Kara Swisher

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Bartz of 100 Days: Tough Talk to Microsoft Talks

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Here’s an interesting irony–Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz will have her 99th day in office on the very one that the Internet giant will announce its first-quarter earnings: April 21, 2009 at 2 p.m. PST.

Technically, it will mean that she has been running Yahoo (YHOO) for 100 days, a time when most administrations get their first evaluation.

Thus, if it’s good enough for President Obama, it’s good enough for Bartz!

While most expect the results for the quarter to be weak, due to the econalypse, the overall verdict from BoomTown’s needling of Yahoos to give me info on their new leader recently: Love, love, love Bartz’s innate decisiveness, and wanting more of the same.

“She has an opinion and she is not afraid to use it,” joked one high-ranking Yahoo. “That is a big deal for a lot of people here who have wanted a CEO who is very forceful.”

And the only substantive negative: Some remain worried about her lack of Internet savvy, although most of those admit she has been a quick learner as the 100-day mark comes to a close.

In Yahoo’s case, 100 days has a special meaning–when he got his job in late 2007, former Yahoo CEO and co-founder Jerry Yang declared that he was going to give the troubled company a 100-day evaluation with “no sacred cows.”

The Yang-farmed bovines, as it turned out, just got fatter.

Under Bartz, more have been under the knife, as the hard-charging exec has started to really put her imprint on the company.

She has certainly talked tough since the meet-the-press conference on her very first day on Jan. 13.

Some memorable Bartz quotes were about Yahoo’s immediate needs, in her estimation: “some friggin’ breathing room” and “frankly, [the company] could use a little management.”

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That kind of tough-lady, Annie-Get-Your-Gun quote-making has been Bartz’s signature, whether it be in folksy Friday memos she has sent out to staff or at the fourth-quarter earnings call in late January, only weeks into her tenure, when she declared:

“This is not a company that needs to be pulled apart and left for the chickens.”

Well, except for the management structure, which Bartz pulled right apart and reshuffled six weeks in.

Cleaning up and simplifying the complex reporting structure in an all-roads-lead-to-Carol set-up and tossing out the CFO were main points of the reorganization. Many at Yahoo expect there to be even more cuts in staff sooner than later, many sources said.

And there have also been departures of key staff, including: PR head Jill Nash, Zimbra founder Satish Dharmaraj and soon, high-ranking techie Venkat Panchapakesan.

Yang too, although he remains on the board, has not been present as much at the company.

Curiously, though, except for the new CMO, Elisa Steele–whose office is powerfully located right next to Bartz, as many Yahoos noted to me–there have been no further appointments for open positions for CFO, a new Customer Advocacy top exec and a new international head. Presumably, they are on the way.

Not that Bartz has not been busy–visiting Yahoo staff and clients all over–as well as finally finding time for a face-to-face meeting with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in Silicon Valley recently.

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Before the recent meetings, in a classic negotiating tactic, Bartz (pictured here) has projected a disinterested, poker-faced attitude about the situation, even telling Yahoo staff in one meeting “that she plans to spend a lot of time investigating whether to sell Yahoo’s search business, but that her ‘gut’ was not to do that.”

Well, a sale of Yahoo’s search business might not happen, Bartz was only buying a little time in being so confident and projecting the affect that Yahoo had some leverage and a choice.

But that is exactly what she does not really have, given that Yahoo faces the prospect of spiraling costs to maintain a search share, even as it has a good chance of declining.

So, last week, the news–first reported here Friday–that Bartz was involved in preliminary talks with Microsoft (MSFT) about an extensive commercial advertising and search partnership–should have come as almost no surprise.

A re-engagement between the companies, after a bruising takeover battle that ended in tears all around, has been long hoped for by investors and other observers, given that both have struggled against the search behemoth that is Google (GOOG).

(Or, in a nickname that BoomTown is trying unsuccessfully to popularize: Googzilla.)

The talks–which are not about the software giant making another acquisition offer for Yahoo–are ongoing and might not lead anywhere, but it is in both sides’ interest to avoid that outcome.

“Yahoo has to do some kind of deal or Bartz will be facing a decline even she cannot manage,” said one person close to the situation. “And Microsoft, if it wants to compete in search, needs Yahoo’s share along with its own.”

Among the surprisingly innovative ideas being bandied about: Yahoo might take over all of Microsoft’s display and premium advertising business to sell along with its own, while Microsoft would run the search advertising business for the pair.

And, while the discussions could degenerate into chest-pounding and pointless jockeying, one assumes that Bartz gets the idea that Yahoo needs a lot of help–including from some rapprochement with Microsoft, from making its staff even leaner, from streamlining its product focus and from striking other significant partnerships.

Many inside and outside Yahoo certainly hope that spirit–and not the one from this video below of a fabulous scene of Betty Hutton and Howard Keel in the musical classic, “Annie Get Your Gun,” singing “Anything You Can Do”–prevails with Microsoft in the next 100 days.


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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