Kara Swisher

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Liveblogging the 2009 Yahoo Annual Meeting: Carol-tastic!

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BoomTown is at the lovely Santa Clara Marriott in Silicon Valley at the 2009 Yahoo annual meeting, liveblogging the event, which should be spectacularly dull.

Here is a rundown of what went on.

10:05 am: The meeting kicked off with a little video presentation with various and sundry television talking heads saying “Yahoo” in quick succession.

Actually, this was the year during which all of those hype-magnets repeated “Twitter”–the hottest media trend these days–so many times that it has began to make my ears bleed.

But I like the spirit of trying to make Yahoo (YHOO) seem relevant and innovative again.

Then, CEO Carol Bartz (pictured below) walked onto the small stage in the California Ballroom, declaring: “Well, that made me feel good.”

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Exactly when does Carol not feel good?

She explained why: “I am having a ball,” speaking about her rehaul job at Yahoo, and then thanked shareholders after what was “a tough year last year.”

The board was introduced, with most of them being present at the meeting, except for Ron Burkle and Carl Icahn.

10:12 am: General Counsel Mike Callahan comes on with the blah-blah-blah about rules and votes.

I soon started thinking of the lovely breakfast pastries outside that I passed by outside. Drat!

This year, the 12-member board, now including Bartz, was up for reelection.

Last year, as you might remember, many of those board members were under siege by shareholder discontent.

Not in 2009. A major shareholder who was unhappy last year told me there would be no protest vote.

“Carol is doing a good job,” said the investor.

Yahoo was also asking for approval of its accounting firm, Price Waterhouse.

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There were several important votes before the shareholders.

One was a standard one regarding executive compensation or a “say on pay” proposal, which was introduced by an outside stockholder.

Yahoo’s board recommended against it.

Another proposal regarded changes to be made to a 1995 stock plan and to a 1996 employee stock purchase plan.

The latter was most important, because it was a request to authorize more shares for future employee options grants. It will mean a large addition to the pool–30 million more shares–if authorized.

The stock will be used to keep valuable Yahoo talent in place. Good idea.

10:23 am: The floor was then opened for comments on the proposal and ballots were collected.

I was not on the edge of my seat.

Like clockwork or an election in the former Soviet Union, the board was elected, the stock plans approved and Price Waterhouse was in.

The “say for pay” proposal? It went down in defeat.

The people have spoken!

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10:29 pm: Bartz took back the stage, which immediately livened things up.

She went through the history of her coming to Yahoo, which began with former Yahoo CEO and Co-Founder Jerry Yang (pictured here) asking if she was interested in the job at a Cisco (CSCO) board meeting.

Both are on its board.

Bartz also briefly recounted her meeting with Yang at his house, although she minimized the insulting aspect of the story.

She has maximized it in other tellings–such as in an onstage interview with me recently at the D: All Things Digital conference.

The basic thrust of the story was that Yahoo was a big mess that needed the Carol treatment.

Bartz, of course, did not stress that as much today. After all, Yang was sitting right in front of her.

Bartz noted that she has been asked about two things since coming on board:

What about a deal with Microsoft? And what the heck is Yahoo anyway?

She had nothing to say about Microsoft (MSFT) and said it would be said publicly only after any such deal was struck.

Actually, she has commented about talks with the software giant publicly many times, but let’s overlook that.

The Bartz went into the definition of Yahoo. It’s simple, she said. The largest global online media company. With technology. That everyone knows. Plus email.

10:34 am: Bartz ran through the new staff she has put in place, such as CMO Elisa Steele and others.

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She then moved onto the top-to-bottom reviews she has been doing of Yahoo.

Including what she dubbed “space debris,” which are Yahoo sites that should be shut down, repaired or outsourced.

Bartz’s tone? Calm and comforting and reassuring–less the live wire she usually telegraphs and more the I’m-in-charge-here-so-remain-calm vibe.

She hit all the big targets, for good measure. Front page. Mobile. And, of course, advertising.

“Yahoo has a distinct opportunity in this area,” said Bartz, referring to its online display ad business. “Advertisers come to us.”

She ended by calling Yahoo a “home,” which is one theme the company is considering using as a brand strategy in an massive overhaul it is working on.

10:45 am: The floor was open for questions.

The first was a good one. Essentially, why is Google (GOOG) such a money machine when Yahoo is not? And why are its workers so much more productive in comparison?

“We have a very different model than Google,” said Bartz. “It has a cleaner process.”

As in, it is better at vacuuming up the dough!

Bartz, who has been trying mightily to end the Yahoo/Google comparison (smart move!), did not really give an answer.

“Please, this direct comparison model to Google is not fair and is frankly not relevant,” she said.

Well, it is actually quite a bit fair and a lot relevant, but we shall also overlook that one too (for now).

10:49 am: A fan question about how it was good that Bartz has been taking the focus off of the Microsoft issue too.

He also liked that she said she would take piles of money from the software giant, though, in a search partnership deal.

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Then, the questioner dived right into the weeds, with questions about the front page, such as having too much dopey entertainment news on it.

Especially all that Jon & Kate and their gazillion kids crap!

This is a favorite meme for Bartz, who proceeded to quickly one-up the question by strafing a perfect celebrity target.

“If I see another Britney Spears item, I am going to throw up,” she declared in nauseous solidarity.

She then mentioned something called a “fluffometer,” which is apparently taking care of this most pressing issue of our time–the Lindsay Lohan threat.

Will it defluff Yahoo?

Inquiring minds want to know.

10:54 am: The inevitable China question was asked, of course, a query which has always tripped up previous Yahoo management.

“It’s very easy to get crosswise,” said Bartz, trying not to get crosswise.

She mentioned a recent human rights summit Yahoo had hosted. “We have actually done a lot, but it is never enough.”

Well, actually, Yahoo and many others did not do enough previously, but Bartz was pretty much steering clear of the thorny realities of doing business in China.

Then came the “vision” question.

Actually, Bartz said it was not about vision, but about growth. “We don’t have a vision problem, we have an execution problem,” she said.

Another question was asked about Internet censorship in China.

“I’m going to go real simple here: Yahoo was not incorporated to fix China,” she said. “It’s that simple.”

Bartz said the company was not going to take on every government in the world and that its “mistake”–referring to activists jailed due to Yahoo handing over information to the Chinese government–should not hound it forever.

Well, it should, but point taken.

The next question was about Iran and how popular Twitter is. Bartz said Yahoo was also in there.

11:04 am: A questioner asked about Facebook and why the social networking site was so popular, even though Yahoo had better products.

Bartz said Yahoo was working hard on making those products more social.

The next questioner asked about whether another Google partnership deal with Yahoo could be reborn. That deal went down in defeat last year.

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“Justice is Justice,” said Bartz, referring to the federal government department’s opposition to the deal.

As in, you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Uncle Sam.

The next questioner asked about why Yahoo always told shareholders at meetings like this that it was doing great every year and then didn’t deliver.

Bear with us, said Bartz.

As to selling off its Alibaba assets in China: Not a good time to sell.

11:09 am: A questioner asked whether Yahoo might buy a newspaper, like the New York Times (NYT).

Yes, that would be a good move–out of the frying pan into the fire!

I was sitting right next to one of its reporters, Miguel Helft. No comment!

Bartz then thanked the Yahoo shareholders for having faith.

As I said, it was Bartz’s first annual meeting. But, for Yahoo investors over the last several years, having a lot of faith–too often tested–kind of comes with the territory.


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— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo