Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Yahoo’s Peter (Chernin) Principle — And Other CEO Choices

Obviously, the dream CEO for Yahoo is News Corp. President and COO Peter Chernin.

And, no surprise, he is the No. 1 choice of most inside and outside Yahoo (YHOO) in the wake of the news late yesterday that current CEO and co-founder Jerry Yang is stepping down.

And why not? Chernin has the right resume: Experienced at running large and complex organizations; savvier than most in media about the Internet; able to make the kinds of dramatic decisions needed; and, perhaps best of all, signaling–via the Los Angeles Times–just this past week that he was open to leaving the powerful media and entertainment conglomerate for something new.

Well, Yahoo would certainly be new for Chernin, in terms of a corporate cleanup challenge, especially compared to figuring out how to make bank on plush toys from “The Simpsons.”

And, while the risks are many, if Chernin (pictured here) managed to turn around Yahoo, he could make a huge fortune too, given Yahoo shares have languished of late, much in the same way they did when former CEO Terry Semel came to Yahoo from Hollywood in 2001.

But it’s not altogether clear whether Chernin would actually leave his powerful perch at News Corp. (NWS) — which owns Dow Jones and owns this Web site. He has been ensconced there for a dozen years, building a huge reputation as a sharp exec (No, Peter, I am not kissing up, as I think Yahoo would wear even you down very, very quickly).

That’s even though many note he is not likely to take over as CEO from its iconic leader, Rupert Murdoch. The media mogul is widely expected to favor one of his own children to lead News Corp. next.

And the 57-year-old Chernin already makes close to $30 million in his current job, which is definitely challenging.

And, although Chernin has been involved in the News Corp.-owned MySpace and has had success backing the Hulu online video site, it is not nearly as hard as the five-year turnaround quagmire (plus no fabulous media mogul perks either) that Yahoo could turn out to be.

In addition, privately to other News Corp. execs, Chernin has regularly pooh-poohed a move to a digital company, even though he is always on the short list for a lot of big Internet jobs — such as the long-unfilled post as digital head at Microsoft (MSFT) more recently.

So, who else to take over from Yang, who will return to his job as Chief Yahoo after stepping down from the company as soon a search for a replacement CEO is successful?

Well, here is BoomTown’s own shortish list, based on asking a wide range of people inside and outside Yahoo, all of whom are important digital players in their own right.

INSIDE YAHOO

Sue Decker:

The current president of Yahoo is certainly being “considered” for the job, which is a polite term for not really being considered at all. While Decker is an intelligent and thoughtful exec, like a politician with a record, she has had her hand on the operating tiller at Yahoo for too long not to get deservedly blamed for its current situation.

In addition, she is radioactive to big investors, who have told the Yahoo board in no uncertain terms that she is a nonstarter.

Maggie Wilderotter:

The former Microsoft exec, who has also been a public company CEO, is an interesting idea floated by some, who think the Yahoo board might turn to one of its own directors, as a short-term solution to stabilize Yahoo.

Wilderotter has been much focused, said several Yahoo execs, on cost-cutting at Yahoo and certainly is not as tarnished, being a more current board member. But she is a largely unknown quantity in the Internet space and, most importantly, at Yahoo.

John Chapple:

The former CEO of Nextel is one of the two board members (former media Frank Biondi Jr. is the other) recently picked by Carl Icahn, when the activist shareholder was admitted on the board as part of the proxy fight settlement.

Chapple has, sources said, been conducting chats with Yahoo execs lately, perhaps as a way to get a lay of the land. If he got the job, it would be clear Icahn had won his Pyrrhic victory (and personal financial defeat) against Yang.

OUTSIDE YAHOO

Dan Rosensweig:

The very funny, but brash, former Yahoo COO is definitely a favorite within Yahoo’s ranks, except for those who don’t like him. But it’s clear Rosensweig does know and love Yahoo, is close to Yang and, ironically, enjoys a tight relationship with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who also wanted him for the digital head job.

Also, Rosensweig, who does have operating chops, has gotten some much needed time away from Yahoo, as a partner at the tony media investment firm, the Quadrangle Group.

Meg Whitman:

Another dreamy CEO choice, except she has already been a big company CEO at eBay (EBAY), has proved her mettle in building it to a powerhouse–despite the online auction site’s currently harder times–and has the giant fortune to prove it.

And, oh yes, she is likely to be using that pile of cash to run for governor of California, on the Republican ticket.

Jon Miller/Ross Levinsohn:

The Bobbsey Twins of the Internet, the pair are now having a very good time running their own investment company, the Velocity Group.

But, aside from some questioning whether he can make the quick decisions needed at Yahoo, Miller (pictured here on the right), the former head of AOL, does not want to leave his New York home and cannot take any job anyway until his noncompete with Time Warner (TWX) runs out in March.

And former Fox Interactive Media head Levinsohn likes Los Angeles, and probably is too fast a personality for Yahoo (his going there would be a shock to its system, but would be endlessly entertaining to me personally).

Tim Armstrong:

The top ad exec at Google (GOOG) certainly is an interesting idea, although has little of the product experience needed to run Yahoo. But he is a well-respected advertising figure–where Yahoo needs to shine–and could do well with a lot of strong execs under him.

He is also not on a CEO path at Google–paging, Larry Page!–and could be interested in proving he could run a company on his own.

Kevin Johnson:

The former Microsoft exec was supposed to be running Yahoo, if he and Ballmer pulled off their takeover attempt earlier this year. They did not, and Johnson then left Microsoft to run Juniper Networks (JNPR) in Silicon Valley, right up the road from Yahoo, in fact.

But Johnson is likely subject to a noncompete by Microsoft and a strong contract at Juniper too. Still, a very sharp exec, he definitely has the operating, political, technological and digital skills to take on Yahoo. Also, ironically, he and Yang really get along well and like each other, despite the takeover battle.

Of course, there are a lot of other ideas: Disney (DIS) online exec Steve Wadsworth; the outside-the-box choice of former Procter & Gamble (PG) marketing wizard Jim Stengel; Microsoft digital exec Yusuf Mehdi; CBS (CBS) digital head Quincy Smith (whose hyperactive dealmaking would likely lead to a mutant merger between CBS and Yahoo); and former Cisco (CSCO) and current Joost CEO Mike Volpi.

Please post suggestions below or, better yet, send tips to me at here.

Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.


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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google