Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Meet the Yahoo Board: Something Old, Something New–But Will They Do Something?

With all the noisy swirl around Yahoo of late–from its executive turmoil to its flat growth to its dashed partnerships in Asia to its brash CEO–its board has been unusually quiet of late.

Comatose, some might say.

In fact, many do say exactly that, pointing to the trauma of their disastrous performance when they fended off a hostile takeover attempt by Microsoft (MSFT) for above $30 a share as the cause.

Since then, the stock price of Yahoo (YHOO) has been mired in the low teens.

That is, until yesterday, when even more rumors of new plots emerged in the media, with private equity firms, media companies, Web rivals, big shareholders, Wall Street and others all machinating about trying to grab all or some of the Internet giant.

Now, it will be interesting to see if its directors will shake themselves out of their typical comfort zone of inactivity to actually do their job.

Which, as former GE (GE) star exec Jack Welch–in a recent smackdown of a spate of controversial moves by the Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) board–said in a recent interview, is to “pick the CEO, help them shape strategy, make them feel good about themselves, and, if the CEO isn’t doing a good job, to ‘get them the hell out of there.’”

According to sources close to the situation, the Yahoo directors are in a quandary, even as they are on the receiving end of a flood of suggestions and demands from big investors, ranging from merging with AOL (AOL) to aligning with News Corp. (NWS) to selling off the company’s lucrative Asian assets to replacing CEO Carol Bartz.

You get the idea.

But that might not happen as quickly as some want. Sources said that while the eight-person board has some strong personalities on it, there is no one who has emerged as a powerful leader, aside from Bartz.

Yahoo has recently tried to attract two execs who might be able to go toe-to-toe with her–OpenTable (OPEN) CEO Jeff Jordan and Akamai (AKAM) President David Kenny–but was turned down by both.

Neither apparently wanted the headache of dealing with Yahoo’s struggles.

The same goes for some on Yahoo’s board.

Said one person who had spoken to a few board members recently: “Each of them tells me, ‘I’m only one person and I can’t act alone.’”

Indeed not, which is why you have a board. Stone soup, people!

In any case, it is high time to put the spotlight on the Yahoo directors, which I have done in the past in other crisis moments.

Here’s a rundown, with their photos from Yahoo’s shareholder Web site, along with some BoomTown analysis:

Carol Bartz, CEO:

We all know her, the tough-talking longtime Silicon Valley software exec who was brought in to clean up Dodge in the wake of the rocky tenure of former CEO and co-founder Jerry Yang. She is under pressure here for not doing that well enough, of course, despite a very, very big compensation package.

Still, with an aggressive personality and a wimpish board, she might be able to stave off any challenges to her power.

Roy Bostock, Chairman:

The longtime airline board member and advertising exec has been at the top of the Yahoo board since 2008 and on it since 2003.

Which is why I called for his resignation after Yang and former Yahoo President Sue Decker gracefully stepped down, after their management was called into question.

Bostock was right there with them, making all those decisions, which turned out to be disastrous in hindsight. Still, he does not seem to be much for the honorably-falling-on-your-sword thing.

In fact, sources said he has been making the rounds of investors recently trying to gauge the mood. Memo to Roy: It’s bad.

Eric Hippeau

Now the CEO of the Huffington Post, the longtime Web investor and publisher has a lot of online experience and should be one of the leaders on the Yahoo board. Hippeau has certainly been a director long enough to be one–since 1996, as an early investor in the company.

He’s also known as a super-nice guy in Internet circles, which means he is no head-smacker. Too bad.

One idea floated to me by an investor: Yahoo could buy the upstart online media darling and install him as CEO. Pretty please, because the entrance of the fab stylings of Arianna Huffington into this mess would send me into the stratosphere of reporting nirvana.

Vyomesh Joshi

Also a very endearing dude, the top HP exec was one of those on the short list for CEO of the tech giant recently. He runs its gigantically profitable printing and imaging business.

He’s been a Yahoo director since 2005 and should be a key decision maker, since he is an experienced operator. He’s not been, unfortunately.

Arthur Kern

Also a lifer, also having been on the Yahoo board since 1996, the investor and radio exec has also worked in marketing at Digitas.

Among the board members, he seems to be the quietest of the bunch, so I am not sure what to say about him except that he has very white teeth.

Gary Wilson

Another investor–in private equity, he has been on the board of airline companies (what is with this plane stuff on the Yahoo board?), as well as a top financial exec at Disney (DIS) and Marriott (MAR).

Again, a nice résumé, and he should be a leader. He was definitely more involved in the Microsoft situation than others.

Since then? Meh.

Sue James

The accountant. Retired from Ernst & Young. Used to work for Bartz, as lead partner for audit work for Autodesk (ADSK). Joined the Yahoo board early this year.

Probably just figuring out that this whole thing might not be adding up.

Patti Hart

Also new, since June. Worked in the digital video business, and is now the CEO of a “global provider of electronic game equipment and systems products.”

Say what?

Okay, I will go with it, as I am liking that Bartz has brought on two women to the board, which has mostly been stacked full with men.

Brad Smith

The president and CEO of Intuit (INTU), the financial management software powerhouse, also joined in June. This guy should be able to shake the trees, right?

But he is probably still trying to learn everyone’s name. Brad, not to put too much pressure, but everyone is counting on you.

Jerry Yang

Last, but certainly not least, the man who is ultimately the power player here.

The Internet pioneer and industry legend checked out of Yahoo for a bit after he stepped down in early 2009–time to tee off!

But many sources said he has been back at Yahoo for a while–glad-handing advertisers, meeting with entrepreneurs, sussing out trends, piping up in strategy meetings and doing the behind-the-scenes thing that he does so well.

Reports vary on how much he likes Bartz–he expresses support for her to some, but seems to have soured on her to others.

Who knows with the endearingly prickly Yang, whom I have been covering for a dog’s age and who should return my emails once in a while, like in old times when I stalked him.

Dinner is optional, but I will pay this time (see video below of our last semi-enjoyable meal).

Still, here is what I know for sure: Yahoo is Yang’s creation and legacy, and he’s the one who has to make sure that it survives and thrives.

For all the uncertainty surrounding Yahoo once again, that much is true.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald