Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Ross Still Not the Boss (Yet): Yahoo CEO Selection Now Likely to Take Longer Than Many Expect

According to multiple sources close to the situation, the selection of a CEO of Yahoo will not be announced today at its annual meeting, as many anticipate.

In fact, sources said, it might take several more weeks, although that could certainly change quickly.

In other words, despite a strong initial performance as the interim CEO of the troubled Silicon Valley Internet giant, Ross Levinsohn has not gotten the job permanently as yet, as several reports have suggested said he might today.

That’s because the Yahoo board is still mulling other candidates, even after Levinsohn’s top rival — Jason Kilar, CEO of the premium video service Hulu — publicly bowed out of the race last week.

Sources said the directors — most of whom are newly installed and with strong opinions of their own — are committed to a more thorough vetting process, in order not to make the same mistakes of the past, even if the job remains Levinsohn’s to lose.

And Yahoo’s leadership selection errors have indeed been doozies. The company has had to oust two CEOs — Scott Thompson and Carol Bartz — within the last year, amid much controversy.

The questions around Thompson’s hiring have become particularly thorny, since the apparently rushed appointment led to Yahoo not discovering a fake computer science degree on his bio.

“We’re going to make sure that we have looked at every strong candidate possible,” said one person close to the situation. “This is a CEO selection the board cannot afford to be wrong on.”

That is certainly true, which is why the directors have been searching more intently across a spectrum of companies, and have also run through a number of possible scenarios.

That includes trying to convince Levinsohn to stay with lucrative incentives, even if he does not get selected as CEO.

But could essentially publicly keeping Levinsohn cooling his heels in the lobby backfire, too?

It’s a distinct possibility, since several sources said Levinsohn has recently been offered several other job possibilities at major media companies, including at Comcast. In addition, and somewhat ironically, given that Kilar is reportedly negotiating his exit at Hulu, the longtime online media exec would likely be one of the leading candidates for that position.

“Ross is not going to sit around and be the one that gets picked because the board couldn’t get the one they wanted,” said another source. “If he gets the nod, it has to be with the strong backing of all the directors, in order to do the best job possible.”

Making the situation more tense is the fact that — thus far and in a very short time — Levinsohn has delivered several key wins, including settling its patent infringement lawsuit with Facebook and hiring a well-regarded sales leader.

He’s also been at the company for several years, giving him a lot of grounding in the major problems Yahoo faces.

A completely new CEO will need time to get up to speed, including selecting his or her own senior staff, a transition period that is likely to further exhaust Yahoo’s already depleted employees.

(As the board conducts its search for what I call its “unicorn CEO” — one who actually does not exist but who sounds just dreamy — I am already dreading yet another welcome-from-the-latest-Yahoo-CEO all-hands memo.)

But the board of Yahoo, sources said, still is pondering if Levinsohn is the right leader for the company, debating whether a more product-centric exec or one who has had more CEO experience is the better choice for the future direction of the company.

That’s tough, too, since many likely candidates — such as former DoubleClick CEO David Rosenblatt — have turned down overtures from Yahoo several times already.

That’s because any new top exec of Yahoo faces a very dicey future and a long road to recovery, including the likelihood of more layoffs, a major rejiggering of its various businesses, and a whole lot of pain.

“Yahoo is in the is-life-too-short camp as a challenge,” said one well-known consumer Internet exec whom Yahoo approached for the job. “You can make a case that it is for a lot of us.”

In the end, as investor pressure for a decision increases, the board might realize that a bird in the hand — in this case, Levinsohn — is better than two in the bush.

But not today, at least.


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