Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Yahoo 2012 Annual Meeting: No News Is No News

I love me a good shareholder meeting — what with big and small investors getting a yearly chance to talk back in person, and often with great color, to the people who work for them, but don’t often act that way.

So, since press was not allowed into Yahoo’s annual meeting this year, even though there was a Webcast, I got myself a proxy to represent an investor of the Silicon Valley Internet giant and waltzed myself right in the front door.

Unfortunately, although no surprise, very little happened at the meeting, which was held this morning at a Marriott in Santa Clara, Calif., and lasted about an hour.

Most notable: There was no CEO announcement — as I reported would not be happening earlier today — and no news on much else, such as the state of its current talks to resolve the sale of Yahoo assets in Japan.

But almost the entire board was present, which was fun for me, many of whom are new to the Yahoo game.

That included the activist shareholder Daniel Loeb of Third Point, who might have been a real disruptor here, had a proxy fight he was waging to change Yahoo not been thwarted and had he not been made a director.

But he was, and now the devilishly entertaining Loeb is playing the unlikely part of a good corporate citizen.

For the record, he looked natty in a fancy suit and purple tie (nice touch, Dan!). And after the meeting, Loeb gamely stuck around to talk to other Yahoo shareholders (he’s still one of the biggest), even as other directors scurried off.

About 100 people were present in a smallish ballroom, outfitted with a tiny stage and, of course, a purple curtain for Yahoo’s longtime color scheme. There were various gloppy pastries offered.

Yes, it’s a glamorous life I lead!

All of the various company proposals passed, and all the directors were voted in, which was a foregone conclusion before the meeting started, as is typical.

Interim CEO Ross Levinsohn — also duded up in a silky tie ensemble — then gave a short speech about the state of Yahoo under his leadership, noting that it had been a year of “significant” change at the company.

And how! Two CEOs ousted, a board upheaval, a see-ya-later from co-founder Jerry Yang (who was not present at today’s event), troubling metrics and financial results, layoffs and more.

To recap for those just tuning in: Yahoo, over the last 12 months, has been like a season of “Game of Thrones” — except with only virtual beheadings.

And, like my favorite HBO show ever, it’s still unclear who will be king of Yahoo, as the board hems and haws over whether or not to remove the “i” from Levinsohn’s iCEO title.

Instead, it is still vetting other candidates for the job, searching for what I have previously characterized as a “‘unicorn CEO'” — one who actually does not exist, but who sounds just dreamy.

Levinsohn betrayed none of the strain of this clearly awkward situation onstage, where he was essentially auditioning in front of the board, noting that “we feel good about all of our huge opportunities for Yahoo.”

(Given that he’s done a pretty good job so far, including settling Yahoo’s ugly patent war with Facebook, many think he should get the part without all this fuss. But YahooWood is one tough town!)

After his speech, Levinsohn took a spate of questions from shareholders, most of whom wanted to know why the company has become a perennial underperformer, and when that was going to change.

They were all good, solid questions. One was on how to monetize videos, while another was on growth opportunities.

Others were sharper, including one on why Yahoo products are too often less innovative or even broken. Pointing out the company’s failure to execute under a series of CEOs, one investor declared: “As a consumer, I have given up on this company.”

Ouch. Levinsohn correctly acknowledged his frustration, and said the Yahoo employees were working hard to keep up. But, he added, “Are we perfect? No.”

Also not-so-perfect are declining revenues and other weaker financial signs, noted another pencil-sharpening shareholder.

Another young man got up and asked why Yahoo did not make products for “my generation,” as Facebook, Spotify and others ran away down the digital field.

“Why?” he queried to the room, as his voice trailed off, in perhaps the meeting’s most gripping moment.

Why, indeed.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work