Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Revolving Door: Yahoo Departures Begin, Even as Mayer’s Team Still TBD

After former interim CEO Ross Levinsohn departed Yahoo earlier this week, I noted that it was only a matter of time before more execs headed out the door with the changeover to new leader and former Googler Marissa Mayer.

So it is written, so it shall be done, it seems, with two significant departures from the company this week — with one tech exec going to Apple and another product exec headed to an interesting new online education initiative.

According to several sources, Adam Bechtel — who has been the VP of infrastructure at Yahoo — will be leaving for an unspecified job at Apple.

At Yahoo, Bechtel was essentially the No. 2 exec under tech, platform and ops head David Dibble, and had purview over its data centers, network, systems, storage and edge technologies. He joined Yahoo almost a decade ago, via its acquisition of Inktomi.

Also out the Yahoo door is Jonathan Katzman, a product ace who was part of the social efforts across Yahoo, led by Mike Kerns. He was on the Kerns team that drove its most notably successful product in a while, Social Bar, which has become one of the most popular apps for sharing on Facebook.

Katzman came to Yahoo after its acquired Xoopit — an email-focused sharing product — in 2009. He’s headed to be chief product officer at the Minerva Project, which is attempting to build the next top-tier university online.

There have been many other departures of less-well-known execs at Yahoo, several sources said, mostly due to fatigue over the number of management changes at the company. Most recently, that includes sales exec Marc Grabowski, who left without other plans.

“It’s not Mayer’s fault, but some of us are just done,” said one person who is leaving. “A lot of us just can’t take another restructuring.”

That said, a large number of others who had been contemplating leaving Yahoo are now in a wait-and-see mode regarding what their new CEO will do and who she will pick to help her turn it around.

Among current top execs, that has prompted who-will-stay-and-who-will-go guessing games internally, with Mayer grilling staff up and down the organization to get a better lay of the rocky land.

Perhaps the most insecure in their status are the top employees on the media and sales side of Yahoo, who were aligned with Levinsohn and his vision of the company as a content-centric business. Those to watch include strategy exec Jim Heckman, sales head Michael Barrett, and media head Mickie Rosen, among others.

Also, intriguingly still in the mix: Former Americas ad sales head Rich Riley, who is apparently still with the company, despite a June declaration to move on after some months. (Things change fast at Yahoo!)

On the tech and product side, it will be interesting to see if Mayer will promote from within its ranks — such as elevating Shashi Seth, SVP of Yahoo’s connections business. Other execs who could move in this arena are Dibble, and also Mark Morrissey, who now works for Dibble as head of engineering operations.

Of course, there are the other parts of Yahoo that Mayer also now has responsibility for, such as legal, marketing, finance and HR. The execs to monitor there include CFO Tim Morse, HR head David Windley, and marketing chief Mollie Spilman.

Longtime Yahoo legal head Mike Callahan left the company before Mayer’s arrival, so that job has been given to Ron Bell — Hi there, Ron, be nice! — on an interim basis. But look for movement there too.

Much speculation is also centering on what tech stars Mayer might bring in from Google or from elsewhere, including via acquisition.

She’ll need a lot of firepower, of course, to turn the company around, and has told various execs that she expects to make a lot of talent hires to get Yahoo back to producing at more innovative levels.

As I reported earlier today, she has got one already — former Google PR exec Anne Espiritu is now moving over to corporate communications at Yahoo. At the same time, Mayer abruptly let Yahoo’s most recent PR spokeswoman, Dana Lengeek, go.

Expect Mayer to continue to pull from Google, which is chock-full of talent and where she had a coterie of favorites, some of whom are there and some of whom have moved on. Those mentioned as possible hires still at Google include shopping exec Samir Samat and social-networking-famous (and fantastic) Orkut Büyükkökten.

But many of Mayer’s close colleagues have left Google already and are ensconced in important jobs, including: Dylan Casey, who is now director of product management at Path; PR exec Gabe Stricker, who runs communications for Twitter; Craig Silverstein, now at the Khan Academy; and Ben Ling, who is currently COO of the Badoo “meeting network.”

Mayer also reportedly holds former Googler, FriendFeeder and Facebooker Bret Taylor in very high regard. But the entrepreneur — exactly the kind of tech powerhouse she needs to bring into Yahoo and soon — is now in the midst of creating a new start-up.

When I pinged Taylor today about whether he’d consider taking up a challenge such as Yahoo, he texted back:

“No, definitely still starting my own company, despite the fact that I am a big fan of Marissa.”

It’s a nice compliment, and Mayer’s got a lot of people rooting for her, of course — the real trick will be to turn some of the strongest ones into Yahoos.


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