Kara Swisher

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Yahoo CEO Search in Final Stages, With Levinsohn and Kilar in Lead

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According to sources close to the situation, the search for a new CEO for Yahoo is closing in on key candidates.

But, said sources, it appears to be coming down to a contest between interim Yahoo CEO Ross Levinsohn and Hulu CEO Jason Kilar.

“It’s pretty much a choice between picking a media exec or a product exec,” said one person, referring to Kilar and Levinsohn respectively, about leading the troubled Silicon Valley Internet giant. “It’s about defining what Yahoo is going to be.”

Jim Citrin of Spencer Stuart is conducting the search.

At this point, said sources, it appears to still be a situation that is Levinsohn’s to lose. Along with having been at Yahoo for several years, the media-savvy exec has also recently scored points with the hiring of a new and very well-regarded sales chief, Michael Barrett.

In addition, some Yahoo board members feel that adding yet another new CEO into the mix from outside could further destabilize a company that has gone through the leadership wringer over the last year.

That has included the ousting of two CEOs since last fall — Carol Bartz and Scott Thompson — in less than ideal circumstances that has called into question the competence of its board.

Actually, more precisely, its incompetence.

The newly formed board of Yahoo — most of the directors responsible for recent snafus have departed — is now very wary of making another such mistake, which is apparently why it did not name Levinsohn immediately.

“This has to be seen as a process that really is not slapdash,” said another source. “Yahoo can’t afford to make another mistake.”

No, it cannot.

But in keeping Levinsohn hanging, some inside the company feel the board is doing just that.

“The employees at Yahoo cannot take yet another all-hands meeting where we meet another CEO and hear another new vision for the company,” said one longtime staffer. “It’s hard to imagine that again without becoming nauseous.”

Still, Kilar is a favorite choice of some Yahoo board members; he is now out-of-contract with Hulu and is reportedly in the middle of negotiating his exit there.

“Jason is a free agent,” said a source close to the situation at the premium video service, which includes News Corp. (which owns this Web site) and Disney, as well as Comcast. “And he is looking for this next thing.”

He should, since tensions between Kilar and his major media partners/owners remain high and his departure seems imminent.

Whether taking on the huge task of fixing what ails Yahoo is that is unclear; some expect Kilar to favor moving on to a start-up.

One other issue: Neither Levinsohn nor Kilar has ever run a public company, although both have worked for them.

Other candidates Yahoo has spoken to are part of a list it has gone to several times before.

They include News Corp. digital exec — and longtime Levinsohn friend and business partner — Jon Miller, who has definitively declined to be considered due to his relationship with Levinsohn; former Yahoo exec Dan Rosensweig, who is now CEO of Chegg and who has declined several overtures; and former aQuantive CEO Brian McAndrews, whom sources said is also not interested in the job.

Other possible execs — none of whom appear to have bitten the Yahoo line either — include former Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell and former DoubleClick CEO David Rosenblatt.

There appear to be no women candidates among those in the talent search. (What a shockeroo!)

It will be interesting to see if the usually lugubrious Yahoo board will act before the annual meeting, which is in one week. The choice certainly cannot drag on, though.

“Yahoo needs to move forward with someone,” said another source.


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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle