Exclusive: Yahoo’s Thompson Out; Levinsohn In; Board Settlement With Loeb Nears Completion
Yahoo’s embattled CEO Scott Thompson (pictured here) is set to step down from his job at the Silicon Valley Internet giant, in what will be dramatic end to a controversy over a fake computer science degree that he had on his bio, according to multiple sources close to the situation.
The pair will apparently say he is departing for “personal reasons.” Sources said that Thompson will be claiming to be leaving due to a serious illness that he recently discovered he had.
But the evolving crisis — which is just over a week old — centered on his botched resume and how he handled the thorny issue is the key reason for the abrupt end to his tenure as a CEO.
Thompson’s likely replacement on an interim basis will be Yahoo’s global media head Ross Levinsohn, who most recently also ran its Americas unit, including its advertising sales.
In addition to the management upheaval, Yahoo’s board is closing in on a settlement with the man who discovered Thompson’s misstep, activist shareholder Daniel Loeb of Third Point, said sources.
The situation could change, since Yahoo’s full board still has to meet this morning to officially approve the sweeping changes at the long-troubled company.
But, if it is, this development goes a long way toward fixing some of what has been ailing Yahoo recently.
And it’ll also be a stunning victory for Loeb (pictured here), since the pugnacious hedge fund investor is set to get three board seats from a slate proposed by him as part of a proxy fight aimed at Yahoo. The new Yahoo directors will be media exec Michael Wolf and turnaround specialist Harry Wilson. Loeb’s fourth selection — former NBC head Jeff Zucker — will withdraw.
The five current Yahoo directors — who were to step down at the company’s annual meeting this summer — will leave the board effective immediately, sources said, to make way for the Third Point selections.
Finally, Yahoo’s recently added director Fred Amoroso will be named chairman of the board.
Amoroso is the director who has been conducting the investigation into the issues raised by Loeb about how the fake academic credentials got in Thompson’s public bios, as well as in Yahoo’s regulatory filings, and also the hurried circumstances around his hiring in January.
Those mysteries — read, screw-ups — might never be solved now, although Thompson made a convoluted attempt to explain it all in two awkward employee meetings at the end of last week. In those gatherings, according to numerous sources, he blamed a headhunting firm for introducing the mistake when he was being hired for a job at eBay in the mid-2000 timeframe.
That company, Heidrick and Struggles, slapped back last week with an internal memo, noting that Thompson’s claim was “verifiably not true.” Sources said that Heidrick told Yahoo’s board that it was in possession of a resume that Thompson had apparently submitted showing the inaccurate CS degree on it.
That memo, impugning Thompson’s credibility, was one of many that piled on to create an impossible situation for the Yahoo board, related to his leadership ability going forward.
Thompson had also previously issued a Yahoo statement, in which he apologized for the “distraction” caused by the problematic resume, but not for the mistake itself.
And, initially, Yahoo — under his direction — had called the borked resume an “inadvertent error.”
Such fumbling to fix the situation was among the many other issues that the board has been considering relating the ability of Thompson to remain in his job. Also of importance was the sinking morale of Yahoo employees, who had largely rejected Thompson’s excuses in the ResuMess scandal.
Internal message boards at Yahoo lit up all last week, with staffers largely rejecting his explanations. In addition, a number of top execs and engineers approached the board calling for Thompson’s firing.
While that’s not precisely what happened here, it’s close enough to describe Thompson’s departure as inevitable.
All this change comes in the wake of a massive restructuring he was in the midst of at Yahoo, after 2,000 employee layoffs.
Thompson was pushing forward a vision of adding a much more significant data and commerce element to Yahoo’s largely ad-based business.
That is likely to be less stressed under media-focused Levinsohn, who will be essentially trying out to be the permanent CEO.
Well known in the media and advertising communities, he has worked at a number of big online efforts over many years.
According to his bio at Yahoo, where he arrived in 2010:
He previously served as the President of News Corporation’s Fox Interactive Media, where he was responsible for the day-to-day operations, strategy and acquisitions that helped transformed the company into a leader in digital media. He also held senior management positions with AltaVista, an early pioneer and leader in search, CBS Sportsline where he oversaw all content and development for the top rated sports site, and HBO where he launched and oversaw a unit developing new programming and revenue streams. Levinsohn also was the co-founder and managing director of Fuse Capital, an investment and strategic equity management firm focused on investing in and building digital media and communications companies.
Levinsohn sits on the board of Freedom Communications and the Bogart Pediatric Cancer Research Program. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from The American University.
So far in my checking, Levinsohn’s resume is accurate.
More to come, obviously.
I have emails and texts and calls into everyone for comment, but apparently they are all out at a Mother’s Day brunch (except me).
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