Kara Swisher

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New Yahoo CEO (And BoSox Fanboy) Scott Thompson Speaks: It’s Still “Early Innings”

Yahoo actually let me talk with its new CEO Scott Thompson this morning, after the company announced it had hired him as its latest leader.

In an interview, the man who is leaving a job running eBay’s large and lucrative PayPal online payments unit was affable and — dare I say it — seemed very sweet, as well as gung ho on Yahoo’s prospects going forward.

Joking about how he took the job only because eBay and Yahoo are located close by each other in Silicon Valley and the commute was just as easy, Thompson opened by noting that those working at the online commerce giant have always had a “keen appreciation for what each other was doing.”

He said that when he was approached in November about the Yahoo job, although sources said it was just offered this week and took eBay by surprise.

Still, soon after being contacted by Yahoo’s exec recruiters, Thompson said he began “exploring in more detail what’s actually here.” As he did so, he added, he “became progressively more fascinated” that Yahoo had more promise than has been assumed in recent years.

“Its potential is still enormous, but the dialogue has not been about what the company is,” Thompson said. “I want to get this wonderful brand to where it could be again … so, as a starting point, this is a great starting point.”

Thompson’s premise is based on his belief that we are still in the early days of the Internet. And, because he is a Boston native — making him, of course, an ardent fan of its beloved Red Sox — he used baseball as a metaphor.

“It’s early innings, and there are the next eight innings in front of us,” he said, noting that he was in the stands with his father when catcher Carlton Fisk hit that famous game-winning home run in the 12th inning of the sixth game of the World Series in 1975.

Note to everyone who is not an obsessive fan like Thompson (and also, I might add, Walt Mossberg): It did take the Red Sox from 1918 to 2004 to actually finally win the Series again, so maybe Yahoo has a chance!

“This remains a great business, and I have no doubt its best days are ahead of Yahoo,” said Thompson, in that same hopeful spirit of this-year’s-gonna-be-the-one.

Thompson noted that he is fully cognizant of the major troubles at the company recently, and had a “real sense of urgency, but not by moving at breakneck speed, because you just do bad stuff faster.”

Instead, he said, he hopes to focus Yahoo the same way he did PayPal, by innovating, making commitments and keeping them, and overperforming.

None are easy tasks, and all have stymied Yahoo in the recent past. Thompson said that he thinks it might be because of not focusing equally on both consumers and Yahoo’s partners and advertisers.

He admitted that his lack of advertising experience was clear — it could be problematic, because it’s Yahoo’s biggest business — but said, “I readily admit what I don’t know, and am ready to learn and rely on Yahoo’s great team.”

While he would not go into deep specifics — Thompson does not start until next week — he said he planned to get some basic grounding, noting, “I have no preconceived notions.”

One thing is clear, said Thompson: “I can assure you I am going to be completely different.”

If that means doing what Fisk did, that would certainly be a home run for Yahoo.

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google