Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Here Comes the Yahoo Spin Cycle–So Try BoomTown's Soap-Free Guide to What's Actually Happening

Here’s how Yahoo’s top brass and board–with the help of its newly re-engaged crisis-management PR firm, Abernathy MacGregor–are already trying to spin the latest executive turmoil to hit the company:

Trashing those on the way out, to take focus off those remaining who have been just as responsible for driving the Internet icon and claiming that this is all part of yet another well-planned reorganization at Yahoo (YHOO).

Don’t believe most of it for a second. Some of it is corporate politics as usual, some of it rejiggering of events, some just not true at all.

After BoomTown’s scoop earlier today that Yahoo’s U.S. head Hilary Schneider, as well as Audience head David Ko and VP of Media Jimmy Pitaro, would be departing the company–all of which Yahoo is still planning to announce after the markets close on Friday–here comes this gem in a follow-up story in The Wall Street Journal:

“[Yahoo CEO Carol] Bartz, who joined Yahoo in January 2009, is in the midst of a turnaround effort. People familiar with the matter said she is removing the company’s old guard to assemble a new team.”

Let’s parse this ridonkulous spin-addled blame game, shall we?

Bartz is, in fact, the very person who picked all those execs for prime responsibility in her last reorg.

If they were so incompetent, why not dump them much quicker? After all, it’s not like the problems have not been mounting for months and months, with more and more talent taking off.

In addition, the exec exodus at Yahoo over the last year has been unrelenting and broad, encompassing way too many employees for her to act as if it were all planned and okay.

As to the “midst of a turnaround effort” canard that Bartz keeps insisting on, even comparing herself to Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Job’s epic journey to return that legendary company to health?

Um, we are deep in the second year of the Bartz regime, and there appears to be no iPod-like save in sight, and it’s a little long in the tooth to keep using the turnaround excuse for all that has not yet happened under her command.

Which is to say, stock with a pulse and real growth across all metrics, as Facebook and Google (GOOG), to name a few, are showing.

In addition, it was Bartz herself who handed over a lot of the responsibility for the revival of Yahoo to Schneider.

Which meant Schneider had to be thrown under the wheels of the bus in the Journal by dragging out a very old–and tangential to the much larger flat revenue crisis at Yahoo–newspaper deal as pretty wet cannon fodder:

“Ms. Schneider is leaving because officials haven’t been satisfied with her performance, according to people familiar with the matter. Ms. Schneider was responsible for a 2006 deal with industry group Newspaper Consortium, in which Yahoo sold ads for newspaper websites and print editions. The effort continues but has not met Yahoo’s expectations, according to a person close to the company.”

Memo to readers: “People familiar with the matter,” I am guessing, would be current Yahoo execs.

The fact of the matter is that there have been both critics and admirers of Schneider at Yahoo, which comes as no surprise for one of its top execs. Some consider her smart and canny, while others complain of indecisiveness and slowness to act.

And, she has definitely had some very big whiffs, including the newspaper consortium, but most especially not finding an ad sales chief to replace Joanne Bradford, who left in March, about which I gave her a hard time when a very squishy structure was announced.

And, right now, sources tell me, Yahoo’s upcoming quarterly report could be an even tougher one.

And that falls to Schneider, of course, who has been in charge of its many partnerships, as well as advertising sales across the key Americas region.

Perhaps good reason for an ouster, except I have been tracking Schneider’s status for many months now, since hearing from many sources–not her, ever, in case you wanted to know–that she had told Bartz she wanted out.

Maybe that is what began to sour the boss on Schneider. But to now suddenly call her performance poor seems unusual, especially when you can just as easily point to Yahoo’s disastrous and pricey marketing campaigns–it is definitely not You!–helmed by CMO Elisa Steele, which has failed to move the needle on key user metrics.

But she has a tight relationship with Bartz, so she’s all right, jack? I am dizzy from all the spinning.

In other words, execs make mistakes and there is a lot of blame to go around and–as the old saying goes–the buck really does stop with Bartz.

But, guess what? Perhaps it should be noted that Bartz has also misstepped badly of late by making a series of wild remarks that have seriously angered many partners and other companies in Silicon Valley.

And I have heard from countless and very significant investors, all of whom are deeply concerned about her tone and recent public comments.

Just ask Yahoo Japan’s Masayoshi Son. Or Alibaba’s Jack Ma in China. Or the fine folks over at Apple in Cupertino, Calif.

And, I can also report that several execs at Yahoo’s new search technology partner, Microsoft, are also increasingly alarmed. Said one to me yesterday: “It is becoming a little unsettling.”

I can say for certain that Ko, who will doubtlessly be the next to get dinged, left on his own motor, telling Bartz himself recently.

He was quickly followed by Pitaro, who, as I reported earlier this week, is headed to another big company. No matter what the spin, his departure is a big loss, as he is well-liked inside and outside the company.

Then Schneider rounded out the latest trio of execs to go.

Thus, sources said, Yahoo is about to go on the offense, which is the expected thing to do, ready to announce a plan to move most of the product organization under Chief Product Officer Blake Irving.

The former Microsoft (MSFT) online exec is as sharp as a tack, in my experience, and clearly an even sharper corporate player, recently bringing in a series of his old cohorts from the software giant to take over big jobs at Yahoo.

He’s obviously now won some version of a corporate power play, and is now in favor with Bartz. But that means he’s being handed the entire thing.

Apparently, Irving has told numerous people that he plans to “rip it all down” and streamline the whole organization.

More rearranging at the company that has moved around the corporate living room umpteenth times over the past several years? Except it is still essentially the same room and same house.

Okay, Irving should probably have his choice of where the sofa goes, but as one exec wisely told me tonight: “Yahoo needs to build great products, not have another reorg….It needs a win.”

Indeed, just as board member Eric Hippeau apparently said at a recent meeting to deal with the latest executive kerfuffle.

Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock–who has presided over so many stumbles over the years that I have lost count–said to the room: “We need crisis management.”

Countered Hippeau, a longtime Internet exec who is now CEO of the Huffington Post: “What we need is revenue.”

Indeed. And innovation. And a vision. And, most of all, spin-free leadership.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik