Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Ex-Yahoos Weigh In on Their Choices for New Yahoo CEO

With so many more ex-Yahoos out there now that the most recent layoffs have taken place, BoomTown put out feelers to a range of them to ask whom they would like to run the company they no longer work for.

After all, who better than to pick a new CEO than an ex?

The response I got was swift and varied wildly, depending on which way the ex-Yahoo felt the company should go, including quite a few who thought Yahoo needed to sell itself off completely.

Some considered Yahoo (YHOO) a media and advertising company, for example, while others thought of it as a more Web tools outfit. Still, others considered it a turnaround situation, requiring a wholly different kind of CEO.

Perhaps therein lies the problem–it is still hard to define precisely what Yahoo is and is not, even for its ex-employees.

In any case, here are some of the best suggestions:

1. The Media Mogul

“I think they need to sell to a media company,” said one ex-Yahoo, who posits the move needs to be drastic enough to truly reset Yahoo.

In this scenario, search gets sold to Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo’s online content is combined with media assets of a big entertainment and news conglomerate.

That would make the leader of Yahoo one of the following: Bob Iger of Disney (DIS); Rupert Murdoch/Peter Chernin of News Corp. (NWS); Jeff Zucker of General Electric (GE) unit NBC Universal; or Les Moonves of CBS (CBS). (News Corp. is the owner of this Web site.)

2. The Insider

A lot of votes here for former Yahoo COO Dan Rosensweig and not so many for current President Sue Decker.

Why? Several ex-Yahoos mentioned a need to refocus intently on products and the need for a product-obsessed leader, but one who also knew Yahoo well and could get things moving without needing a lengthy learning curve.

“Since Dan R. left, I think there’s been a definite void (at the senior exec level) on the product/consumer expertise and advocate front,” said another ex-Yahoo.

Other execs mentioned are former Yahoos Jeff Weiner and Jeff Mallett.

But several also pointed to board member John Chapple, who is the one most insiders say they are guessing will be the next CEO, especially since he has been reaching out to Yahoos on many levels and asking questions.

3. The Microsoftie or Googler

The new top name here is obviously recently departed online ad exec Brian McAndrews, former CEO of aQuantive, whom many think would be a strong pick and would focus the company on advertising.

In addition, most of those leaving–including several technical people–all seem to agree that Yahoo needs to get out of the search business, and pronto.

Said one engineer: “I hate to say this, but as good as we can be, we cannot compete in the war that is breaking out between Google and Microsoft. And it will only get uglier.”

Other names mentioned in this category include Yusuf Mehdi and Kevin Johnson of Microsoft, as well as Tim Armstrong of Google (GOOG).

4. The Fixer

While there are a lot of different opinions out there among the ex-Yahoos I spoke to, all agree that the company is in need of a sharp operator and someone who can do what it takes to turn the company around quickly.

That means someone like former Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin, whose name has popped up recently, or even nontechie execs known for operational skills.

“We need a decisive leader, given how slowly it takes for things to change at Yahoo, who has a real sense of urgency from the minute he or she gets the job,” said one ex-employee.

Another former exec described it as a “two-step process.” First, the turnaround CEO needs to come in and reorient, focus, and get the company going in the right direction, then a more product-oriented person can be installed under that CEO later.

5. The Holy Grail-Steve Jobs Option

I think the most interesting idea I got from all the many former Yahoos I spoke to was that Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs swoop in and buy Yahoo.

When I laughed out loud at this notion at first, the exec insisted that it was a feasible idea, given that Apple was interested in expanding its platform beyond its now-popular devices.

It’s an interesting bit of wishful thinking, of course, to imagine a “great leader” to calmly guide the company back to its roots.

Jobs, in fact, memorably addressed a meeting of Yahoo VPs in the fall of 2007. As I wrote then: “Jobs basic message [to Yahoo]: You have great assets–just like Apple did–and now it is all about execution.”

Yes, that tiny little detail.

6. Raise the Yangtanic

Interestingly, pretty much all the ex-Yahoos I talked to–as angry as some are at him for his tenure as a CEO less successful at execution and the ensuing loss of market value at Yahoo–said they did feel there was a need for Co-Founder Jerry Yang to stay around in a significant way.

“Jerry has been a really bad CEO,” said one former employee. “But he could still be an important leader at Yahoo and give the company the kind of inspiration it so desperately needs.”

Not everyone is on board with that.

“I completely disagree that Jerry should stay around. Jerry is one of the main issues at Yahoo and he and [David] Filo must go, as well as most of the board,” said one former Yahoo. “There needs to be free rein for the new CEO to make changes and that won’t be possible if Jerry is still there. Jerry is a nice guy and his heart is in the right place but he has failed as both board leader and CEO and the company needs to start fresh if it is to have a chance.”

Adds the ex-Yahoo: “Steve Jobs would be great, but I think he is busy.”


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— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo