Kara Swisher

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Yahoo Product Unit Readies Major Exec Reorg — But It’s Just a Tremor for the Big One to Come

Yahoo’s massive product unit is readying a major reorganization, which will include a new structure, a move that is being spearheaded by its Chief Product Officer, Blake Irving.

But the ground under Irving, as well as several of the Silicon Valley Internet giant’s top execs, is about to get shakier too, due to a wide range of changes now being plotted by newly installed CEO Scott Thompson.

While still in the early stages of formulation, sources said Thompson has been mulling bringing in a head of global advertising sales or revenue chief, as well as more top product execs, as he moves to initiate a plan to shake up Yahoo and also put his own stamp on the company.

Layoffs and possible wholesale abandonment of certain businesses Yahoo is currently in are likely to be parts of this larger plan.

Confused yet? So am I, but let’s sort through all the latest activity.

First, there’s the Yahoo product redo, which has been in the making for a while, well before Thompson arrived last month.

Under the new plan, which is described as “an evolution rather than blowing up the place,” Yahoo’s famously matrixed product unit could be split into three distinct areas: Monetization, which is expected to be headed by longtime exec Mark Morrissey; platform, with cloud dude Jay Rossiter in charge; and consumer-facing products, possibly in the hands of search kingpin Shashi Seth.

The idea behind the latest setup, presumably, is to spur innovation and make it easier for Yahoo to spit out products more quickly. Its recent Livestand tablet app, for example, was late to the game and continues to struggle to gain any real ground, said sources.

Overall, Yahoo still continues to lag behind other Internet rivals in a number of product arenas, for reasons that Thompson is delving into.

The way products are made got a long look-see this past week, in a day-long meeting that Thompson had with Yahoo’s top team execs. Thompson reportedly quizzed the group on its plans, and pressed it to look less at short-term features and maintenance than on finding the next great thing.

“I think it’s fair to say that Scott is wondering why Yahoo did not come up with innovations like Pinterest and Instagram,” said one person about hot new start-ups that are in the sweet spot of Yahoo’s business. “Or, at the very least, why it did not even try to buy them.”

That’s why Thompson, with the help of board members, including David Kenny, has been on the hunt for new talent for Yahoo. That includes a search that is on for a new head of marketing, too.

Thompson has been doing the same kind of assessment with Yahoo’s media and advertising execs, who include Americas head Ross Levinsohn, as well as Asia’s Rose Tsou, and Rich Riley, who heads its efforts in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Sources said he believes that Yahoo might need a head of global sales or a chief of revenue to better organize and align its key advertising business. Ad revenues now make up a bulk of Yahoo’s business.

As Thompson has said numerous times publicly since he came on board, he is seeking to diversify that revenue, focusing on new businesses and also goosing non-ad ones already performing well. In Asia, for example, Yahoo has a robust online commerce business in comparison to other regions.

“Yahoo has to slim down and focus in some ways and bulk up in others,” said another source.

Of course, all of this might be moot, depending on how activist shareholder Daniel Loeb, who is prepping his own frontal attack on making changes at Yahoo, decides to move. According to sources, Loeb is assembling his own slate and trying to garner support from other shareholders, in hopes of further improving the value of his more than five percent stake.

What form that will take is unclear, but it’s not completely friendly at the moment.

In addition, Yahoo execs and its board are trying to wrap up a deal to sell off parts of its Asian assets in Alibaba Group and Yahoo Japan, part of a massive arrangement that could bring many billions of dollars of assets and cash into the core company that is left.

Which could then make Yahoo more able to compete, and give Thompson a war chest to do so — or make it an even tastier treat for a wide range of outside investors looking for a deal.

Like I said: Confused yet?

A Yahoo spokeswoman declined to comment.

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— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo