Digital Management Musical Chairs: The Tooth-Free Edition

Published on September 8, 2009
by Kara Swisher


Brad Garlinghouse’s appointment to a new job at AOL today as its new communications czar is yet another sign of an interesting trend for those keeping score of the comings and goings of top Internet execs.

Garlinghouse came to the Time Warner (TWX) online unit after a year-long break, preceded by six years at Yahoo (YHOO).

As anyone who watches the digital space knows by now, this kind of management musical chairs is common and never-ending.

In fact, borrowing a quote by IAC/InterActiveCorp (IACI) CEO and chairman Barry Diller from an onstage interview I did with him at the sixth D: All Things Digital conference and switching out Hollywood for Silicon Valley: “[It] is a community that’s so inbred, it’s a wonder the children have any teeth.”

But, given all the movement of late, this insider seat-switching seems more frantic than ever, as allegiances shift, competitors become friends and colleagues become rivals faster than you can tweet.

When he left Yahoo last summer, in fact, the digital chatter was that Garlinghouse would take a job either as a venture capitalist (he had been one once) or helming a start-up (that too, at

In fact, sources said, Garlinghouse had been considering two mobile gigs, but opted for helping to try to overhaul a troubled Web giant.

Fixing messes was the impetus of Owen Van Natta, who left a top job at social networking giant Facebook in early 2008 and by the end of the year, headed over to run Project Playlist, a controversial online music-sharing service.

But then he had hightailed it by spring to try his hand at reviving MySpace, as its CEO.

His boss, News Corp. (NWS) digital head Jon Miller, did the same, getting the hook (unfairly to my mind) at AOL several years ago and then creating an investment firm with former MySpace head Ross Levinsohn.

The pair considered being part of a bid to oust Yahoo management in 2008.

Miller’s freedom lasted only until he got an offer that he presumably could not refuse from News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch recently. (Full disclosure: News Corp. owns Dow Jones, which owns this site.)

The list goes on, chock full of ex-Yahoos, in fact.

Its one-time COO, Dan Rosensweig, left the company in 2006, for example, and joined the well-known private-equity firm, Quadrangle Group.

But, soon enough, he was scooped up by Activision Blizzard (ATVI) to run its Guitar Hero division.

Yahoo Network head Jeff Weiner also departed from the Internet giant, in mid-2008, for a stint at two VC firms.

He landed at LinkedIn, the business-networking service where he was named CEO in late June.

Greg Coleman ran Yahoo ad sales until mid-2007 before taking a job at AOL earlier this year, which he lost after it got new management soon after.

At Yahoo, Coleman sparked with former advertising sales head Wenda Harris Millard, whom he ousted. She went onto Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) and left there this spring for the Media Link consultancy.

Presto! She is now helping MySpace’s Van Natta fix the social networking site’s ad business.

Current Yahoo U.S. advertising head Joanne Bradford actually came from Microsoft last summer, via her own short visit to the troubled ad start-up SpotRunner.

Former Yahoo search techie Qi Lu now runs digital for Microsoft (MSFT), along with a big gang of ex-Yahoo techies he has recruited.

And Scott Moore is even better at the switcheroo. He was at Microsoft running MSN U.S. content, switched to Yahoo as its media poobah, left last year to consider a start-up and then headed back to Microsoft as head of U.S. content this year.

But former Google (GOOG) execs have also been busy shuttling hither and yon, mostly to innovative start-ups.

Of course, many find refuge at Facebook (COO Sheryl Sandberg, PR major domo Elliot Schrage and many more) and Twitter (GC Alexander Macgillivray and COO Dick Costolo).

Recent departures–such as Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, who landed at Accel Partners for now–are also likely to find new homes soon enough.

And, of course, there’s always Garlinghouse’s new boss, former Google ad head Tim Armstrong, who took over at AOL earlier this year.

We’ll skip former Joost CEO and former Cisco (CSCO) exec Mike Volpi (who is now a VC); former Netscape Communications/short-term VC/ex-banker/current-for-now CBS (CBS) digital head Quincy Smith; and Joanna Shields, who has worked at Real Networks (RNWK), Google and Bebo (which was bought by AOL)–for now.

Because, around and around and around it always goes, as you can see in this funny video below, which I posted previously:

[Musical Chair designed by Jacob Mathew.]

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