Kara Swisher

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With No-Yahoo-CEO Pledge, David Kenny Back in the Strategic Fray

What will David Kenny do?

Maybe get something cooking in the whole what-will-Yahoo-do stakes, now that one of Yahoo’s more active board members is back.

And by “back,” I mean that Kenny — no longer a candidate for CEO — has no further need to recuse himself from the strategic process in which the Silicon Valley Internet company finds itself.

In an interview with Advertising Age last week, Kenny — the well-regarded online ad exec who recently stepped down as president of network infrastructure giant Akamai — released an unusual statement:

As a matter of policy, I do not comment on matters related to Yahoo as a Yahoo director. However, as a personal matter, I want to clarify that I believe Yahoo is a great company with enormous potential, but I am not — and will not be — a candidate for the CEO position. I look forward to my continued service on the Yahoo Board of Directors.”

By removing himself from the fray, that means, according to several sources, that Kenny will be diving back into sleeve-rolling duties at Yahoo, as one of its — how can I put this? — less comatose board members.

In fact — until he was sidelined by the obvious conflict of interest inherent in wanting to be CEO, while also directing the fate of Yahoo for shareholder value — Kenny had been deeply involved in a lot of the changes that had taken place of late, after a long period of board inaction.

That included the ouster of CEO Carol Bartz, who was fired for a number of reasons, including lack of strategic vision. It was relatively new board member Kenny — he became a director in February — who led the strategy committee that had asked Bartz for her road map, which she did not deliver to their liking. Obviously.

Because of the swirl around his possible CEO candidacy — Kenny was a noticeable inside candidate, since he is well known in the Internet advertising world for running and then selling Digitas to the Publicis Groupe for $1.3 billion in 2006 — he gave up leadership of the committee to Intuit President Brad Smith.

Sources said it is unlikely Kenny will get that top job back, but he remains a member of the transactions committee, which is leading the strategic review of the company.

That’s the key slot for the independent board members of Yahoo, who must ultimately be the ones to determine what path or offer the company will take.

One plus: Kenny has close relationships with most of the bidders — largely private equity firms — looking at Yahoo, and also is well known among the media and tech companies poking around, too. He also has advertising — and now tech — experience, which will be much needed as Yahoo explores its options.

Most importantly, Kenny is an independent director, which will be very important to the process going forward, especially since a lot of the spotlight has fallen on Yahoo co-founder and director Jerry Yang.

Yang — who has been a bit of a Yahoo lightning rod at times — has been involved in some of the meetings with those interested, along with interim CEO Tim Morse. The company recently noted that this was at the behest of the board.

While these were only informational meetings so far — and not negotiations, as some reports have surmised — Yang’s involvement will likely have to be more curtailed, at least publicly, especially if any of the deals include using his own large stake in Yahoo.

“This process has to be above board, since it is so easy for those wanting a better deal to try to cause all kinds of trouble,” said one source. “The company is already under attack in that regard.”

That’s a reference to a recent salvo by hedge fund activist Dan Loeb, a major Yahoo shareholder who has taken aim at the board and, last week, at Yang. Loeb essentially accused Yang of double-dealing in the process.

Enter Kenny, along with Smith and — to an increasingly lesser extent, of late — Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock. While there are other independent board members involved, these are the three to watch most closely now.

While some think Kenny still would like to be CEO of Yahoo — he was also on the short list several years ago when Bartz was hired — sources said he is more likely to take a job at another consumer Internet company.

While he certainly could slot into a large advertising firm or into the digital division of a big media concern, sources said Kenny is looking to be a CEO.

Just not at Yahoo.

At least for now, since down the road it is unclear what will become of Yahoo and who will run it in years to come.

In fact, it might even be Kenny in the end.

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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo