Kara Swisher

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Whither Ash Patel–Can Longtime Yahoos Learn New Tricks?

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There’s no question Yahoo owes longtime veteran exec Ash Patel a lot, as it has grown into a global Internet behemoth.

Since getting to the company in 1996–which essentially means he was present at the creation–Patel (pictured here) has, as the corporate page on its top execs notes, played “key roles across the company including architecting MyYahoo!, Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo! Messenger, Yahoo! identity and the user database, and many other products that continue to impact millions of Yahoo! users.”

Now as EVP of the Audience Product Division, he presides over pretty much all of Yahoo’s well-known consumer products, from its homepage to its email to its search to, more recently, the product development of its media offerings.

But, because of his longevity, vast purview and clear impact on the company, Patel has also become a symbol for many inside Yahoo (YHOO) right now, who mention him most often in the should-he-stay-or-should-he-go-now debates about the future of the company and who should be in charge of that.

Thus, Patel’s fate is seen as a key indicator of what is to come at the company, especially whether he and it can change with the very fast-changing times. While his love and loyalty to Yahoo are unquestioned, like many at Yahoo, can he be a true agent of change who could upend all he has built?

The big question, of course: Can old Yahoos learn new tricks?

That, of course, is all now up to new CEO Carol Bartz, who is busy restructuring the company to her liking, in decisions that are about to come down after only six weeks into her tenure.

Bartz is clearly casting herself as the agent of dramatic change and speed, as she noted that in a recent memo to staff:

What does this have to do with the need for speed? Many of the things I just talked about could have and should have been decided earlier but we haven’t been an organization that has embraced the need for speedy decisions, even when they are the tough ones. We can all be part of changing this and getting back to an organization that is fast on its feet.”

With the reorganization in flux, even as big departures occur (mobile head Marco Boerries today, for example), it could start to feel like the rapture at Yahoo, as the old ways make way for, well, the unknown.

Right now, it seems Patel might stay, reporting to CTO Ari Balogh, who is about to also get control over all of Yahoo’s products. Previously, Patel reported directly to outgoing President Sue Decker.

But others are convinced he will go, if not right away in the current upheaval, then soon enough, with Bartz and Balogh on the hunt for a crackerjack new outside product exec to take over and, more importantly, take a fresh look Yahoo’s many offerings.

That’s been Patel’s job for a long time, after a long rise to the top from when he arrived from Oracle (ORCL). He’s been SVP of platform engineering, chief product officer and EVP of the Platforms and Infrastructure Division, before getting his most recent title in one of Yahoo’s umpteenth reorgs.

“Ash is the symbol of old Yahoo, and now he is really actually one of the only ones with longevity in top management,” said one person at the company. “What happens to him–whether he stays and transforms or simply goes–says a lot about the future of Yahoo.”

Here is a video interview I did with Patel recently about the launch of some open and social-networking initiatives at Yahoo (Front Doors head Tapan Bhat, who reports to Patel, is also in the video):


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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