Yahoo Reaction: "You Can Kick This Dog, but It Still Barks"
Yesterday, after the news got out that Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang was stepping down from his job and that a search was on for a new CEO, BoomTown got inundated with reaction from everyone from readers of this blog to Internet players to Yahoo employees.
In fact, my single favorite quote came from one Yahoo staffer, who noted that while the massive change that will come with the replacement of Yang–who co-founded the company in the mid-1990s–will involve even more turmoil than the beleaguered company has already gone through, Yahoo remains resilient.
“You can kick this dog, but it still barks,” said the exec.
Oh, there will be plenty of Yahoo-kicking still, but that sentiment is dead-on.
The employee meant that Yahoo (YHOO) is still one of the most trafficked sites on the Web, has some of the Internet’s most valuable digital properties (from the Flickr photo service to its massive communications assets to its leading content sites), was an important buy in online advertising and still makes more profits than most companies in the sector.
And, indeed, that is all true, although Yahoo has been howling, more than anything, over the last year as it has ricocheted from crisis to crisis–from the exodus of key employees to the botched-on-both-sides takeover attempt by Microsoft to the plummeting stock price to the collapsed deal to do a search advertising partnership with Google.
Here are three key points people have made over and over to me:
1. IT IS ALL JERRY YANG’S FAULT, BUT HE IS A NICE GUY
This thread centers around the lack of strong leadership by Yang, who took over at the company in June of 2007, after former CEO Terry Semel stepped down suddenly in the wake of a very bad annual meeting.
The major gripes: Yang should have sold to Microsoft (MSFT) at $31 a share when he had the chance; Yang should have not dawdled about making major changes and cost cuts; Yang should have made a merger deal with Time Warner (TWX) online unit AOL faster; Yang should not have made a deal with Google (GOOG) so quickly; Yang and all of Yahoo cannot make a decision to save its life.
And, most of all, Yang was not the right CEO for Yahoo, even though his heart was in the right place and bled purple, Yahoo’s color.
“Jerry was in over his head,” said a source close to Yahoo’s board. “He is a really nice man and perhaps that is where the problems are.”
Now, all these points are valid ones–he did dawdle a lot–although Yang does have a defense for each of them.
Such as: Microsoft was never truly serious about a bid; the problems at Yahoo required a major overhaul and not a quick fix; the AOL deal has a lot of integration issues and pricing is hard with Yahoo’s stock in the basement; Google always does what Google wants and what’s good for Google.
By the way, Yang and Yahoo have always had a decision-making problem, and Yang is a nice guy. Not that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the latter, but the former is pretty much its biggest problem.
2. JERRY YANG IS TAKING THE FALL FOR SUE DECKER/ROY BOSTOCK/TERRY SEMEL/GLOBAL WARMING
A new favorite theory seems to center around the idea that Yang did not deserve this kind of criticism solely. While to my mind, the buck always stops with the CEO, President Sue Decker was the one in charge of all of Yahoo’s main initiatives, Bostock is Yang’s–well–boss as chairman of the board, and former CEO Semel did leave Yang with a lot of fires to put out.
Yang gets a pass on global warming, except that he should change his light bulbs to more efficient ones, but so should we all.
This thread also has some valid points–failure does have many fathers, the cliché notwithstanding. And there is plenty of blame to go around.
But Decker does work for Yang and, while she has had leadership issues and will likely as not leave, he is the one in charge of her. As for Semel, he was good for a while, not so good for a while and should have left sooner.
But that and also management problems have always ultimately been for the board to deal with, and Yahoo’s directors have been a spectacular failure all along in protecting shareholder value and making sure the company was on the right track.
I would single out Bostock in this regard–he was deeply involved in the Microsoft deal and has been slow to move and arrogant in tone. His performance at the annual meeting this year, treating shareholders like they were irksome teenagers for complaining, was appalling.
“I have really been critical about Yang’s and Decker’s performance,” said one large Yahoo investor. “But Bostock told me to my face he was going to do something about it more times than I can count.”
So if Yang has the guts to step down–and it does take guts–Bostock should man up and follow him right out of the board room.
3. YAHOO CAN STILL SHINE
This is entirely true. Yahoo is one of the few jewels of the Internet landscape and has plenty of juice left in it.
“It’s like the New York Yankees, they have a great team but might need a little pitching,” said one Internet player who closely follows Yahoo.
I am not so sure sports analogies are the best way to describe the hole of perception that Yahoo has to dig itself out of, but that’s pretty accurate.
As that great Yankee Yogi Berra (pictured above) once said: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
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