any case, soon to come: The Jelly Memo. That’ll be sweet!

And here is the last minutes of “The Sopranos,” where Tony–and here is an exhaustive and convincing explanation as to why–got whacked:


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus