Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Not So Scott Free? Yahoo’s Other Big Shareholder — Cap Re — Leaning Toward Supporting Loeb Over Thompson ResuMess.

One of Yahoo’s biggest long-term investors, Capital Research and Management, which owns more than 10 percent of the company in two different funds, is leaning toward voting for the slate proposed by activist shareholder Daniel Loeb of Third Point, in the wake of the controversy around the botched bio of its new CEO Scott Thompson.

“Having a CEO with that hanging over his head is really a problem going forward,” said one person with knowledge of the situation. “It’s hard to pretend this is not a problem.”

While sources said Yahoo’s longtime institutional investor — which currently holds large stakes via its Capital Research Global Investors and Capital World Investors funds — is not likely to go public with their voting choice until close to the annual meeting, which will take place sometime this summer.

But its fund managers have told key Yahoo board members of their grave concerns over the situation.

Ironically, in the last proxy fight showdown with Carl Icahn, Capital removed its support of Yahoo’s slate too and was an important influence to many major changes at the company.

Such a move is problematic for Thompson, since the rejection of another big shareholder at its upcoming annual meeting will keep the unusual issue and right in the middle of a noisy proxy fight.

A special committee of the Yahoo board is investigating the situation — in which a fake computer science degree somehow got on the resume of the former president of eBay’s PayPal payments unit and later into official Yahoo regulatory filings.

The problem was uncovered last week — unfortunately for the Silicon Valley Internet giant — by Loeb, who has been banging away on Yahoo since.

A trio of independent Yahoo directors is looking into the mess, with a focus on how that happened, whether anyone at Yahoo knew of the inaccurate bio and how it got there in the first place.

Also of great concern, is how Thompson could have not seen the error in the many years it was on the Web site of eBay and also how he approved a bio that had the inaccuracy in it when he was hired by Yahoo in January.

Worse still, in a 2009 interview, he clearly did not say he did not have such a degree in with a radio show host when directly asked about it.

“It’s a little hard believe an executive of this level would have missed such a thing, when he had so many opportunities to fix it,” said one source. “And, if he did overlook it that many times, that’s a problem too.”

In fact, according to a report earlier today by Business Insider that I also confirmed, Thompson told employees today in two separate meetings that he did miss the error since it was placed there — inexplicably — in 2004. In the meeting, he blamed a low-level headhunting staffer who added it incorrectly, an error that then proliferated.

Thompson also said he did not provide a resume to the company in his hiring process — say whaaaat, but true — although this still does not absolve him from the original error.

As to the interview: Thompson said he did not want to be rude and correct the host of TechNation, Moira Gunn, after she clearly asserted to him he had a computer science degree as part of a question on his qualifications. Others present at the meetings said he said he did not hear the question.

But, in an video interview with me yesterday, though, Gunn said she and Thompson discussed a computer science education in a way that left the clear impression that he had obtained one.

While Thompson’s excuse may beggar the imagination of some, it’s his story and he’s sticking to it. In all seriousness, his complete lack of willingness to take responsibility for the error — even if it was not his fault — itself is a little startling.

Because what’s not clear is how the bio was miraculously correct in eBay’s official filings and also if it is plausible that he never saw the mistake.

Numerous communications execs at Internet companies told me that it was unusual for a high-level exec not to pay close attention to information that went out about them, especially in legal filings. In addition, just as many execs are made to check and swear on their bios that go into such documents.

In fact, it was Thompson’s job to make sure the things written about him were correct at all times. As CEO, as a major Silicon Valley player pointed out, he is required by federal law to personally certify Yahoo’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Violations of these rules carry financial and also potential criminal penalties.

Sources said the board is worried about that credibility issue too and it puts Thompson in an ever-dicier position. Noticeably, the board has yet to make a public statement of support for him on the issue.

Also a major worry for the directors is the mostly negative response to the situation from Yahoo employees, who are deeply upset that Thompson’s error was not caught and that he might not be treated in the same way as anyone else who turned in a false resume, whether it was by accident or not.

A Yahoo spokeswoman told me last week that there was also support internally for Thompson, but in many dozens of interviews I have done with Yahoo employees and a continued monitoring of internal bulletin board, the tone is not in his favor by any means.

Like I said, it’s a dicey time to be Scott Thompson right now.


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