The Yahoo Annual Meeting Circus Rolls Back Into Town Next Week: Send in the Clowns?
In exactly one week at 10 am PDT, Yahoo will hold its annual meeting in Silicon Valley, the first time when new CEO Carol Bartz will greet its shareholders in person.
She should prep carefully, as the event has been quite a drama over the last two years.
In 2007, former Yahoo CEO Terry Semel left the company just days after a fractious annual meeting and was replaced by co-founder Jerry Yang.
And last August, the meeting was held in the midst of even more trouble.
The walk-up to that gathering included a failed takeover attempt by Microsoft (MSFT), extensive Yahoo (YHOO) management turmoil and a high-profile proxy fight waged by billionaire investor Carl Icahn.
And the meeting itself was also a mess, after shareholder voting was miscounted and it turned out that discontent about leadership was double what Yahoo first reported it was.
Broadridge Financial Solutions’ corrected tabulation of the vote on Aug. 1, without the “truncation errors,” showed Yang’s disapproval more than double what was previously reported, rising from 14.6 percent votes withheld to 33.7 percent. Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock saw his shares withheld rise from 20.5 percent to 39.6 percent.
Yang later stepped down, as did President Sue Decker, both of whom presided over the meeting. Yang was replaced by Bartz early this year.
But most of the Yahoo board remains in place, with the addition of Icahn, including Bostock.
And today, just as it was then, Yahoo and Microsoft remain engaged in an ongoing push-me-pull-you relationship about whether to partner in search and online advertising or not.
Talks have been on-again-off-again for months now, including a meeting between Bartz and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the D: All Things Digital conference in late May.
Those talks have now appeared to reach yet another impasse, but that could change again quickly.
Sources at Microsoft said the software giant has remained interested in such a deal, although not at any price, a stance that has recently been made firmer by the apparent early success of its rehaul of its search offering, now called Bing.
Some inside the company think this puts added pressure on Yahoo to do a deal, before Microsoft actually logs in consistent gains in search share.
Microsoft has long been mired in third place at around eight percent, behind Yahoo by a dozen points and well behind Google (GOOG), which consistently tracks above 60 and 70 percent.
“Bing’s success only increases the odds [of a Yahoo deal] and decreases the price,” said one observer.
But a big price is exactly what Yahoo wants, with Bartz stating in an onstage interview with me at D7 that she was willing to do a deal for “boatloads of money,” as well as the right technology and data.
(You can see a video of Bartz’s full session here, talking about that and more.)
And she is backed, at this point, by the board, except for Icahn, who has been aggressively agitating for a Microsoft deal, in hopes it will return his huge investment in Yahoo into the black.
“He has been kind of driving Carol crazy about it,” said one source close to the situation.
For her part, Bartz has told many at the company and outside it that she was hired to make such key decisions and if the board–especially Icahn–did not like it they could find another CEO.
Yahoo has been upgraded recently by some analysts, based on confidence in Bartz’s ability to turn around and reinvigorate the company. The stock has seen a small bump up too.
But Bartz, although successfully projecting command of Yahoo and stabilizing the management over the last six months, has yet to put forth a detailed strategy for the company to stanch declines in profits and revenues and increase innovation.
And, although annual meetings are usually painfully scripted affairs, the event might be her chance to perhaps articulate that plan and more.
BoomTown will, of course, be front and center at the ongoing show to see what happens next.
Until then, here are two videos I did at the 2007 and 2008 annual meetings.
And below it, the great Barbra Streisand in a video, singing the classic, “Send in the Clowns”–which is pretty much the perfect theme song for the star-crossed Microsoft and Yahoo relationship.