Kara Swisher

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Yahoo CEO Countdown, 26 Days to Go: As Chernin Declines, Will a Dark Horse Emerge?

[UPDATED: H-P exec Todd Bradley has been a public company CEO, which I reflected below correctly.]

With Yahoo board Chairman Roy Bostock reportedly assuring investors and others that the company will have a CEO in place by the end of the year, it seems prudent for BoomTown to initiate an official Yahoo CEO Countdown.

After all, this column had a 100-Day No-Sacred-Cows Vision Quest to mark the time that Jerry Yang said he needed to give Yahoo a top-to-bottom look-see when he took over last summer as CEO.

Yang announced he was stepping down on Nov. 17, prompting the search for someone to lead Yahoo (YHOO) to the promised land where BoomTown countdowns are illegal.

But that’s not today, so here’s the 26-days-to-go update:

It looks like Yahoo has almost no chance to nab a top candidate, News Corp. (NWS) COO Peter Chernin. While Yang made nice and Bostock quickly lobbed in a call to get the well-known exec to come in and talk, several sources said Chernin declined even that.

Of course, moguls like Chernin are pros at not interviewing–one media player schooled me that you apparently never show interest in a job and only take it if a full offer is made, because if you don’t get it after chit-chatting, you look like a loser.

But I don’t think it is a slick feint on his part, even though Chernin is now engaged in contract renewal negotiations at News Corp. (which owns this Web site).

Consider: If you were Chernin, would you want to trade your powerful, well-paid, glamorous job in Hollywood and New York for what will surely be a slog of a job in Sunnyvale, and in a cubicle?

And Chernin has told many he is not interested in doing the job, although News Corp. would still love to do some sort of deal to combine its online assets, like MySpace, with Yahoo’s, as it almost did many times.

While Chernin did just take delivery on a Tesla, showing some clear geekiness, and he would be an exciting get for Yahoo, it’s the longest of shots.

The same is true for some other names that have been floated (by me!).

But several of the people are on the Yahoo board’s list too. And while things can change, it is more unlikely any of them will be the pick.

That includes former Yahoo COO Dan Rosensweig, who has a good life now as a media investor; former eBay exec and OpenTable CEO Jeff Jordan, who told his investors he does not want to be in the running and was sticking with the start-up’s IPO plans–if and when the economy recovers (although Yahoo could buy OpenTable and, thus, Jordan); former eBay (EBAY) CEO Meg Whitman, who could be running for governor of California; and former AOL CEO Jon Miller, who is not secretly buying Yahoo, but who could not be its leader anyway, since he is bound by a Time Warner (TWX) noncompete agreement until the end of March.

Another sticking point: The Yahoo board has limited the pool by a list of six criteria that it has drawn up, with the No. 1 being a CEO candidate has to have public company CEO experience.

If enforced, that nixes some folks, like Google (GOOG) exec Tim Armstrong. In addition, Yahoo President Sue Decker getting the nod is even more unlikely, for that and other reasons, according to many.

From my lists, that leaves DoubleClick head David Rosenblatt (his company is now owned by Google); Demand Media’s Richard Rosenblatt; former Viacom (VIA) head Tom Freston; former CNET CEO Shelby Bonnie; Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) exec Todd Bradley; and Juniper Networks (JNPR) CEO Kevin Johnson, who was the Microsoft exec who was key in the Yahoo takeover attempt there.

All have reasons not to either want or be able to take the Yahoo CEO job, so that means there could be a dark horse candidate. (I am now drawing up yet another list of qualified public CEO tech and media execs).

Here’s one: Yesterday, after it was announced he was stepping down from Microsoft (MSFT) in the wake of its hire of former Yahoo tech star Qi Lu as its online leader, I noted that I liked Brian McAndrews for the job.

Plus, the former CEO of aQuantive, which Microsoft bought for $6 billion last year, would be a delicious irony. But those who have talked to him told me McAndrews–who did want the digital head job at Microsoft and was left hanging by the software giant’s CEO Steve Ballmer–seems intent on taking time off now.

Alternatively, one of the two Yahoo board members, Maggie Wilderotter or John Chapple, both have the public company CEO checked off.

Personally, I am betting on one of them as CEO, although I believe it would be better if Yahoo picked a fresh outside choice.

So do a lot of execs remaining at Yahoo, most of whom visibly roll their eyes at the idea of a board member taking over, considering the record of the directors so far in guiding Yahoo’s fortunes.

That’s why the board–which definitely has not distinguished itself by any criteria so far in Yahoo’s long fall from grace–should try to get it right this time, as Yahoo can’t take any more of the way it has been running the show so far.


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When AllThingsD began, we told readers we were aiming to present a fusion of new-media timeliness and energy with old-media standards for quality and ethics. And we hope you agree that we’ve done that.

— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post